The 5 Steps to Dealing with a Flat Tire

How to Change or Plug a Flat Tire

Click to open in new window - 5 Step Flat Tire Repair Infographic Guide

In this Article

It’s finally happened: you’re cruising down the highway or rumbling down a dirt road when your tire pressure monitoring systems warning light flips on and the smooth hum of your truck or Jeep is replaced by the flump-flump-kaflapflapflapflap of a flat tire. You, of course, know exactly what to do – but what if you’ve loaned your beloved 4x4 to your spouse for the day (this, ladies, is what happens when we let our husbands drive our trucks and Jeeps!) or your teenager got their mitts on your ride? Keep this in your glove box as a guide to approaching those now-flat all terrain tires and rest easy knowing your vehicle is in well-informed hands.

1. Safety First 

When you’ve finished shouting your four-letter words of choice, pull off the road/trail, putting a big cushion between yourself and any oncoming traffic. If you’re on the highway, the safest route is to take the next exit and pull in to a gas station parking lot or off onto a large shoulder. Take into account visibility and weather conditions when choosing a place to pull over.

Whether you’re on or off the road, make sure you’re on flat, level ground and apply the parking brake – do not try to jack up your 4x4 on a hill. It’s also a good idea to place a heavy object in front of the front and back tires. Remember, your bright red Chevy may be easy to spot, but you are not, so turn on your hazard lights before exiting the vehicle as a warning to other drivers to be cautious.

2. Evaluate the Situation

Now it’s time to get out and inspect the tire to determine whether it can be repaired or needs to be replaced. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • A spare is always a better option than a tire plug
  • Any puncture greater than one-quarter-inch in diameter is too large to be plugged
  • Never attempt to repair a puncture in the sidewall, no matter how small – the tire wall is made to flex with the pressure inside the tire and the distribution of weight of the vehicle and is liable to blow out if damaged
  • The only way to ensure your tire is properly repaired is to remove it from the wheel and inspect the inside for damage (for example, a nail may puncture the tread and scrape the inside of the sidewall). However, this may not be possible on the trail so a temporary repair may be suitable for low-speed driving, but it’s important to bring the vehicle in to the shop for a full inspection or replacement ASAP
  • If you had to run on flat tires, there’s a good chance the sidewall is damaged and is likely to fail when the tire is re-inflated

3. Remove the Tire

If the cause of the flat is boldly staring you in the face (an old nail, for instance), you can proceed to the next step. However, it’s always a better idea to remove the tire in order to locate the puncture and any subsequent damage for a full evaluation. To remove the tire:

  1. Break the seal on the lug nuts with a tire wrench by turning them counterclockwise about one quarter of an inch – there may be a great deal of resistance so be cautious when applying your bodyweight to loosen the nuts
  2. Jack up the vehicle from the jacking point indicated in your owner’s manual a few inches off the ground, with enough clearance to remove the flat and replace it. If the ground is soft, place a flat plank or something similar beneath the jack to widen the base so it doesn’t dig down into the ground
  3. Remove the loosened lug nuts with the tire wrench and pull the tire straight toward you off the vehicle (it may need some muscle grease)

Once the tire is off, examine it for foreign objects and holes, feeling along the tire if necessary. Be sure to check the entire tire (it’s already off, might as well be thorough) for damage and mark any that you do find with chalk or tape.

If you can’t find the leak but happen to have soap and water handy, mix the two until frothy and apply it to the tire – the leak will reveal itself in the form of bubbling on the surface of the tire.

4. Put on the Spare

You should always have a fully inflated spare with you for just this situation. Never forget to maintain your spare tire – one flat is bad enough, but if your spare is flat as well you’re in for a very bad day indeed.

  1. Place the flat tire under your vehicle to reduce the chance of injury should the jack fail
  2. Place your spare tire onto the hub, being sure to align the wheel with the wheel bolts
  3. Put all of the lug nuts on, then tighten them by hand until they are snug
  4. Use the tire wrench to tighten (clockwise) the lug nuts in a star pattern, one nut across from the other. Don’t tighten any one nut all at once: go one full turn on each until they are all tight to ensure the tire is balanced
  5. Remove the flat tire from beneath the vehicle and lower the jack
  6. Use the tire wrench to tighten the nuts as much as possible
  7. Pack up and get going!

5. Plug the Flat

A plug and patch combination is the only tire repair the RMA says is safe, however a patch requires the tire be removed from the wheel, which may not be practical in some situations. The following method is only a temporary fix until you can get your truck, Jeep or SUV into a shop to have the tire removed, checked and properly repaired. If you have a spare, swap it out for the flat and take the damaged tire into the shop for a full evaluation.

  1. If applicable, remove the dastardly object which punctured your tire
  2. In your tire repair kit will be a rasp tool: quickly insert it into and out of the puncture to clean and roughen up the area
  3. Thread a strip of cement “worm” from the kit through the insertion tool
  4. Stick the insertion tool with the cement strip into the puncture – it will take a good solid shove and you want the plug tightly pushed in until only about half an inch sticks out
  5. Pull the insertion tool straight out, leaving the plug in place
  6. Trim the excess plug close to the tire
  7. Re-inflate the tire to the correct air pressure (after it’s inflated, apply a little soapy water if you have it to make sure the seal is holding)

Follow the appropriate steps from the last section to place the tire back onto the vehicle.

If you’ve repaired your flat tire, make sure to stop by your local 4 Wheel Parts store ASAP to have our mechanics do a full plug and patch repair, and if you’ve swapped out your flat for a spare don’t put off getting a new one. You left your house this morning thinking you wouldn’t be needing your spare tire today, but you did – you never know when you’ll need one next.

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