Tire Plug Kit
By Steve Marschke
I’ve had more flat tires out in the desert than I can count (some well-de.served). Having a spare tire is a no brainer. For your consideration, ask yourself “To plug, or not to plug?” Do you carry a tire plug kit? If you don’t have one you should probably get one. These are the kind of tools that tire shops aren’t allowed to use anymore (liability insurance?) but private parties can still use them and they work pret.ty well. You can pay about $50 for a high-quality kit (Saf-T-Seal) but I have found the $10 Pep Boys or Amazon model to work just fine. The reason for the kit is simple: when you get a flat tire offroad, you will change over to your spare (you have one, right?) At this point you will be back in motion. If you are on your way out of the wilderness, no prob.lem. However, what if you just got start.ed on your trip or haven’t even made it to your destination? Are you going to keep going and get even farther into the boondocks without a spare tire? Maybe, but you will probably start worrying. What if you get another flat or two at one time? With a plug kit you just might be able to patch the flat tire and keep your spare for later. Or you can patch more than one tire. You have a choice now to continue on your itinerary with.out worrying that you will be stranded. Or you can be someone’s hero – chances are you have traveled with someone who was not prepared and now is a liability to the whole group. You may not find out who has not properly prepared their vehicle to go off road until something bad happens, but you can be a part of a successful recovery. Even if you never use it on your own vehicle, it’s a must have.
Tire patch kits are rather simple to use: first find the hole – this can be the hardest part, if you can’t see a nail or foreign object use some water and spread it around with your hand slowly. The escaping air might make a bubble but will usually make some hissing noise as the air and your hand partially block the opening. Most of the time you won’t have any trouble finding the hole – it’s right where that sharp rock or creosote stump is jutting into your tire. If you need to, drive a foot or two to get the hole to an orientation where you can work on it. Then insert the reamer part of the kit in and out of the hole a few times. Thread the plug (it’s like sticky rope) through the insert tool, coat it with the rubber cement, and carefully push it into the hole. Go slow here because you want the ends of the plug to stay outside, not all the way into the tire. Hold the ends of the plug down and remove the tool; the plug should slide out of the tool and stay in the tire. The ends of the plug will be hanging out. You can leave them or trim them off with a knife. Pump up the tire with your air compressor (Don’t have one? Better get one, even a cheapy cigarette lighter version.)
I find a couple helpful hints: if the hole is in the tread, keep tire inflated as much as possible as it will help keep the tire rigid making the insertion through the steel belts slightly easier. If the hole is in sidewall or the corner you can insert the plug with tire completely deflated, since there are few or no steel belts it will go in easily. If you have a large hole or a gash, keep inserting plugs side by side until hole is filled up. It helps to hold first plug with a nee.dle nose pliers to keep from pushing it into the tire as you insert the next plug. While off road and driving slowly, don’t worry too much but periodically check the plug to make sure it stayed put and the tire is holding air. Once you get back to the highway you should have a good idea if the tire is road worthy or not. By the time my tires reach 50,000 miles I usually have at least a couple plugs in each one.
Best part about using a plug – you just saved yourself the cost of a tire. If you get another puncture on the same tire – so what, that tire is already worn and you saved the replacement cost, how much will another plug hurt? Secondary benefit: a plug kit and small air compres.sor and far easier to pack (and cheaper) than a second spare tire – who has space for two anyway? Third benefit: You can buy a replacement tire that matches your other three instead of paying through the nose at the local garage and receiving a mismatched tire you never would have bought in the first place – when it’s all said and done, you’ve bought two tires (expensive lesson to learn).
Next time you get a low tire at home practice using your plug kit in your driveway so you’ll be ready. You can also watch videos on You Tube and get some free training. It’s much easier to learn when you are relaxed at home than it is when you are in the hinterlands, weighing your options. ~ Steve