How to use Plug Kits - Don't Leave Home Without It
When you’re heading out, its best to be prepared for every possible eventuality, and that should include carrying a DIY plug kit.
If you are new to this you might say I have a spare wheel or even two spare wheels, why do I need a plug kit? I can tell you from experience you can definitely have multiple flat tyres in a single incident. This can easily leave you with more flats than you have spares leaving you stuck on the side of the road.
But a simple piece of repair equipment that will fit in your pocket, weighs about 200 grams, and will cost you around $20–30 can get you out of trouble until you get to the next town. The humble tyre plug kit, as the name suggests, repairs holes in your tyres. Admittedly, you usually need an air compressor as well, but that’s another story though no tourer should be without a compressor.
FIND THE LEAK
Your tyre can be damaged in a number of ways. Sometimes the leak is obvious, but sometimes it requires a bit more investigation. Be aware the damage could be on the tread of the tyre or the sidewall. A big time-saver is that you don’t necessarily have to remove the wheel to identify or repair the leak. You may be able to drive your vehicle very slowly to expose different parts of the tyre until you find the problem. Alternatively, you may be able to jack the vehicle up just enough to enable the wheel to be rotated. Once you have identified the leak point you can let the vehicle down off the jack. (All the normal safety precautions of jacking a vehicle need to be followed but it is ultimately safer if the wheel does not need to be removed.)
Sometimes you can see an object stuck in the tyre or if you haven’t lost all the air yet, you may hear the tyre hissing. If you have a stuck object, you can pull it out with a pair of plyers or similar. If the object is acting as a plug, you will get a rush of air out of the tyre. If you are organised to prepare and plug the hole you may be able to complete the job without losing too much air. In fact, pushing the insertion tool in is easier with pressure in the tyres because the tyre doesn’t deflect as much, and pulling out the insertion tool while keeping the plug in is easier because the pressure holds the plug in place.
Sometimes there is no object stuck in the tyre, but you can hear the hissing, or a puncture/tear is visible. Sometimes you just can’t find any evidence at all. This could happen when you get up in the morning and find your tyre very low or completely flat. In this case, you may have a slow leak. To find the leak, pump the tyre back up and progressively spray areas of the tyre with soapy water. You may need to look carefully but usually you will be able to spot bubbles forming where air is leaking from the tyre.
PREPARE THE HOLE
Use the reaming tool to ‘clean’ the hole. What you are doing is pushing any debris out of the hole and ensuring that the hole is big enough to accept the insertion tool/plug. It can require a bit of conviction to push hard through the tough rubber and steel belt of the tyre. Just lean into it and give the tool a few twists — you won’t hurt the tyre.
PLUG THE HOLE
Thread the plug through the eye of the insertion tool. Apply rubber adhesive to the plug. Some are of the opinion that the adhesive is unnecessary, but I find it lubricates the plug making it easier to push it in. Push the insertion tool into the hole in the tyre until there is only a couple of centimetres of plug left sticking out. Pull the insertion tool out quickly with a bit of a twist and the plug will be left in the hole. Then trim off the plug protruding from the tyre. There is no need to wait for the adhesive to dry. Inflate the tyre and check if your repair is leaking.
Sometimes it takes more than one plug to fix a whole — you can jam them in side by side. Also, you may have more than one hole in the tyre so keep an eye out for that.
HAVE A GO
You don’t always get a chance to easily practice something like this but here’s an idea. When your tyres are worn, and you are ready to replace them have some fun first. You can inflict a puncture in one of your unsuspecting tyres and then repair it. I reckon a cordless drill and a screw sounds like a good way to do it — just deflate the tyre first to take away any chance of all that compressed air creating a projectile. You may find you need to put some air pressure back in the tyre, so the tyre wall doesn’t flex too much preventing you from pushing in the reaming and insertion tool. As an extreme example, I took the photos for this article with an old tyre removed from the rim. Tyre side wall flex made it very difficult to push in the tools.
Based on the temporary fix information below you shouldn’t use your ‘experimental tyre’ to drive to the tyre shop.
A quick search on the VicRoads site (yes, it is only one state) turned up reference to Vehicle Standards Information 16 – Tyre maintenance and repair. Here are some extracts from it:
“Repair of punctures in tubeless tyres by insertion of plugs or loops of adhesive, or sealant impregnated cord, without removing the tyre from the rim is not a satisfactory procedure. This method is acceptable only as an emergency repair in exceptional circumstances to enable the vehicle to be driven to a service centre, where proper repairs can be made.”
“Repairs are only allowed in the crown area of the tyre. Repairs are not permitted in the bead, sidewall, or shoulder area of the tyre.”
IF IN DOUBT, CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL
Improper repairs could lead to injury, death, or property damage. Repairs of this nature should only be undertaken by persons with suitable mechanical competence. Information provided is general in nature, not comprehensive and can only be taken as a guide. Individual discretion must be exercised and persons undertaking described tasks do so completely at their own risk. Publishers and creators of this content accept no responsibility for loss or damage.
Have used plugs often without problems. However, tyre shops recommend proper repair when you’ve returned home as, with plugs, air can get between the layers of the tyre and cause delamination.