Flat (and Leaking) Tires

May 26, 2009 at 7:52 pm

With a slow leak in my right front tire, I thought I’d share a bit about tire repair (most of you probably know all this but just in case). And by a leak, I mean this is more than a few PSI lost between my monthly tire pressure checks (more about this important general maintenance in another post). So noticeable in fact that I could see my tire was low with the naked eye. And FYI eyes can fool you – nothing is better than checking with a tire pressure gauge – so after checking, sure enough, almost down to 15 PSI. Yikes!

So first – when does a tire have to be replaced – instead of repaired? If you’ve got a hole in the sidewall (side of the tire) then it can’t be repaired – and will lose air plenty fast. Or if the tire has been worn against the rim (read on below). It also can’t be repaired if there is a puncture in the tire tread that’s over an 1/8″ – 1/4″.

But luckily most nails and screws and common damaging debris fit within that size parameter. And sometimes a leak can be caused by accumulated rust (on steel rims) or corrosion (on aluminum rims) that breaks the good seal of the tire against the rim – this material can be manually ground down and treated. Other leak sources are a leaking valve stem or the Schrader valve itself (where you put the air in, like on your bike tire) – and these are simple to replace, too.

So I’ll just bring it to my local Century Tire or another shop for repair – I might bring my bike and get a few errands done while the car is there – or at the bigger tire shops you can usually wait if you want. It’ll cost maybe $20-$30 – well less than the cost of replacement: $100+ on average for a new tire mounted & balanced.

By law, in Maine, a repair means the tire is removed from the rim, inspected (for inside damage), and plugged & patched. The plug ensures the hole is filled all the way through to keep water from entering the hole and rusting the steel belts within the tire. The patch seals the inner liner. Tire work is brutal – it’s dirty and breaks your back lifting heavy tires on rims all day. But it can also be satisfying to bring a tire back to life.

One last bit – how I get my tire to the shop is critical and could mean the life or death of the tire. And per above – cost me a lot more. Because if it’s super low on air, I’ll be driving on the rim, which will cut up the inside of the tire – and FAST – and send a perfectly repairable tire to the scrap heap. So even if there’s a gas station with an air pump just a few blocks away, DON’T drive the car there unless there’s maybe close to 15 PSI in the tire.

If it’s less, and you’re lucky enough to have an air compressor on site, then use that to fill your tire before you go anywhere. But most of us don’t have access to a compressor – so then get yourself a can of Fix-a-Flat. You can find it at gas stations, your local drugstore even – or Shaw’s. And I recommend buying two – one to use now and one to keep in your trunk.

It DOES NOT, by the way, fix a flat tire. But it’s easy to use (read the directions on the can) and should get the tire off the rim – unless the seal has completely broken. And while it will still be somewhat flat, as you run the car down the road the agitation of the foam will bring the tire pressure up a bit more. Just be sure to let the shop know you added it – because they’ll have to be careful as they remove the rim (and it will be messy).

And if the tire won’t come up off the rim at all (i.e., the seal between the tire and rim is broken), then jack the car up and remove the tire if you can and bring it in that way – or get the car towed. Even if you don’t have roadside assistance, a tow should still cost way less than an average tire & rim purchase – you’ll damage the rim, too, most likely – (about $200).

Enough for today – thanks for reading! And now off to get my tire tended to…

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