Flats are a part of getting off-road, where rocks and obstacles can take their toll on the carcasses of our tires. Even highway debris can become embedded in the rubber and result in a cut and eventual leak. It’s handy to have a spare tire to swap on as needed. But sometimes, if no spare is available, you may resort to repairing the flatted tire.
While we’ve seen plugged tires go tens of thousands of miles without any problems, plugs should usually be considered a temporary fix until the tire can be better evaluated. It may be necessary to discard the tire or have it properly patched from the inside.
Fortunately, modern off-road tires are quite robust and the better ones can take some serious punishment. You may need to implement a field tire repair, and the most common means is with the use of plugs.
Spare tires are handy to have, but sometimes you run out of them. So, in some cases, tire plugs can provide a quick fix to a small hole in a tire. This may be your only convenient answer if you’re far out on a trail and have no spare tire handy, or you’re in a spot where it’s just not practical or possible to change the flatted tire.
A comprehensive tire plug kit, such as this one from Power Tank, may mean the difference between driving and walking out of the woods or desert. A kit will have a reamer to clean and prepare the hole for the plug, and a plug insertion tool. One of the gooey plugs is threaded halfway through the tip of the insertion tool. Then the tool is used to push the plug into the hole in the tire. The Power Tank kit also includes stainless steel wire for stitching up larger sidewall cuts. (Photo courtesy of Power Tank.)
We’ve seen guys plug some fairly large sidewall slashes on the trail. The trick is to stuff a bunch of plugs into the hole, working them into place one at a time with an insertion tool. Some plug kits include glue or lube to be used when the plugs are pushed into the tire. Sidewall areas are weaker than tread areas and sidewall plugs are not recommended on the street. However, it’s fairly common to plug sidewalls on trail tires, or when needed to get you back to a trailer or spare tire.
There are some tires that you simply can’t salvage. Some large cuts won’t effectively hold plug material, and sidewall stitching may not be practical. Some big tire or farm tractor shops can do inside and outside rubber vulcanizing to repair some fairly large tears quite well. Again, this is for use for trail only tires that don’t see high speed use. We’ve successfully salvaged some large, rock-crawling tires this way.