On the Trail Tire Repair

If you visit the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s website, it will inform you that the only way to safely repair a tire is with a plug-patch combination. If you talk with fellow Jeep owners, however, most will tell you a plug alone is just fine in most situations. So which is it? Use a plug with a patch or use a plug on its own? Also, if you can just repair a punctured tire, why do you need to haul around a spare?

OnTheTrailTireRepair_JeepTires_JeepWheelsPlug Alone

A puncture of more than ¼-inch in diameter should not be patched. This large of a puncture calls for a replacement tire, as the wound is too large to safely seal with a patch, plug or any combination thereof. That being said, tire plugs make for great temporary trail repairs for smaller punctures. The kit easily tucks away into your glove box (or just about anywhere else) and can be used to repair your tire in ten minutes or less.

OnTheTrailTireRepair_JeepTirePlugThe way a tire plug works is, the strips of leather, which are covered in unvulcanized rubber, tightly fit into the puncture and prevent air from escaping. As you drive, it generates heat, which vulcanizes the rubber on the plug and seals the hole completely.

A plug on its own is always to be considered a temporary repair for a punctured tire. There are many accounts of tire plugs lasting the lifetime of the tire, but the last things you want to take risks with are your Jeep wheels and tires. The time when a plug is most likely to fail is during high-speed drive, which also happens to be the time when a blowout is the most likely to end very badly for both you and your rig.

When you’re on the trail or rushing to work and need a quick fix, though, there is no arguing that a tire plug can be a life saver. This is one tool every Jeep owner should keep in their vehicle.

Plug and Patch

OnTheTrailTireRepair_Smittybilt_JeepWheelsA properly done patch with a plug is the safest and most secure way to repair a punctured tire – not to mention the only method endorsed by the RMA. It is also the most time consuming and is often considered overkill in some situations.

The first step to patching a tire, after locating and marking the puncture, is to remove it from the rim. This is not an easy task without a tire mounting machine, which is not exactly what you’d pack with your standard trail gear.

However, it is the only way to apply a tire patch and to fully inspect the tire for damage. From the outside, you may just notice a small puncture, but once you take the tire off and examine it you may see there is also a dangerous puncture in your tire wall.

While a patch and plug combination is the industry standard, it is an impractical fix on the trail or on the go. If you have a spare, however, you can always remove the damaged tire, put your spare on and take the punctured tire to the shop once you reach civilization.

Carrying a Spare

It is rumored that the days of carrying spare tires are becoming a thing of the past. To many, it’s like carrying an umbrella around with you everywhere. Sure, if it rains you’ll be glad you have it, but if the sun is shining 98% of the time, the umbrella is just taking up space and raising eyebrows.

However, if it rains and you don’t have an umbrella, all that happens is you get wet. If you get a flat and you don’t carry a spare, you waste time waiting around for AAA at best and get stranded at worst. If you off-road with your Jeep and don’t carry a spare tire, it’s like you live in Seattle and still don’t bring your umbrella with you when you walk out the door.

On TheTrailTireRepair_JeepTiresOne big weakness of plugs and patches is that they cannot be used to repair a punctured sidewall. The sidewall of your tire is made of a different material than the tread and it is also under a great deal more pressure. The sidewall needs to be able to flex as you drive and a plug or patch may not be keen on flexing with it; the result can be a dangerous blowout. When off-roading, it is very possible that a vindictive rock or branch could take a bite out of the sidewall of your tire. If this happens, the only way to get back home safely is with a spare tire. As we all know, Murphy’s Law is a fickle witch, so why provoke it?

It is important for your rig to always be equipped with a spare tire which is:

  • The same size as your other four
  • Fully inflated
  • In good condition

Instead of letting your spare gather dust, a good practice is to rotate it in with your other tires every time you do a tire rotation. This insures that all of your tires wear evenly, increases the lifespan of your full set of tires and puts the money you invested into your spare to work.

Rachel Bowes is a copywriter with 4WD