We all have or will experience at some point on our off-road adventures a tyre puncture. The question is how to repair a puncture and make sure we are prepared to do this ourselves and, on the roadside, when it does actually happen.
Generally, a simple tyre plug will suffice but when the hole isn’t in the crown or too big to plug you’ll need a patch. You also need a jack to remove the tyre and a compressor to pump the tyre back up when done.
Before you run off and by the first puncture repair kit you see, it’s worth learning how to use them so they don’t end up collect dust in the back to the 4WD. Keep reading and we will show you just how to do this when out in the bush.
What Causes Tyre Punctures In The First Place
Travelling gravel roads inherently increases the risk of tyre punctures and while various theories exist regarding the best tyre pressure to use the bottom line is, if there is a sharp object in the path of the tread then there is a chance that it will penetrate the tread creating a puncture.
Vehicle weight, tyre pressure and of course travel speed are influences on the severity of potential punctures, and it stands to reason that if you reduce these factors theoretically it reduces your risk of punctures.
The ideal situation is to be constantly aware of the road surface, listen for any unusual noises your vehicle may be making and any changes in typical handling characteristics will immediately alert you to an unbalance wheel or tyre puncture before a potential ‘blow out’.
Repair Essentials To Be Prepared For A Punctured Tyre
It’s the age-old theory of ‘you get what you pay for’ and in this case buy the best quality puncture repair kit you can afford. One that has quality tools inside and not just a jazzy carry case.
If you plan an overland trip, the keyword is self-sufficiency and you must go equipped to repair punctured tyres yourself, even go so far as to include two spare tyres on rims if you can, this will save you a few roadside hours. A few things you will need are:
- Hydraulic/airlift or Mechanical jack
- Tyre repair kit (tube patches, plugs and vulcanising solution)
- Spare Tubes
- Tyre Levers
- A Pressure Gauge
- Plugs, in particular, the ones that vulcanise with the tyre to prevent them pulling out
- Latex tyre sealant
- A high-volume compressor
- Gaiter patches and the vulcanising solution
If you’re new to Off-roading, it can be quite intimidating to pick the best Bang For Buck Equipment. Make sure to head over to the Recommend Gear Page, we have a page with review on the equipment we feel will make the perfect puncture repair kit
So, how do we start to repair a flat tyre?
Most off-roaders these days use tubeless tyres which do not normally go flat all at once, a slow leak occurs and generally repairing them in the bush is relatively straightforward.
Unfortunately, sometimes a gradual leak can cause the tyre to flex excessively leading to high temperatures and the quintessential blow out happens usually in a characteristic ‘unzipping’ of the sidewall.
Assuming no blow-out or serious tyre damage has occurred, all you will see is a partly deflated tyre. If you’re not yet off-road and heading into town take care when jacking your vehicle and simply replace the wheel and tyre with your spare and have the flat fixed professionally.
Professional repairers will take the tyre off the vehicle, thoroughly inspect it and fit an internal ‘mushroom’ patch where the ‘head’ of the mushroom patch is inserted and is glued to the inside of the casing.
But What If Im Off-Road And Get A Puncture?
While a professional service may not be a luxury at this point in time on your trip you will need to plug the leak and reduce your travel speed. Plugged tyres must not be driven at road speeds and pressures, the safety of you and your passengers is paramount.
Make sure your vehicle is switched off, in gear, on as flat ground as possible and the handbrake is engaged. Next is to find the leak in the tyre, establish if its best repaired on the vehicle or removed and worked on the ground.
If you can avoid having to remove your tyre from the rim unless you have split-rim wheels, it’s probably best. 4WD tyres are heavy and its simply very difficult to seat the beads back properly before reinflating the tyre plus the risk of damaging both tyre beads and rims is high when you need to remove the tyre from the rim.
Next, you will want to remove any object that has penetrated the casing, small obstructions can be removed with pliers. You will hear air escaping so you can assess how aggressive the leak is or by pouring a soapy solution over it to visually confirm air bubbles showing you the exact location of the leak. It’s best not to rely on the ‘squirt in’ pressure-pack repair liquids they are not able to adequately inflate a 4WD-sized tyre to the correct and safe pressure.
How to Use Tyre Plugs To Repair Your Tyre
If the leak can be plugged get out your tyre repair kit. A comprehensive tyre repair kit will contain plugs that get pushed into the hole and mushroom out to seal the inside of the tyre. (For those who are not what tyre plugs look like, Check out my review here to learn more)
Standard commercial tyre kits come with an auger that’s used primarily for drilling out a hole, but don’t jump at using this tool on your first attempt and try putting extra lubricant and a plug first.
Smear the kit’s lubricant on the auger then insert it into the puncture to clear the hole. Now is the time to reinflate the damaged tyre to help with insertion of the cord.
Dip the plug into the lube to coat it and insert it into the hole using the insertion tool. You should see two equal ends of the plug about a cm in length and then ease it back out.
If the plug insertion tool doesn’t fit in or is difficult to insert you may need to ream the hole a little with the auger and try plugging it again. Avoid making the hole unnecessarily larger it just makes it that much harder to plug. Never use a reamer or auger in a sidewall puncture this will only compound the damage to the sidewall and potentially split it even further.
It’s essential to keep in mind that sidewalls must never be plugged and should only be considered as last resort to just get you back on track to the nearest professional tyre repair centre.
How To Remove and Refit A Repaired Tubeless Tyre Roadside
Be prepared for some manhandling, you will need to use your tyre pliers on the damaged tyre to loosen up the beads and then use a pair of tyre levers to ease the outer bead over the outside rim. The inner bead needs to be eased over the outer rim, you can use the levers and a rubber mallet and in the reverse order to the way the old tyre came off the new tyre goes on the wheel over the outside rim. You will need to lubricate the beads with a soapy solution to reduce the friction and get it to slide more easily.
Next, you will need to make sure the tyre beads seat correctly, so the tyre will inflate and sit well against the rim. Again, lots of lubricants or a soapy solution will help seat the beads on the rim more easily. It may make it easier if you remove the tyre valve core to allow maximum airflow, once the beads are fully seated you can replace the valve core and inflate the tyre to the desired pressure.
You will need to physically push and pull this and if all else fails to bead seating can be aided using the Spanish windless method which is done by running a length of rope around the circumference of the tyre, in the middle of the tread and twisting a stick between the two falls of the rope to tighten it.
We have all seen the commercials and youtube DIY videos depicting the aerosol squirt in between the tyre and rim. The gas is ignited and the beads pop into place – well, we just recommended the good old-fashioned manhandling method.
If you have done it all right, you can re-inflate the tyre using a portable air compressor and be on your way.
How to fix a flat if you have Tubed Tyres
Assuming your tubed tyres are mounted on standard split rims you will need to jack your vehicle, demount the wheel and lay it on a flat surface, with the split rim facing up. You will need tyre pliers and a tyre lever to separate the tyre bead from the wheel and ease the end of the locking ring out of the split rim.
This will enable you to pull out the inner tube and visually inspect it for punctures and check the inside of the tyre to make sure nothing is protruding inwards or any sharp wire has caused damage to the tube. It is handy to keep a range of patch sizes including patches that are suitable for inside the tyre.
The glue used for the patches does not have a very long shelf life and hardens quickly once opened so we found it useful to pack a few small-sized solution tubes, rather than large ones.
Before Putting it all back together again make sure the locking ring is lightly lubricated the groove is cleaned thoroughly and seated perfectly before you inflate the tyre. It is advisable to inflate the tyre with the wheel face downwards and the ring pointed into the ground, away from people, just in case it flies loose.
What are the benefits of a tubeless tyre?
Tubeless tyres are not immune to punctures, however, using tubeless tyres does reduce the chances of having to repair punctures while off-roading. You don’t have to worry about pinch flats, so you can run less air in your tyres when you need more traction control, and, in the event, you do get a puncture the air leakage is much slower giving you time to reach a suitable location to repair it.
Why should you never fix a side wall puncture?
It’s essential to keep in mind that sidewalls must never be plugged and should only be considered as a last resort to just get you back on track to the nearest professional tyre repair centre. Sidewall repairs should simply be avoided as its unsafe and could lead to a dangerous blowout.
When is too many repairs and time to replace?
Tyre maintenance and safety is of utmost importance and any sign of wear should be inspected by a professional tyre repair centre. Large holes that have been repaired are a safety risk and as an industry guide repairs of punctures up to 1/4″ in diameter are deemed acceptable and usually only 2 repairs on a tyre are considered ‘extending’ a tyres life. If in doubt have them checked out.