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Tire Plug vs Patching a Tire – Which is Better?

The general recommendation is that plugging a tire will work just fine. Many people take it above and beyond that, and use a combination of a plug and a patch. That might seem like overkill, but if it works it works. If you’re going to attempt to repair your tire to save yourself from being gouged by tire shops, just make sure the puncture isn’t too close to the sidewall.

plug vs patch which is better

In that case we recommend just getting a new tire, it’s a vulnerable part of your tread that bears most of the weight and pressure during turning. Patching a tire is the choice for bigger holes,say something larger than a nail.

If you have a Discount Tire near you, they’ll fix your flat for free. It’s a great way for them to win new customers and it saves you some headache. You do not need to have purchased your tire from them, it’s a complimentary service. They’ll even remove the nail or whatever caused the puncture as long as it’s reasonable.

How to Properly Plug a Tire?

Your plug kit should come with a few things: a reamer, a plug insert, rubber cement, and the sticky rubber plug. Remember that the first step is not to remove the nail or whatever is in your tire, if you do that you’ll be hustling to feed the rubber plug through while air is leaking out. That could be a pain. 

1. Feed the rubber plug through the plug insert tool. Bring it about halfway through the tool so you have an even 50/50 length on the plug. That helps for when you insert it to make it not make it lopsided which is a common mistake. 

2. Remove whatever object is in your tire. Now that you’ve fed your rubber plug through and have it ready to go – it’s fine to remove the object that got stuck. 

3. Use the reaming tool to clean out the hole. This will create a good surface for your plug to adhere to. What you’re doing is scoring the outside of the hole, a similar technique is used when you patch a tire. 

4. Apply the rubber cement to your plug. You don’t have to overdo it, just coat the length of your plug and you’re good to go.

5. Shove it in the hole! Okay sorry I had to say that. But, use your extractor to insert the plug into the hole, you’ll reach a point where it will give way. This is why it’s important you use the reamer as well, if the circumference isn’t wide enough to easily insert the plug – you’re going to struggle getting it in there. 

6. Yank your reamer tool free. The reamer has a small opening at the lip and it’s designed to make sure your plug goes in, while you’re still able to take your tool out. So yank away, eventually the plug and reamer will set free. At that point your plug is set in the hole. 

7. Let it sit for a while. After you’ve let the plug and glue “cure” to your tire you can pump it up with air and see if it’s working. If it is working, clean the surrounding area of the residual glue and trim off the plug that going to be sticking out of your tire. Once you do that, you’re golden. 

Is patching a tire safe?

Yes, as long as you do it properly your tire should be fine. Again, like we mentioned previously, use common sense when patching a tire. If it’s a big hole by your sidewall – there is no use in keeping the tire. For your safety and the other drivers on the road, swap that out!

Why do we mention the sidewall? Well, think about your tire. The sidewalls will expand, contract, and flex as you drive. So your patch is going to undergo a lot of wear and tear. If the hole is in the middle of your tire it’s not going to have nearly any flexion to deal with. Over time a sidewall repair will become vulnerable and you don’t want to find out in a blowout – messing with tire safety is not fun. 

How to Properly Patch a Tire?

Your patch kit should include the patch, rubber cement, tire buffer, and a stitching tool(to set the patch).

1. Buff up the area. If you’ve ever played with clay in art class, you know that before you send it to the kiln you have to “cross it”. The same concept works with pretty much all adhesion. A patch is less likely to fit to a smooth area, so mark it up. If you’re in a pinch and don’t have a tire buffer, grab a piece of sandpaper and work the area for a little bit. The goal here is to give the glue crevices to fall into and grab on. One layer of glue on a smooth area won’t have anywhere close as much grip if you follow this step. If you’re using an air tool – make sure you don’t dig too deep a groove in the tire. 

2. Clean the area with liquid tire buffer and cleaner. This will remove all the little particles and clean up the surface. Wipe it all off until your rag isn’t dark anymore.

3. Apply a light coat of your rubber cement. You don’t have to drown the thing in glue but make sure you cover enough of a surface area for the full patch. Look at your rubber cements drying time, most often you’ll just need to wait a couple minutes. 

4. Once your glue is nice and sticky – remove the adhesion flaps from your patch and apply it over the center of the hole!

5. Use your cross stitching tool and have at it. At this point you just want to make sure the patch really digs into the surface and has good contact. When you’re done, carefully remove the topper from the patch without peeling up the edges. 

Both of these options work great for stopping a tire from leaking air, the main difference being that patching a hole is a little more involved. You’ll have to remove the tire tread and it takes more time to do that. The best solution in our opinion? Well, if you want that tire to last you another 20,000 miles – do both. If you take the extra time to use both techniques you can have the peace of mind to know your tire is going to hold up. If one or the other fails, you have a backup. 

For small holes and nails, plugging a tire works just fine. Let that glue dry!


I'm the owner of Beast Auto. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I love anything automotive related, and taking road trips all across my beautiful state.