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What to Do if You Have a Nail in Your Tire

Stephen Fogel
February 7, 2019

You may hear a rhythmic clicking sound as you drive. You might see something shiny poking out of your otherwise normal-looking tire. Or maybe you'll hear a hissing sound. 

These are all signs that there’s a nail in your tire, a problem that may seem minor but really needs attention. That little piece of metal could soon leave you on the side of the road, trying to figure out how to change a flat.

Here’s what to do if you believe your tire has picked up an unwanted passenger.

What part of the tire is the nail in?

The good news is the damage may be fixable — but a lot depends on where the nail is. Most tires on cars and trucks today use a soft, flexible sidewall and rigid steel belts that run underneath the tread.  

If the nail in your tire is in the area covered by the steel belts, it can usually be repaired. But if it’s at the outer edge of the tread, or the sidewall, the tire has to go. A repair is neither safe nor possible.

Is the tire leaking air?

If the puncture isn’t leaking yet, or if the leaking is very minor, you should be able to drive a short distance to a tire shop or mechanic. But first, check the tire’s air pressure and fill it up to a safe level at a gas station, if necessary. Don’t try to remove the nail.

If the tire won’t hold air, or if the leaking is rapid, you’ll need to change it out before driving to get it repaired. You can do this yourself, or you can call roadside assistance to help.

Is your tire flat?

Driving on a completely flat tire will damage it internally, guaranteeing you’ll have to buy a replacement. If your tire is flat, change to your spare and take the damaged one to a service location for repair or replacement.

If your car has a mini-spare tire, or “doughnut,” be sure to drive slower on it. Also be sure that the spare is inflated to the recommended pressure, which can be found in the owner’s manual

 

Do you have run-flat tires?

If your car is equipped with run-flat tires, you might not notice that the tire has lost its air pressure, as run-flats have reinforced sidewalls that let you keep driving. Depending on the tire, you’ll be able to drive around 50 miles at 50 mph on a run-flat tire. 

A run-flat tire with a nail in it could be repairable, but it will most likely need to be replaced after running flat.

» MORE: Tire maintenance 101

Can you drive with nail in your tire?

Driving with a nail in your tire is a risk. Even if the affected tire is currently holding its pressure, the nail could shift into a position that lets air escape, or fall out altogether. This could result in a flat tire, or even a blowout. 

It’s simply not worth it to drive anywhere but right to a mechanic, or a tire repair shop. And if the tire is in bad shape, put the spare on instead.

Can the tire be repaired?

The nail’s location plays a big role in whether a tire can be fixed, but it’s not the only factor. If the tire has already been damaged repeatedly, or if it’s worn out, you’ll need to get a new tire. 

Repairing a tire may involve removing it from the wheel and then installing a plug and a patch. The plug fills the hole made by the nail, and the patch acts as a pressure seal to keep the air inside the tire. Some shops may use only a plug while others may use just a patch. Once the repair is made, the tire is put back on and balanced, and you can be on your way. 

If you have to buy a replacement tire, you’ll want it to match the brand and size of the others already on your car.

How can you be prepared?

There’s no way to completely avoid picking up a nail — it happens to everyone at some point. But there are some things you can do to be prepared:

  • Carry a good tire gauge in your car
  • Carry a portable air compressor
  • Check your tires (including the spare) regularly, keeping them properly inflated
  • Learn how to change a tire

One more thing: If your car doesn’t have a spare tire, consider buying one. That can of fix-a-flat is not a perfect solution — it won’t fix every tire problem, and it can actually damage your tire pressure sensors. With a spare, you can take off your damaged tire and drive on one you can trust.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

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Never mind -- nail in tire :-(
Need to replace tires, best place to buy.