What to Do if You Have a Nail in Your Tire

December 14, 2016

It’s happened to all of us. You see that small nail peeking out of your tread, or you hear the psshh noise of air escaping your punctured tire. Maybe that’s you right now. But before you despair, answer these quick questions. You’ll be back on the road sooner than you think!

Where is the nail in the tire’s tread?

If the nail or screw is toward the center of the tread, the tire can be patched. If the nail is along the tire shoulder, or if the nail is in the sidewall, it can't be plugged or patched, and will have to be replaced.

Is the puncture leaking?

If the puncture is not yet leaking, or if the leaking is very minor, you should be able to drive a short distance to a repair facility or tire store. If the air leak is major, it is not recommended to drive on the damaged tire. You can check this by placing your hand above the puncture to feel for air. If you’re at home, spraying soapy water around the nail or screw will make bubbles if air is escaping. If you can actually hear the leak, the tire will likely not hold air long enough for you to drive on it. In either case, do not remove the nail until you visit a repair facility.

Is the tire flat?

If the wheel looks like it’s resting on the folded, flat tire, you should not drive on it. Driving on a completely flat tire will damage it internally, necessitating replacement. If equipped, change to your spare tire and take the damaged one to a service location for repair or replacement. If your car is equipped with run-flat tires, you might not notice that the tire has lost all air pressure as run-flats are designed to support the vehicle’s weight in the event of a puncture or damage. You can drive on one of these.

Run-flat tires have reinforced sidewalls to allow you to continue driving even with no air pressure in the tires. Depending on the tire, you’ll be able to drive around 50 miles at 50 mph. You will want to check the specifications for the tires on your vehicle for the exact distance and speed.

How long can I drive on a donut or space-saver spare tire?

Similar to Run Flats, space savers are only designed to get you to the closest service center or tire shop. Check your owner’s manual or the donut-spare markings. Generally, you’ll be able to drive around 50 miles at 50mph.

How long can I drive on a full-size spare tire?

A Full-Size Spare tire is essentially a spare of your normal sized wheels. Typically you see these on sport activity vehicles or older full-size cars. You can drive as fast and as far as necessary, but you’ll still want to get the original tire repaired or replaced as soon as possible. The spare tire will not wear evenly with the other three tires on the vehicle, leading to inconsistent and unsafe handling.

Can the nail puncture be repaired?

If it is a normal tire, any puncture can be repaired if it is not in the tire sidewall, not on the tire’s shoulder, and is less than ¼” in diameter. Larger holes or cuts and slices in tires cannot be repaired.

Can I repair the tire myself?

Repair requires plugging and patching the hole from inside and outside the tire. This requires the wheel to be removed from the vehicle, and the tire to be removed from the wheel. Due to the labor and special tools involved, plugging a tire is best left to professionals. Luckily, this is a relatively inexpensive repair at any facility.

Do I have to replace the tire?

If it is a run-flat tire, or has been patched previously, it needs to be replaced. Any tire with less than 2/32” tread depth remaining should also be replaced.

Are tires covered under warranty?

The short answer? No. However, there are warranty-like products like Tire Insurance or Road Hazard that can be purchased from a third party. A tire insurance policy is offered on brand new cars, so you should have documentation indicating your coverage. Road hazard is offered during the purchase of tires themselves, documentation is normally provided with your purchase receipt.

What can I do to prepare for a nail in the tire?

Maybe you’re here to prepare yourself for the future. Good for you! Before you even get a nail in your tire, make sure you know if you have a spare tire, and what kind. Whenever you get your car serviced, make sure the air pressure in your spare tire is checked.

Learn how to change your spare tire! While many drivers have Roadside Assistance, there may come a time where roadside service is not convenient or you [gasp!] do not have cell service.

Many new cars only come with a can of Fix-a-flat like chemicals and an air pump. Check your owners manual on how to properly use the provided emergency solution and its expiration date. Of all solutions, this one is the most temporary. Leaving the chemicals in the wheel and tire for extended periods can allow the chemicals to damage TPMS units if equipped. This is only for getting you to the closest service center.

This happens to everyone at some point. You should now be ready to tackle any flat tire situation that comes your way! For more information and tips for the road, be sure to register with RepairPal!

About the Author

RepairPal is the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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