How to Find a Slow Leak in a Car Tire
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Tires are inherently designed to take a lot of abuse. After all, even the best-maintained highway will have potentially sharp debris around. As a driver, it’s likely that you’ll have to deal with a punctured tire at one point or another. While making the usual provisions and getting protected with insurance are also important, knowing how to find the exact source of the leak is a vital skill.
Make a regular habit of maintaining and inspecting your tires
Check your tire pressure regularly, at least once per month. A gauge pen is remarkably quick and easy to use, and checking all four tires should never take more than five minutes at a time.
Giving your tires a regular visual inspection is worthwhile as well. You never know if there are any shards embedded in a tire, and it’s far safer to deal with when the car is parked as opposed to risking the tire blowing while out on the road.
Do this on a monthly basis; it barely takes any time and could nip a problem at the root before it’s allowed to grow.
It should be noted that tires will naturally lose their pressure over time, punctures or not. This is especially true during the colder months when air contracts. If you are regularly gauging the pressure, you should pump up the tires whenever they drop below the recommended threshold.
It’s important to keep tire sealant, a gauge pen, and an air pump in the vehicle with you. They may be easy to overlook before problems occur, but you’ll miss them dearly if they’re ever needed.
Train yourself to spot the signs of a leaking tire
First off, you should check to see that the pressure valves have been shut tightly enough. Air may be escaping because the valve wasn’t put back on tightly enough after the last time the pressure was checked. If you are still sure there’s a leak, you should pump up the tire again.
Having a full set of air to work with will make it considerably easier to spot the leak.
Tire leaks fortunately give off several signs that reveal their whereabouts. The distinctive hissing whistle of leaking air is arguably the biggest tell, and you may be able to pinpoint it by ears alone.
Giving the affected tire a visual glance over with a flashlight can help reveal visible damage or objects embedded in the tire. Lastly, by running your hand closely over the tire, you may be able to feel the gentle gust of air on your hand.
If the natural clues aren’t helping, give the tire the “Bubble Test”
The “Bubble Test” is a neat trick if the regular cues aren’t helping much. Create a solution of water and soap, with enough soap to give the mix a bubbly froth. Apply the soapy mix all over the leaking tire, so that it’s covered in soap bubbles. If there is a leak, it should be disturbing the bubbles around it, making the leak far more apparent than it would have been before.
In terms of soaps, using a 20% detergent ratio is recommended for the fact that it is very bubbly. Needless to say, the Bubble Test is suited for a home environment, and may be difficult to pull off in a highway situation.
Patch a minor leak, leave anything more severe to the professionals
Once you have properly identified where the source of the tire leakage is, you should make a quick appraisal whether or not it is severe enough to forego self-repair. As a general rule of thumb, a puncture that is any greater than 1/4” across in diameter is probably going to be too much for you to fix yourself on the road.
In the event you have found the leak before it got too big, you can use a tire sealant spray to effectively fill in the puncture. Applying a spray is a temporary solution at best, but you can at least extend the tire’s life long enough to attend the matter on your own time within reason. This quick fix is a far cry from needing to change tires or enlist the help of roadside assistance.
In the case that the leak is bigger, roadside assistance can come to repair or replace the tire for you. Although this can be quite costly out of pocket, many insurance policies will include this service. If it’s just one tire, a tow truck should not be necessary. If there are any lingering concerns, you should take your car to a professional tire specialist and let them take the reins. Make sure in advance that your insurance policy will cover this check-up, so as to protect from any potential out-of-pocket surprises.