How Big of a Hole can You Patch on a Tire?

There’s nothing worse than getting a hole in your tire. Before you toss the tire, you should know if it’s small enough to patch or not.

In general, a hole in a tire must be less than one inch in diameter in order to be patched; however, the location of the hole must be on the tread of the tire at least 1/4″ away from the sidewall in order to be patched. A tire can generally only be patched three times.

Tires are expensive, and patching them is an inexpensive fix to holes. However, you can only patch a tire so many times before it becomes unsafe. Keep reading to learn more about patching larger holes in tires, as well as why you’re limited to only three patches per tire.

Patching a Tire: Size Restrictions

When asking how big a hole you can patch in a tire, you may hear different answers depending on who you ask. Different mechanic shops might only patch smaller holes because of the liability a larger hole poses; meanwhile, others are willing to patch a bigger hole. So what should you do?

First thing first, is the nail, screw, or object that punctured your tire still in it? Second, is any air escaping? If the nail, or whatever the object in your tire is, is holding the air in, you may not need to replace it immediately. Leave it in the tire until you can plug or patch the puncture.

Cole, a mechanic at CM Automotive in Helena, Montana, patches a tire as long as the hole is smaller than the tip of his thumb. In other words, the hole must be less than an inch wide. He considers anything larger than an inch in diameter a gash, not a hole. Gashes and slices cannot be repaired. 

The tire brand and quality could also impact whether the hole is fixable or not. If you’re using fairly cheap tires on your vehicle, a single hole could compromise its structural integrity. This is especially true if the hole is larger than the diameter of a nail.

You should also be aware that it is more difficult to patch or plug angled holes. 

With this information in mind, take a ruler or your thumb and measure the hole in your tire. If it’s bigger than an inch, replace the whole tire.

The size of the hole is not the only factor limiting when you can patch a tire. The hole placement plays a major factor. 

To patch the hole in your tire, it must be on the tire tread. Additionally, it must be more than a quarter of an inch away from the sidewall. A hole within this limit impacts the integrity of the tire and would be unsafe to patch. Consider measuring the hole’s distance from the sidewall before taking it to a tire repair shop.

Why can’t you plug or patch a hole in the sidewall of your tire? Cole explained that the sidewall of your tire is much thinner than the tread. 

“Since it’s thinner, more often than not, the cords will get damaged/broke, which would result in a high chance for a blowout,” Cole said.

Unfortunately, any damage to the sidewall will require the tire to be replaced.

To help you better understand fixing a hole in a tire, you need to know the different methods of doing so. If you plan on fixing the hole yourself, chances are you purchased a plug kit at your local automotive parts store. These plugs are rubber strips coated in adhesive glue. You use a special tool to shove the plug into the hole. 

Once the plug is in the hole, you use a razor blade to cut off any extra hanging out. Once the plug sets, you should always test it for leaks. You can do this by pouring a mixture of water and dish soap over the hole. If bubbles start to form around the hole, you may need to redo the plug. 

As long as you can find a plug that fills the hole in your tire, it isn’t too big to fix. For example, the CKAuto 30pcs 4″ Black Tire Repair Strings are approximately 0.236 inches wide. Because they fold in half, they have the potential to fill a hole nearly half an inch wide. However, you want the plugs to fit snuggly in the hole. In other words, these plugs would be best for a hole less than half an inch wide.

While tire plugs are cheap, a more reliable option is a patch. Unless you have tire experience, you may need to seek professional assistance.

When patching a tire, you do so from the inside of the tire. In other words, you must remove it from the wheel. You then place the patch over the hole to seal it.

These patches are a bit bigger and can cover slightly bigger holes. However, there is a better option: patching and plugging the tire.

A tire plug and patch combo patches the tire from both the inside and the outside of the tire. This is the best way to ensure your tire is still safe to drive on.

These kits are also better for bigger holes. For example, the ZERINT TP-M13W Combination Repair Unit Kit has patches with diameters of 1.42 inches, 1.81 inches, and 2.36 inches. If your tire has a bigger hole, use a plug and patch combo kit to repair it. However, a patch should cover the hole and some area around it to ensure air doesn’t leak out. For this reason, you won’t be able to patch a hole as big as the patch diameter.

Many tire manufacturers include a warranty with the purchase of a set of their tires. If your tires are still under warranty, make sure you follow the company’s instructions. They may pay for it to be patched or even send you replacements. However, if you attempt to fix the tire yourself, it could void the warranty.

Is it Dangerous to Drive on a Patched Tire?

According to Cole at CM Automotive, driving on a patched or plugged tire isn’t dangerous, as long as it is repaired correctly. If the plug or patch isn’t installed properly, they could let air escape. If this occurs while driving, your tire could blow. While you can purchase a plug or patch kit at your local automotive parts store, it is a safer option to visit a professional.

However, if you’re looking to save some money and feel confident in your abilities, then you could always do it yourself. Learn how in the following section.

If you take your tire to a mechanic shop to get repaired, you should know they will only patch it so many times. Cole at CM Automotive explains that after three patch or plug jobs, the tire is no longer safe to drive on. Every hole in the tire comprises its structural integrity.

Compare a hole in your tire to taking out a load-bearing wall in your house. Every time you damage that wall, it could collapse. The same applies to your tires. Every hole increases the risk that the tire will “collapse.” While patches and plugs help hold the air in the tire, they are not as strong as the original rubber.

While you could patch or plug the additional holes yourself, the wiser option would be to replace the tire. 

Over time, the patch or plug may begin leaking air. Unfortunately, you cannot repair this and must replace the tire. Remember, a plug or patch is only a temporary solution. 

If your tire tread is fairly worn out, plugging or patching the tire should only be a short-term solution (less than a week or so). Not sure how much tread you have left on your tires? Reach into your pocket and pull out a penny. 

Place this penny between two ribs of your tread. Make sure Lincoln’s head points down. So long as the tread still covers a small portion of his head, it’s safe to drive on. However, if Lincoln’s entire head is exposed, you need to replace your tires and should not patch or plug them.

Can I Replace One Tire at a Time?

Most mechanics and tire shops will suggest replacing at least two (if not all) of your tires at once. However, Cole at CM Automotive explains that you can replace one tire so long as you meet certain conditions. 

First, the new tire needs to have the same tread pattern as the others. If the tires have different tread patterns, you will feel a vibration while driving. This vibration is more than just a nuisance. It could damage your differential or transmission.

Second, if the other tire on the axle has fairly worn out a tread, you shouldn’t put a brand new tire where the damaged tire was. According to Cole, tires on the same axle need to have tread within 2/32nds of an inch of each other. However, this rule only applies to rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive vehicles. If you drive an all-wheel car, every tire’s tread needs to be within 3/32nds of an inch of each other. If the tires don’t have similar tread depths, it will damage the transmission.

“Tires will spin ‘faster’ if they’re smaller and ‘slower’ if they’re bigger, forcing the AWD transmission to unevenly distribute power to the wheels,” Cole said.

Have a mechanic or certified tire technician verify that your tires have similar tread depths. If you are unsure about your tire treads, play it safe by replacing all four tires.

How to Patch a Tire

Now that you know more about the size of hole you can patch, let’s discuss how to use a tire plug or patch kit. Remember, if you don’t have much experience working with tires, it may be wise to take the punctured tire to a tire shop. Keep in mind, plugging or patching your tire isn’t an expensive task. Most mechanic/tire shops charge around $30. Meanwhile, Walmart charges around $10 for this service. However, if you want to save a bit of money, here’s how to do it yourself. The CKAuto 4″ Black Tire Repair Strings mentioned earlier cost less than $10 and provide you with 30 plugs.

Start by removing the nail or whatever the object puncturing your tire is. Your plug kit should have included a grinder. Put this in the hole and spin it. This will score the hole allowing the plug to seal better. 

After scoring the inside of the hole you’ll need to be fast as more air will be coming out. Use the plug tool to push it into the hole. When pushing the plug in, make sure you leave both ends exposed. Inserting them in too far could cause them to slip into the inside of the tire. 

Once the plug is in place, use a razor blade to remove the part sticking outside the hole. Let the plug seal for a minute, then test it for leaks. As mentioned earlier, you can use a mixture of dish soap and water poured over the plug to test for air loss.

But what about a plug and tire patch combo? How does this method work?

To patch a tire from the inside, you need to have the tools to remove the tire from the wheel. Mark the outside and the inside of the tire where the hole is and remove the penetrating object. 

Like a tire plug, you’ll need to widen the hole using a drill bit or some other tool.

With the hole a bit bigger, spray some buff cleaner on the inside of the tire around the hole. Once the cleaner has dried, buff the surface where the patch will go. This will create a more adhesive surface. Make sure you remove any of the rubber dust left from buffing. 

Next, apply some rubber cement to the buffed surface, and let it dry. 

Peel the plastic cover off your patch, doing your best to keep it clean. Slowly guide the plug part through the hole from the inside of the tire. Once the plug shows on the outside of the tire, use some pliers to pull the rubber all the way through. The patch portion should rest flat on the inside of the tire. 

Roll over the tire patch to ensure it is entirely sealed. Remove the plastic cover and coat with a sealant (on the inside of the tire).

Use a razor blade to remove the portion of the plug sticking outside the tire. Make sure to check for leaks and to properly remount the tire.