Tire nails are usually found in the tread, but sometimes they puncture the sidewall. So how does a nail get into the side of a tire?
It may not make sense, but sidewall nails are surprisingly common. They usually get embedded into the tire when you run over debris with nails in it or when your tire rides against an uneven off-road surface. Accidents and curbing the tire can also cause sidewall nails.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about tire sidewall nails. We’ll go over how a nail gets into the sidewall and what to do to avoid it. Additionally, we’ll cover the most common types of tire-popping nails, where they’re found, and what to do when you find a nail in the sidewall.
We sourced the information in this article from experienced tire technicians and the online automotive community.
Can a Nail Puncture a Tire Sidewall?
Yes, a nail can puncture the sidewall of a tire and cause serious damage. In fact, the sidewall is actually the weakest point of a tire and is particularly prone to puncture.
Modern tires are known as ‘radial’ tires. This means that they have a steel band that runs the length of the tread and helps stabilize and strengthen the road contact surface.
Radial tires don’t have a steel band in the sidewall. Instead, they use ply, or nylon reinforcing fibers, to strengthen the rubber and make it more puncture and flex-resistant.
The tread of a radial tire is relatively easy to puncture—but most nails never make it all the way through. Instead, they bend when they hit the steel band and simply remain lodged in the rubber tread block. This is relatively harmless and only causes noise or a slight unbalance.
Sidewall punctures are much less common but have the potential to be more devastating. There’s nothing in the sidewall to stop the nail from going right through, and deflation is inevitable if this occurs.
Can Sidewall Nails Cause a Blowout?
Is it possible for something as small as a nail to cause a catastrophic tire failure? Yes—and it’s more common than many people think. A nail that punctures clean into a sidewall is unlikely to cause an explosion, but a jagged or rusty nail can create a tear that will widen suddenly under extreme circumstances.
This is more common on old, worn-out tires than brand new ones, but it’s still possible. The most hazardous nails are from nail guns. These nails are bound together by a small piece of wire, which breaks off and leaves sharp barb-like stubs on the shaft of the nail. These can cause uneven entry holes, which increase the risk of tearing.
Tires most commonly explode on hot days and at high speeds. Tire pressure increases the faster you go, and also between altitudes. If you add a worn-out tire and a sidewall nail into the mix, a bad highway blowout is bound to happen eventually.
Can a Sidewall Nail be Repaired?
Nails in the sidewall are more difficult to repair than tread nails, especially if you’re working with a tire patch kit. Outside patch kits cannot be used to repair holes in the sidewall, as the surrounding material isn’t strong enough to hold the plug.
The best way to repair a sidewall hole is from the inside of the tire. A standard adhesive patch is usually sufficient, provided that the surrounding rubber isn’t cracked or badly deformed.
Depending on the size of the hole and the condition of the tire, a technician might recommend replacing the tire instead of repairing it. After all, a hole in the sidewall is pretty serious, and patches aren’t as safe as a tire without any holes to begin with.
Should You Pull the Nail From the Tire?
Unless you’ve deflated the tire and removed the wheel to repair it, you shouldn’t just pull the nail out. If there’s a puncture, you’ll let out all the air once the nail is removed. And if you tear the sidewall further, you risk causing it to blow up in your face.
The time it’s safe to remove a nail is when the tire and wheel are removed, and the tire is deflated. Even better, you can remove the tire from the wheel and work on it then. This will allow you to remove the nail without damaging the tire further, as you can see if it’s bent or should be cut before removal.
Cost to Repair a Sidewall Nail
Tire sidewall repair varies based on the type of tire, the extent of the damage, and your location. You can usually get a nail removed and a tire sidewall patched for between $50 and $150, with some locations willing to do the job for as little as $20.
Unlike a tread patch, a sidewall patch is not a job that a utility truck can do on the side of the road. This is because the tire must be removed to patch it from the inside, and the machinery that removes tires from wheels is large and expensive.
Don’t bother with handheld tire removal tools. Most of these are difficult to use, and you may not be able to seat the tire again after removing it. It doesn’t cost much for a tire shop to do the job.
Types of Sidewall Nails
Some nails are more likely than others to end up in a sidewall. The most common sidewall nail is the standard steel industrial nail gun nail. These types of nails are used in everything from shipping crates to pallets, so they’re the most common found in road debris.
Concrete nails are also quite common. These nails are stronger than commercial nails, and they’re often found on the road near construction zones. Along with concrete nails, you’ll probably encounter lots of standard wood nails in these areas.
Roofing nails are common in demolition ares. The worst offenders are old, flat-top square nails. These nails are short and strong with a large head, which causes them to sit upright on the ground—and in the perfect position to stick into your tire.
Small nails, such as trim nails, aren’t usually found in tire sidewalls. They may get stuck in between tire tread, but they’re a bit too flimsy and small to do any real damage to a thick rubber tire.
How Can a Nail Stick Into the Sidewall?
The vast majority of tire nails end up on the contact surface or tread. This occurs for obvious reasons, as the majority of tire nails are picked up from the ground. However, there are a few situations where a nail can work its way up to the sidewall and punch through there.
Running Over Debris
The most common is when you run over a piece of debris with nails in it. Hitting a piece of wood can cause it to fly around or break with great force, which can embed nails in the side of your tire.
Pallets, 2x4s from construction sites, and even cartridges for nail guns can cause this to happen. Sometimes, even a cardboard box that once held nails can expel a sharp object into your tire under the right circumstances.
How to Avoid
Don’t drive over debris—especially wood. It matters how fast you’re going—high speed increases the risk of tire trouble. Unless you’re driving a tractor or a tank, hitting debris on the road always puts your tires at risk. If you’re on a construction site with an excessive amount of junk on the road, drive slowly and carefully and inspect your tires after.
Hitting a Nail While Turning
Another common scenario occurs when drivers turn sharply, as a long upward-facing nail can get embedded in the sidewall under the perfect conditions. However, this is uncommon and probably not the reason why you have a nail in your sidewall.
How to Avoid
Be careful how you turn, and avoid making abrupt maneuvers near construction sites. Driving straight and true is the best way to avoid sidewall damage in these areas. Avoid driving on dirt anywhere near a construction site, as uneven terrain increases the risk of a sidewall puncture.
Off-roading is one of the most common causes of sidewall nails. When the terrain is uneven, a nail in the dirt can find its way into your tire very easily. If you’re driving in deep tracks, such as those left in off-road trails, a nail on a high point can easily embed in your tire when you drive through the rut.
How to Avoid
Off-roading itself poses little risk if you’re in a sparsely populated area. However, campsites and construction areas are hazardous for your tires—especially near campfire pits.
People often burn pallets and wood with nails in them, which burns off the wood but leaves the steel nails. It’s best to avoid driving in areas often inhabited by people and anywhere where construction has recently occurred.
Scraping the Sidewall
Scraping the sidewall on a curb, the side of a building, a gravel embankment, or anything else poses a risk. If there’s a loose nail in the concrete or whatever surface you hit, scraping the tire on it can cause the nail to puncture. Nails can enter any time the tire flexes in an unnatural way or rubs up against a surface.
How to Avoid
This is the easiest tire puncture to prevent. Simply avoid hitting anything with your wheels. If you’re prone to curbing your wheels, or if you use the curb as a guide, try to use your mirrors for parking instead. This will prevent your wheels and tires from being damaged and eliminate the risk of puncturing your tire at low speeds.
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding