Having a tire that’s leaking air can be incredibly frustrating to fix. It can seem impossible to find where it’s leaking, but there are a few ways to figure it out.
A tire that is leaking air is something that you don’t want to ever have to deal with. Between the dangers of having a blowout or the headache of constantly putting air in it, it’s best to get the tire fixed. No matter if you decide to try to fix it yourself or take it to a shop, the first step in getting it repaired is to find out where it’s leaking. In this article, we’ll go over a few of the best ways to find out where a tire is leaking from.
The easiest way to find a leak in a tire is to just use soap and water. By running soapy water over the tire, an air leak will bubble up in the soap and you’ll know exactly where it’s leaking. You can also submerge the tire in water and look for bubbles and even try finding the leak without any water.
Everything in this article has come from a combination of talking with pros in the industry, compiling online research, and hands-on experience of my own as a technician in an automotive shop. What you read here are the exact ways that the professionals find leaks in tires, and they’re actually pretty simple to do on your own!
Using Soap and Water to Find a Leak in a Tire
The fastest way to find a leak in a tire, and the way that’s most commonly used by professionals, is to just utilize a soap and water mixture. As easy as that may sound, it really works because the soapy mixture will start to bubble up anywhere that air is leaking out of the tire. So let’s take a look at how to do it.
All that you’ll need for this method is water, soap, and a spray bottle. The type of soap doesn’t even really matter, it just needs to bubble. So it could be dish soap, engine degreaser, etc., anything that bubbles! Once you have those three items, just follow these simple steps:
- Mix the soap and water in the spray bottle. The exact mixture doesn’t matter and will depend on the type of soap used. To be safe, just put about an inch worth of soap in the bottom of the bottle and fill it up with water, then shake it to mix.
- Spray the mixture all over the tire. Generously cover the whole tire (have someone slowly pull it forward for you if possible). Spray the bead where the tire meets the wheel, and also the valve stem. These are common locations for a leak.
- Look for bubbles around the tire. If there’s a leak anywhere that you sprayed, bubbles will start to form due to the air meeting the soap. Carefully look around for bubbles anywhere on the tire and that’s it!
How to Find a Leak in a Tire by Submerging it in Water
If using soap and water didn’t work, it is usually an indication that the leak is a bit faster than you might have thought. Soap and water works great for slower leaks and when something is stuck in the tire like a nail. But if it’s leaking too fast, you might need to try submerging it in water to find the leak. This involves a bit more work, but just follow the steps below and you will be able to get it done:
- Jack the car up and remove the tire in question. Park the vehicle on level ground, break the lug nuts loose with a tire iron or breaker bar, and jack the vehicle up at the manufacturer’s recommended locations (check the owner’s manual). Support the vehicle with a jack stand for safety and remove the lug nuts so you can pull the tire off.
- Fill a large container with water and submerge the tire. This could be any sort of trough, bathtub, or kiddie pool that you have that’s large enough to submerge the tire, or at least most of it. Once full, place the tire in the water.
- Look for air bubbles. Just like before, you’re going to look for air bubbles throughout the container. As air escapes the tire, it will create bubbles that rise to the surface, making the leak easy to find.
Can You Find a Leak in a Tire Without Water?
If you don’t have access to soap and water or the ability to submerge the tire, you’re down to your last option — trying to find the leak without water. This is really only possible if there’s obvious damage to the tire or it’s a fast leak that you can hear, but it’s worth trying if you have no other options.
Start by ensuring the tire has the proper amount of air in it before doing anything else. Once it’s pressurized, start to visually inspect the tire for issues. This could be a hole, a slash, or something sticking out. Run a rag along the tire and see if it catches on anything sticking out. If you don’t notice anything, then try to listen for the hissing sound of air escaping.
If all else fails and you can’t find the leak, take the tire or the vehicle to a shop and let them find it for you!
What to Keep in Mind When You Have a Tire Leaking Air
Don’t Drive on a Leaky Tire For Too Long
One common mistake that people make when they have a tire that’s leaking air is that they drive on it for too long. This refers to both driving on a quick leak to get the car to the shop and also continuing driving on a tire with a slow leak that you just keep putting air in every few days or every couple of weeks.
If you have a tire that’s leaking fast and you want to try to get it to the shop to get repaired, be mindful of just how fast it’s leaking. Your tire does not need to go completely flat before it fails while driving, which could lead to a blowout and cause more trouble than it’s worth.
If you have a slow leak, don’t just try to live with it and put air in it whenever you need to. Eventually, something might come up and you can’t get it to the pump, or you could just forget to fill it up and try to drive on a low tire on accident.
Be Careful Running Your Hand Along the Tire
If you have a tire that’s going low and you think that there might be something in it, like a nail or a piece of glass, you’ll likely want to try to find what the issue is. If you can find what’s in the tire and put a temporary plug in it, that will likely suffice enough for you to get the vehicle to the shop to be repaired.
But do not blindly run your hand along the tire and try to find something sticking out! If it’s a nail or a piece of glass, for example, you could very easily cut your hand wide open by doing so. A trick that the pros use is to run a rag along the tire instead of their hands, as mentioned above. This way, the rag will catch on anything sticking out rather than your hand. It’s easier that way and much safer!
Plug Kits Are Not Meant to be Permanent
Even though people have been using plug kits for decades to fix holes in their tires, they really are not a high-quality repair that’s meant to last forever. They are great for short-term use and getting the tire and vehicle to the shop to be repaired, but they shouldn’t be relied on for long-term use.
They can wear down and get pulled out over time, or the seal that they make can very easily wear down and develop a slow leak. If you go to a reputable shop, they will now use what’s known as a patch-plug kit. It’s a combination of a plug and a patch that’s inserted from the inside of the tire and is designed to be a permanent fix. If applied correctly, a patch-plug will last for the life of the tire.
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