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Many people think that a slow leak isn’t as bad as a flat tire. Actually, it is, and we’ll explain why it is, what the dangers are, and what the damage to your car will likely be.

As you would expect, it is impossible to tell you exactly how far you can drive when you have a slow leak.

Many other factors determine the distance you can drive, including how slow the leak is, where the air is leaking from, the current pressure inside the tire, and its general condition and age.

You are likely to feel that your tires are less responsive than they used to be when your tire’s slow leak reduces the normal tire pressure by around ten psi. They may feel floaty or squishy, and the steering a little less sharp.

Blowout

When it comes to slow leaks, many people think they’re not much to worry about. After all, it’s just air leaking out, and it can be topped up when it gets too low. 

Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A slow tire air leak can suddenly lead to catastrophic decompression and a blowout. Friction and heat buildup happens more quickly when there is less air pressure in the tire.

Tire separation
Tire blowouts can result from a slow leak.

Also, when a tire slowly loses air due to a leak, the sidewall and the shoulder on the outside of the tire start to bulge, especially on older tires that have been subjected to extremes of temperature and UV rays, weakening the rubber.

You won’t be able to see this as you will be driving.

As this bulge gets larger and under more pressure, all it will take is for the tire to drive over a pothole for the tire to explode.

It’s a very unpredictable situation and can cause serious accidents and even death.

Related: Can A Nail In A Tire Cause  A Blowout? [ANSWERED]

Tire Unrepairable

A slow leak can cause various problems, from sidewall damage to a bigger hole in the tire. As the tire slowly loses air, the sidewall becomes weaker and more prone to bulging. This can lead to the tire becoming unrepairable. 

Often it’s not possible to repair a sidewall that’s been weakened by a slow leak. 

This area doesn’t have any reinforcing belts or cords like the tread area. It relies on air pressure to keep it rigid. If this is low, the sidewall can become unstable.

Only holes in certain areas of the tire – the main tread area- can be repaired, and then only up to 6mm in diameter. Often a small hole that isn’t patched will get bigger and be more likely to become unrepairable.

The longer you drive on a tire with a slow leak, the more damage will occur, and the less chance a simple patch or use of tire sealant will repair it.

Related: When Can A Tire Not Be Repaired? [Answered]

Rim or Wheel  Damage

Driving on a tire with a slow leak can be extremely damaging to your rim or wheel.  The extra friction between the tire and the rim or wheel leads to heat build-up, which makes the steel or aluminum alloy more susceptible to cracking, bending, or warping. 

Bent rim realignment
Repairing a bent rim can cost more than a new tire

When a tire is under-inflated, the sidewalls of the tire can bend more than they should, especially when the car is turning. This extra bending places more stress on the rim or wheel, making it even more likely to be damaged. Sometimes rims can be repaired but only sometimes.

Rims usually cost more than the tire, and often, rim design changes mean it’ll be difficult to buy the same style to replace the damaged one resulting in having one odd rim compared to the three original ones. 

Related: How Far Can You Drive On A Flat Tire Without Damaging The Rim [ANSWERED]

In Conclusion

It is impossible to tell exactly how far you can drive when you have a slow leak. Factors such as the leak rate, the current pressure inside the tire, the leak’s size, and the tire’s condition and age can all affect the distance you can travel.

A slow leak can cause various problems, such as sidewall damage or a bigger tire hole, and can lead to catastrophic decompression and a blowout. 

Additionally, the extra friction and heat buildup caused by the lack of air pressure can cause significant damage to the rim or wheel of a vehicle.

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