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If you’ve got a nail in your tire, but it’s not leaking, it might be unclear what the best course of action is. Do you leave it in place or remove it?

Below we’ll explore what is the best option depending on how big the nail is and where in the tire it is.

There is a simple course of action or a more time consuming but better option open to you.

If the nail is in the tread section of the tire, it’s likely to be small if it hasn’t punctured the tire’s inner lining and allowed air to escape. This situation is unlikely – but not guaranteed – to stay the same rather than go flat. 

This is because the road surface will have pushed the nail flush with the tread, meaning that it has no more length to push further into the tire and allow air to pass.

If the nail is in between the tread blocks, it is more likely to penetrate the inner lining as it has less rubber to get through than the thicker tread block.

Sometimes but rarely, the nail is long enough to have actually punctured the inner lining, but the nail is so tight inside the tire that air isn’t passing through.

This will not remain as air will eventually get past the nail as the tire flexes and warms, and cools. Eventually, the tire will go flat.

So the most likely scenario is the nail isn’t big and hasn’t punctured the inner lining. In the truest sense, the tire is damaged and should be repaired. The issue here is that you’ll have to make the tire more damaged to repair it. Bear with me, though.

Big nail and hole in tire

It’s impossible to fill a nail hole that hasn’t gone all the way through the tire. You can’t fill the hole with sealant or plug it. The only option is to remove the nail and then force a reaming tool all the way through the tire and then plug it that way.

This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s the only way to be sure that your tire won’t go flat unexpectedly and potentially leave you stranded. 

As always, the more permanent option is to take the tire off the wheel or rim and use a combination patch/plug. Plugging is a good short-term solution, though.

It’s worth considering if your tire has been damaged before. Is there a  patch or plug within 16 inches of the new nail location? If so, the tire shouldn’t be patched or plugged again.

If you have a nail in the shoulder or sidewall, you need to take extra caution. A nail here, if it has penetrated or is likely to, can be very dangerous. The pressurized air inside the tire is the only thing keeping the sidewall rigid. There are no tire belts or cords in this area because the sidewall needs to flex when a car is driven over bumps to help give a smoother ride. 

Radial Tire Showing Belts and Ply

If a tire with a nail in the sidewall or shoulder area hits a pothole, it can blowout – when rapid decompression happens – and make controlling a car almost impossible. You’ll never know how bad the damage is simply by looking at a nail in this area. 

Tire shops won’t repair any damage in the sidewall or shoulder area, and it’s best not to drive and buy a replacement tire instead.

If you decide to either leave the nail in place or just pull it out, will the tire be more prone to damage?

Yes. It won’t take much for the hole to become bigger as you drive. Any small sharp stone could catch on the hole made by the nail and make it bigger. Moisture will get in the hole and cause weakness and, potentially, the tire belts to break. 

Conclusion

A nail in a tire that has not caused a leak may still go flat in the future. It depends if the nail has penetrated the inner lining and the nail’s location. Any nail in the shoulder or sidewall should mean the tire is replaced, as no repairs are recommended here.

It’s best to think carefully about leaving a nail in the tire as it could allow air through at any time and potentially leave you stranded.

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