What Is A Pinhole Tire Leak? (How To Detect, Fix + More)

A pinhole tire leak is one of the most frustrating effects of a pinhole puncture, as it’s hard to spot and fix if you haven’t experienced such a puncture before.

As well, if you’re unfamiliar with what exactly a pinhole tire leak is, you may be curious to learn more about it. If so, keep reading this article to read more about what I discovered on this topic!

What Is A Pinhole Tire Leak?

A pinhole leak in a tire occurs when the rubber is breached by a very small hole. This type of puncture is hard to spot with the naked eye, meaning you will have to conduct various tests on your tires in order to find out exactly where the leak is located.

For more information on pinhole punctures, including how they form, how to tell if you have one, how to locate one on the sidewall, its fixes and more, read on for more facts!

What Causes A Pinhole Leak In Tires?

A pinhole that leaks air from a tire is caused by driving over a sharp object, and in this case, the sharp object would be small enough (i.e a thorn from a plant or a piece of barbed wire) that it creates a hole that wouldn’t be easily detected just by looking.

Is It Safe To Drive On A Tire Leaking Air?

Is It Safe To Drive On A Tire Leaking Air?

It’s not safe to drive on a tire that is actively leaking, as it will eventually flatten and could blow out, resulting in an accident, particularly if you were driving at a high speed around many other vehicles where maneuvering to regain control would be difficult.

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Driving on a leaking tire also poses a risk of damage to other components since, without enough pressure, the tire is unable to absorb shock as effectively and transfers to other parts of the vehicle that were meant to be shielded.

What Are The Signs Of A Pinhole Leak?

One of the most blatant signs that your tire is leaking air would be if the pressure is gradually beginning to decrease.

Because pinhole punctures leak at a slow pace, you probably can’t tell that your tire is deflating just by looking.

Therefore, it’s recommended to use your vehicle’s onboard tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) to check the levels of tire pressure over time.

How Do You Find A Pinhole Leak On A Tire?

As stated above, you can’t spot a pinhole on a tire using the naked eye. Rather, you need to create a test to locate the puncture, which can be done with soap and warm water.

In order to find a pinhole leak, add a few squirts of dish soap to two cups of water and splash it so it forms a lather.

Next, take a paintbrush and use it to coat the surface of the tire with the soapy water and inspect it, and the point where bubbles form is where the pinhole is located.

How Do I Fix A Pinhole Leak?

How Do I Fix A Pinhole Leak?

After you find a pinhole leak, you can fix it using a tire plug, but only if it’s located on the tread.

If the pinhole leak is on the sidewall, however, you should look into getting the whole tire replaced, as we’ll discuss below.

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You’ll need a jack, jack stands (or an alternative way to lift and support the vehicle), a tire pump, pressure gauge, lug wrench, and a tire plug kit. Once acquiring the above tools, use the following method:

  1. First, Lift up the vehicle with a jack and use jack stands to support it.
  2. Next, loosen the lug nuts on the wheel with a lug wrench (removing the wheel from the vehicle is optional, but it’s recommended because it allows you to work with the whole thing unobstructed).
  3. Load up a tire plug into the plug inserter.
  4. Inflate the tire to about 10 PSI over the recommended limit before placing it to the side and select a tire borer from the tire plug kit.
  5. Use the borer to enlarge the pinhole by moving it up and down the hole so the plug can fit into it, but don’t take it out when you’re done (you should use the borer to do this because it’s made to prepare the opening for the tire plug, while using another tool could make create a new leak).
  6. Get the plug inserter with the plug loaded in it then pull the borer out.
  7. Quickly use the inserter to push the plug into the hole as far as you can.
  8. Read the tire pressure and inflate or deflate until it’s back to the manufacturer’s recommended range.

Note that adding the extra air into the tire at the start likely means you would only need to loosen the valve a little to let the excess out. However, it’s best to follow the above method to better preserve your tires.

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Can You Fix A Pinhole In The Sidewall Of A Tire?

Can You Fix A Pinhole In The Sidewall Of A Tire?

If the pinhole is located on the sidewall of a tire, you should refrain from fixing it and look into a replacement tire instead.

A tire’s sidewall, unlike the tread, does not have a steel belt underneath it for support. Therefore, once the sidewall is breached, it won’t regain its original stability.

As well, a sidewall flexes more for this reason, so fixes like plugs and patches are not going to hold for long.

In some areas, it’s actually illegal to attempt repairs on the sidewall of a tire after it gets punctured, regardless of size, due to these very risks.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on how do nails get in tires, air leaking from valve stem base, and why did someone slash your car tires.

Conclusion

A pinhole leak is caused by a very small puncture that slowly lets air out of tires. This kind of puncture is very difficult to spot with the naked eye, but you can uncover it by applying soapy water to the tire and looking for bubbles that form around the puncture.

A pinhole leak on the tread can be fixed by using a tire plug like you would for any other sort of puncture. However, you shouldn’t repair a pinhole if it forms on the tire sidewall, as this part of the tire usually doesn’t recover its stability.

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