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Tire Plugging Illegal?

During 2011 I worked for a family owned tire chain as an auto mechanic. My boss, though not much of a technician, was quite knowledgeable on tires. He claimed that according to the T.R.E.A.D. (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act, instituted after the Firestone/Ford Explorer/rollover fiasco, it is now illegal in the US to plug a highway tire. This guy was usually right on this kind of stuff. Now I work for a used car dealer who sells a lot of high end German cars. They almost always plug tires instead of using the plug/patch device. A few days ago I fixed a flat on a late model Audi & was told to plug the tire since most of our tire repairs are done for free as a courtesy. I was gonna tell my current boss it’s illegal but I,m not positive.

Maybe capriracer or some other tire experts could throw some light on this question.

I’ve googled TREAD Act & found “everything but” tire repair legality.

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I doubt that it is illegal everywhere in the USA. I can buy plug kits over the counter, and that would not be possible if tire plugging was illegal. I also did a web search, and found that while no one in the industry recommends rope plugs, they are not illegal. Check this out:

Maybe unethical could be a better term for your current employer.

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Just want to point out I’ve only been at this shop a short while, but on balance it seems like a really honest, do-right outfit. I just want to figure out this situation. Since the TREAD act is federal law, if it’s in there that you can’t plug tires anymore, then it would be against federal law to do such.

I’m not a lawyer. Just a mechanic. But to the best of my knowledge and understanding, TREAD has absolutlely nothing to do with tire installation or repair procedures. No tire manufacturer approves of the old “rope plug” method of repair, but that has to do with the fact that it doesn’t require breaking the tire down and inspecting the inside of the carcass for damage.

Having said that, I don’t know how many tires I’ve plugged in 25 years, and it’s perfectly safe when done using some common sense and for the appropriate type of puncture.

Plug away my friend.

My stepfather was in the tire business for decades (the kind of guy who would see you drive up in a brand new car and greet you with “so, been parking too close to the curb, eh?”), and he insisted that nobody in his immediate family would be allowed to accept a plug repair. If I had a flat “fixed” by anyone else and he found out it was plugged rather than patched, he’d march me back there and insist they either re-do the job or pay to replace the tire.

Well, thanks for the responses. I’ve been all over the net looking for a source to support the idea there’s a federal law against plugging highway tires. I’m convinced now there are none. Maybe it’s illegal in certain states. Nothing in my state of PA’s vehicle code I know of & certainly OK per PA safety inspection rules. I’ve heard it’s illegal in Maine, but haven’t found a source for that.

I now realize asemaster is right about the TREAD Act not applying to tire repair.

Maybe some of the tire experts could chime in. If not, thaen thanks to those who have. KS

I just drove from Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico to Denver Colorado (1200 miles) in a car that all together, had 3 rope plugs in the tires…At times the temperatures were over 105 degrees and speeds were between 70 and 80 for most of the trip. No tire failures or problems…

Rope plugs work FINE if their limitations are observed and they are properly installed…

For our own cars I have been using tire plugs since bias ply tire days. Plugs are not 100% reliable but they are close to that. The worst that has happened to me is that a slow leak developed at the plug and the answer for that was two plugs in one instance and a new plug in the other. For me, plugs last for the life of the tread.

I get the concept of sealing the inner liner with a mushroom plug or a patch but not doing that has not resulted in trouble for our tires.

The Rubber Mfr’s. Assn. advice leans toward caution and if followed, will result in more tire sales and should help to keep them from becoming involved in lawsuits…

Properly used, I don’t see a problem with rope plugs and have never had a problem with the ones I’ve used.

I would assume if there was some Federal law against the use of rope plugs then one would not be able to walk into any department store or auto parts house and buy them.

There never was a law like that in my lifetime, but almost every old mechanic used to say it was illegal. Just like the nice Corvette that the owner died in which couldn’t be sold because they could never get the smell out. There was one in every city I’ve ever been in back in the sixties. Oh, one city. I was a child then.

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Perhaps the best way to state this is that plugs are considered to be “temporary repairs” since they are something less than 100% reliable - they have a tendency to leak.

The “Industry Standard” is a combination plug/patch, where the patch seals the inside (for air retention) and bridges the damaged area and the plug seals the damaged area from outside contaminants.

I am not a lawyer, but I have some experience with court cases, and the term “Industry Standard” is used to describe the proper way to do things - and in this case it means that a plug or a patch (by themselves) would not be considered a proper repair in a court of law and could be cited as a cause for a tire failure. Some would say this means there are “illegal”, but that isn’t quite accurate.

Just an FYI: There have been court cases where a plug was the uncontested source of the tire failure - “uncontested” meaning that even the plantiff’s expert agreed.

Illegal?? Doubtful. Maybe in different states…but from what you’ve said this sounds like it could be federal.

I’ve had a couple of flats in the past 5 years and they were all fixed with plugs. Never had a problem. I’m quite sure these places wouldn’t have done it if it was illegal. Way too many liabilities if they did and something went wrong.

If such a prohibition exists, it’ll be somewhere in the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) website. Be sure you research the actual .GOV site rather than some third-party interpretattion of it.

There are two problems and dangers with plugs…

One, the puncturing object or part of it remains inside the tire, where it tumbles around, damages the liner and causes the tire to fail…

Two, while probing and reaming out the puncture, the person doing the repair creates a new, second puncture and plugs THAT hole, leaving the original puncture unsealed on the inside…This allows air to escape into the cord structure and over a period of time causes the tire to separate…

The old rubber-band type plug you dipped in rubber cement and forced into the puncture, they worked fine in bias-ply tires, but when steel-belted radials came out, it was found the action of the steel belts would cut off the rubber-band type plug and it would fail…The rope plugs are made from a high-strength fiber that can withstand the action of the steel belts and slowly become part of the tire as the stuff they are saturated with cures…But the key in using them is to be sure you follow the path of the original puncturing object with the probe and the insertion tool…Don’t use the probe to make a new hole! If in doubt, break it down and patch it…

I’m with asemaster on this. Done properly, a plug is permaent and safe. “Properly” includes not using a plug in inappropriate spots such as a sidewall, and determining if a plug is proper for the job.

In over 40++ years of driving I’ve never had a plug fail. However, there have been times where I would not use one. I’ve blown a tire on a pothole, and IMHO the risk of having internal damage to the tire carcass necessitates a new tire. In those cases I won’t even bother to examine the damage. Plugs are only appropriate for a tread puncture by a nail or screw where the object can be pulled out and the hole examined.

MB - Agreed. The only time I’ve had plugs used was when the tire had a slow leak and it was determined to be a nail or screw in the tread (NOT sidewall). For a blowout or driving for a while on a flat…just easier and safer to replace the tire.

I have never seen a tire plug fail but I have seen alot of separated tires with tire plugs on the scrap pile.
The tire plug may not have caused the tire failure in most cases but with the price of tires would you want to void you tire warranty with an improper tire repair?

If you follow the instructions with the “new” plug/patches, where the plug & patch are one piece, you’re supposed to ream out the wound with the proper size reamer, or rotary file. But there’s more to it than that. Once the hole has been enlarged, you’re supposed to let the reamer continue to run, not going in & out, just holding it there until you see smoke coming from the wound. The rubber in the area of the broken steel cords has now melted over the ends of the broken steel cords, lessening the chance of the cords cutting the plug part.

I’m now convinced plugging isn’t illegal, but as CapriRacer pointed out, you can get in “legal trouble” (be sued) if you, as a tech of 25 years w/Associates degree (even though it’s just a 2 year trade school degree) in Automotive Tecnology, say, plug & not dismount/inspect the inside of a tire whose innerliner has been damaged & that causes the tire to blow out at speed & someone’s hurt or worse.

Thank you, gentlemen.

The tire plug may not have caused the tire failure in most cases but with the price of tires would you want to void you tire warranty with an improper tire repair?

The places I had the plugs done…were all places I bought my tires from AND who warranted the tire. So OBVIOUSLY it didn’t void the warranty on the tire.

Tire Warranty? My area of expertise! You have to be really careful about how you express things when you talk about warranty.

There is a warranty from the tire manufacturer and that is what we usually refer to when we say “Tire Warranty”. In those cases, an improper repair voids the warranty. Some warranties say this explicitly, and some disguise the issue with cute phraseology.

Then there is what happens at the dealer level. Some dealers will “do a warranty” in spite of the tire not being covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. I’ve heard the term “Policy Concession”, or “Goodwill”, or “Customer Satisfaction” used to describe this transaction - and in the classical sense, this is NOT warranty. In cases like this, the dealer absorbs the cost, unless he can get a “Policy Concession” or a “Goodwill” from the manufacturer.