Emergency Tire Inflators: Friend Or Foe?

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William Nonnamaker

Emergency tire inflators have been around a long time and have saved many a motorist from being stranded on a dark highway late at night. But these products have received mixed reviews from tire repair technicians over the years.

Many have complained that such products, while performing their duty sealing small leaks and punctures, leave a residue that is messy and difficult to clean out during the repair process.

But is this really true today?

Actually, the temporary tire repair chemistry has come a long way over the last few years, and while there are still some products on the market that are, indeed, difficult to remove, there are some very well-engineered products available that do a very good job of temporarily sealing small leaks and punctures without creating headaches for repair technicians.

The key, of course, lies in the chemistry. Look at what has happened in the paint industry, which has moved largely from oil-based paints to latex compounds. Oil-based paints do a very good job but are a bit messy when it comes time for cleanup. Latex products work very well and are so much easier to deal with because they clean up easily with water, not solvent.

And so it is with modern, high-quality emergency tire inflators, which have migrated from mineral oil-based chemistry to water-based compounds that are much easier to clean up than products from years ago. Specifically, the most advanced tire repair products actually use vinyl alcohol copolymer chemistry, providing a material that works very well in providing temporary tire repair while offering easy water clean-up.

It is commonly accepted repair practice that radial tires, which are installed on virtually all late-model cars, light trucks and SUVs, should only be repaired when damaged is limited to the tread area and not in the sidewall. Repairs are best done with a patch inside the tire. So, regardless whether a tire repair chemical has been used or not, the tire should be dismounted from the rim for proper repair.

With the tire off the rim, modern water-based repair chemicals can easily be cleaned out with the use of a hose and brush. These non-hazardous products will simply flush away, leaving a clean surface ready for proper repair with a patch. Clever engineering has produced tire repair chemicals that actually remain in a liquid state except for the location of the puncture, where it solidifies to seal the leak. The fact that it remains in a liquid state makes clean-up straightforward and simple.

Depending on the chemistry of a particular blend, some tire inflation products can be flammable, so best to treat all such tire repairs accordingly and evacuate the tire before repairing with heat or flame.

When properly engineered and compounded, these tire repair products are fully compatible with TPMS sensors, do not obstruct valve stems and, of course, do not damage the tire or rim in any way. As you would expect, these products are not suitable for use with tires that are fitted with inner tubes and are not recommended for Z-rated tires, which may be subjected to extended periods of high speed driving. And, of course, these products are a non-issue for vehicles with runflat tires, which are already designed to safely transport the car and its occupants short distances at modest speeds, even when deflated.

But for most motorists, carrying a can of a well-engineered tire repair/inflation product can be a great source of comfort, without being a source of consternation for the tire repair technician. You can build trust with your customers by educating them and offering them the best possible products for their needs. Honesty is always the best policy, and you can create repeat customers by providing proper and professional tire repair service without the need for a sales pitch for new tires that the customer doesn’t really need.

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