How to Locate a Hole or Leak in Your Tire

Bubbles on a tire
The bubbles will show you the leak. Matt Wright

For a moderately handy car owner, fixing a leak in a tire is a pretty easy task, and you can do it for about $5 in materials, versus the $20 or $25 you'll be charged at an auto shop. First, though, you need to find the hole or puncture that's causing the leak. Sometimes, of course, you'll spot a nail or other metal object piercing the tire, in which can you can go directly to removing the object and patching the leak. What do you do if the leak isn't immediately obvious, though? A car tire is made of a serious rubber compound that is just flexible enough to close up tightly around a small hole, but not so soft that it can heal itself. This makes smaller holes very difficult to find.

  • Tip: If your tire has a puncture more than 1/4-inch in size, it will be difficult or impossible to patch, and your better option is to just move on to replacement of the tire. Or, if you have tire with less than 2/32 inch of tread left, it has reached the end of its useful life, and it's time to replace. 

Here's how to pinpoint the location of hard-to-spot leaks. 

Materials You'll Need

  • Spray bottle
  • Liquid window cleaner, grease cutter (any product that is sudsy; even liquid dish soap mixed with water can work.)
  • White grease marker pencil
  • Air compressor or pump (if necessary)

How to Find a Leak

You may be able to preform this test with the tires still on your car. If that doesn't work, you may need to jack up the car and remove the offending tire to inspect it more closely. 

  1. Inflate the tire to full (or as full as it will inflate). 
  2. Spray the entire tire with the bubbly solution. You may need to do this in 1/4 sections of the tire, as the solution may dry before you can inspect the entire tire. 
  3. As the liquid solution runs down the treads of the tire, look for the tell-tale signs of tiny bubbles gurgling up—this will be the spot where the puncture is located. 
  4. Dry off the tire, then circle the spot you located with a white grease pencil (or any marker that will show up against the black rubber).
  5. If necessary, you may need to move the car forward or back slightly to gain access to the whole tire. On front tires, it may be easier if you turn the steering wheel hard to the left, then hard to the right as the test proceeds. 
  6. Once your leak is identified, you can remove the tire and proceed with plugging the leak. 

Congratulations! By finding this tricky leak, then patching it yourself, you've just saved yourself 20 bucks.