In recent years, there is one area that has been garnering a huge amount of attention in the legal world, as a growing number of lawsuits and cases can attest to: tire plugs are a hot topic in the world of litigation, and this is an issue that continues to grow and develop.
To date, there have been a total of eight-figure verdicts and public safety campaigns, held by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and these have been focused on highlighting the number of dangers that come with tire repairs; primarily improper repairs, “patch-only” and “plug-only” repairs.
Despite the warnings from the experts, a number of tire repair shops and mechanics across the country continue to use these types of improper and dangerous repair methods, putting motorists and other road users at risk.
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What Are The Basic Criteria For Tire Repairs?
According to experts at the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), almost 88% of all tire repairs carried out across the US are completed improperly. The RMA set out a number of requirements and basic criteria that should be adhered to when undergoing tire repairs, and these include:
Any punctures that are larger than a quarter-inch in size should not be repaired, as this is likely to be dangerous. Instead, a puncture of this size should see you getting the tire replaced.
If your tire is being repaired, then the repair should only occur within the tread area, and never on the outside edges. Repairing outside of the tread area can result in tread separation – this occurs when the tread of the tires (the outer section which has grooves, and uses grip to keep you on the road), starts to come away from the body (or casing) of the tire.
This means that any punctures that occur outside the tread area should result in the tire being replaced.
it is important that any tire repair is not carried out on top of an older repair – if there has been a prior repair in the same area, then the tire should be repaired.
Anytime a tire is replaced, the person carrying out the repair is required to remove the tire, and inspect the damage fully. Whenever you take your car in for a repair, you should ask the technician or mechanic to carry out a full inspection and repair of the whole tire, not just the affected area.
Repairs Should be Complete
This is extra important when we consider the topic we are discussing. If your puncture or tire is repaired, you should expect a plug to close the puncture, and then a patch to seal the inner lining.
This will ensure that your tire is stable and secure, and reduce your risk of being involved in an accident. A plug alone is not enough to safely repair a tire.
Not all tires can be repaired. If this is the case with your car, you will need to double-check with your car care specialist, your manufacturer, or an experienced auto technician for their recommendations on how to proceed.
If it is the case that your existing tire has an existing improper repair on it, then the whole tire should be scrapped and replaced. Under no circumstances should a damaged, defective tire attempt to be repaired – this results in instability and can increase your chances of being involved in an accident.
What Are the Safe and Unsafe Ways To Mend A Tire?
As long as your tire has no underlying improper repairs, is otherwise in good condition, and the puncture is not located outside of the tread, then you may be able to attempt a repair.
There are three common options available when it comes to repairing a puncture in your tire: these are a plug-only repair, a patch-only repair, or a combination repair.
As the name suggests, a plug-only repair is carried out when a tire plug is inserted through the outside edge of the tire, using a specialist insertion tool. Once the plug has been inserted, the insertion tool is removed, and the plug is left in the hole, filling it completely.
In most cases, the plug-only repair will consist of a “string plug”, and this is a woven cord, measuring between four and five inches, that is covered with a slightly tacky substance, allowing it to adhere to the inside of the tire.
In many cases, string plugs will be supplied automatically as part of a repair kit, and these typically cost anything from $4 to $5, depending on what is contained. In addition, you may be able to purchase additional string plugs on their own for around $2 to $3, and these will usually come in packs of three to five – this can be useful if you already possess the main kit, but are just looking for a greater number of string plugs.
In most repair kits, you will also receive an insertion tool, a reaming tool, and a number of string plugs, leaving you equipped for a number of occasions – this can be great for ensuring peace of mind. Some repair kits will also contain a type of rubber cement – this is designed to help form a strong seal located in between the tire and the string plug.
Another option is to make the most of a specialist, professional string plug repair facility – these are usually cheaper, as they can buy the supplies in bulk, and this means that you can actually save money, even if you have to pay for labor and time.
Are Plug-Only Repairs Safe?
If you have a tire puncture repaired with a string plug, you may find that your tire continues to hold air for many months – if not years – to come. In some cases, the string plug may even last for the entire remaining lifespan of the tire.
This can create a sense of false confidence around string plugs, and several car owners may believe that this is a permanent solution to their puncture. As the statistics and accident reports will attest, however, this is not always the case – and this is an opinion that is shared by both the manufacturing and the legal industries.
Despite their seemingly safe status, many experts have reported that string plug repairs allow moisture and air to penetrate deep into the body of the tire. Over time, a combination of air and moisture can seep into the layers of the tire, and this can result in the degradation of the steel belt.
The presence of these elements can also cause the tire to deteriorate, perish and eventually corrode from the inside out. Once corrosion has been allowed to enter the tire, the steel belt will weaken and erode, and the crucial bonds that occur between the rubber-to-wires and rubber-to-rubber layers of the tire will start to corrode. If this is not corrected, there is an increased risk of tread separation, and this can result in a serious accident and danger to your life.
Any puncture also increases the risk of damage being caused to the tires, and this is impossible to determine unless you have a proper inspection of the inside of the cavity of the tires: this involves removing the tire from the rim.
In order to locate a puncture, mechanics and auto technicians will usually dunk the tire into a tank of water, or swab the surface of the tire with soapy water. This allows the location of the puncture to be clearly determined in a way that is not always possible with a visual examination.
With a string plug repair, this close interior inspection does not take place, and this means that it is impossible to determine definitively whether or not any damage has occurred. As a result, the tire should be scrapped.
A patch-only repair is the second most common type of tire repair, and this is also very popular. Unlike a plug-only repair, this type of fix requires the tire to be removed from the rim, and the location of the puncture is determined from the inside.
This offers a slightly safer solution than a plug-only repair, as the tire is removed from the rim, allowing a thorough, comprehensive cavity inspection to be performed – this is more reliable than a plug-only repair, which does not separate the wheel from the rim
Once the location of the puncture has been determined, the entire surrounding area is treated and prepared using a combination of cleaning solutions, scrapers, and buffing tools. The purpose of this process is to ensure that the area around the puncture is ready to “bond” with the patch that is going to be placed there.
Once preparation is complete, a vulcanizing cement is applied to the repair patch, as well as the inner lining of the affected tire. The patch is then applied over the hole of the puncture, and the surrounding area is either rolled or stitched.
In some cases, a sealant is added to the patch, and the tire is then placed back on the rim.
Are Patch-Only Repairs Safe?
While this seems a little more reliable and safe than a plug-only method, patch-only methods still come with their own issues. Just as with the plugs, a patch can allow moisture and air to seep into the inner realms of the tire, as a result of the injury channel leading from the surface of the tread.
The third option for fixing a puncture is the “combination repair”, and this is considered by the NHTSA to be the only option if you want to repair your tire puncture safely and properly.
As the name suggests, a combination repair blends the plug-repair and the patch-repair methods for a solution that is twice as effective. The tire is fixed with a rubber plug or stem attached to a repair patch, and this combination is then applied to the puncture.
In some cases, a separate plug and patch may be combined, but industry experts recommend that a single-piece combination repair unit is the safest and most effective option.
With a combination repair, the tire is removed from the rim, and the puncture is located using the method we discussed earlier. Following this, the puncture is reamed out, and a clean, smooth hole is prepared – this is where the plug will be placed.
Next, the space around the puncture is prepared on the inside, helping to ensure that it will bond successfully with the patch. The vulcanizing cement is then applied to both the prepared area and the patch-plug combo is applied by pulling the plug from the outside of the tire, through the hole to fill the space completely.
This creates an airtight seal, reducing the risk of moisture and air seeping in. At the same time, the patch is bonded to the inside of the tire, offering an extra layer of airtight protection.
Finally, the rubber stem is trimmed for a smooth, even finish.
The double layer of protection means that your puncture is fully sealed, and this is widely considered to be the safest option for repairing your tires.
Why Are Proper Repairs So Important?
So just why does all this matter? Why is the nature of your puncture repair such as priority, and what impact can it have on your life? In the simplest terms: a puncture that is poorly or improperly repaired can put you at risk of a serious accident, permanent, life-changing injury, and, in some cases, even death.
If your tire is not repaired correctly and completely, you may be at risk of air leaking out from the puncture site as you are driving. Over time, this causes your tire to become deflated, and this increases the risk that you will skid or lose control of your vehicle.
In addition, driving on a non-inflated tire causes a substantial amount of heat to build up. This has the potential to cause a catastrophic failure of the tire, and the results can be devastating – you risk spinning into oncoming traffic, rolling the car, or simply losing control and crashing.
Tire Repair Litigation: Case Studies and Examples
The three tire repair methods that we described earlier have been in use for several years – as has litigation that has involved the failure to correctly or adequately repair tires.
There are a huge number of cases, spread all across the country, and “improper tire repair” is typically used as one of the primary defenses in litigation, with victims receiving millions of dollars in compensation.
Repairing A Second Puncture Over An Existing Fault
A key example occurred in October 2011, when Roy and Gwen Chattelle were awarded $13.4 million by a state court jury in Tampa, Florida.
The couple suffered tire failure on a highway and were injured in a crash at high speed. Gwen’s injuries were so serious that she was rendered a quadriplegic, and a case was brought against both the service center and the employee responsible for inspecting and improperly repairing tires prior to the crash occurring.
According to the facts raised at trial, the Chattelle’s rear tire was inspected and repaired three months prior to the crash, after they discovered that it was low on air. T
ampa Auto Repair carried out the inspection and repair, and there was no evidence that subsequent repairs or movement of the tire occurred between this visit and the time of the accident, resulting in Tampa Auto repair being considered to be liable.
When the crash occurred, the tire experienced partial tread separation and suffered from a catastrophic loss of air pressure. This resulted in the driver losing control of the vehicle, which rolled several times, resulting in the devastating injuries suffered by the couple.
Upon inspection, it was revealed that the failed tire had two punctures, the first of which had been repaired using an improper string plug – the second repair had been carried out by the repair shop over the top of the original repair, but the second fix never bonded properly to the surface. This resulted in the repair unit becoming dislodged, and resulted in the crash.
According to experts, Tampa Auto Repair was in violation of industry standards, as well as their own internal policies, due to their repair of a tire that already had an existing improper repair.
According to industry guidelines, the tire should have been removed and replaced. This second repair allowed moisture and air to enter the tire, causing corrosion and rust, and this allowed the jury to rule that the repair shop and the manager were liable, and therefore responsible for the damages of the victims.
Repairing a Puncture Outside The Reparable Area
Another incident occurred in San Diego County, California, in March 2011. Here, $14.5 million were awarded to minor sons of a couple, Melanie and Casey Barber, who were killed when their van rolled over.
During the trial, it became clear that a puncture in the tire had been repaired using the “patch only” area by a dealership, and that this repair took place outside the tread area that is recognized by industry standards.
In addition, there was evidence the mechanic responsible had also failed to prepare the area surrounding the puncture, and this resulted in the patch failing to bond properly.
It soon became apparent that the mechanic had not received adequate training from the auto shop employing him – to this day, there is no official Automotive Service Excellence Certification for a tire repair, suggesting that knowledge and skills are still lacking in this area.
Repairing a Puncture Using a Plug-Only Repair
2006 saw a minor injured in a crash in Florida, after a tire blowout on the vehicle he was traveling in caused an accident.
It came to light that the tire had been recently repaired at an auto shop using the string plug, but that no patch had been applied. During the case, the Plaintiff sued the creators of the plugs, stating that plug-only repairs were insufficient and unsafe and that they can and do result in tire failure and accidents.
Summary judgment was granted to the manufacturers of the plug, and it was ruled that the plugs themselves were not defective, and they could, in theory, be used in conjunction with a patch for safety.
This ruling was reversed by the court of appeals, who stated that even if the plug was not defective if used with a patch, the plugs in question failed to perform as safely as should be expected by a “reasonable consumer”.
Why Do Improper Repairs Persist, Despite the Evidence?
Industry experts, manufacturers, and attorneys are all in agreement: tire plug repairs are not safe and can put motorists at risk of a serious accident, injury, or even death. Despite this, however, the knowledge and understanding do not appear to be widespread, and particularly by the public.
This can impact juries in a negative way; if members of a jury have a preconceived notion that plug-only and patch-only repairs are perfectly safe, then they are less likely to rule in favor of victims. In addition, many consumers and drivers may assume that the repair that they have received is safe and proper, and this means that they are unaware of the risks.
Furthermore, it can take several years for an improper repair to fail, and this means that there is an assumption that they are safe: as we have seen, this can be a deadly attitude.
For attorneys, the length of time it can take for issues to come to light can also cause a problem – this offers manufacturers a greater defense, as they can claim that road hazards, overloading, under-inflation, or other issues caused the crash, rather than the improper repair. For consumers, any delay between the repair and the crash means that they are less likely to associate the cause of the crash with the faulty repair.
Improper repairs also remain popular solutions for many punctures, despite the risks and dangers, and this is likely due to the relative ease with which they can be carried out.
Unlike other types of repairs, a plug-only repair does not require the tire to be removed from the rim and can be performed from the outside. This means that as long as you have a fairly inexpensive repair kit, a puncture can be fixed – this makes it tempting if you are short of time or money.
It has also resulted in a rise in the number of “DIY” repairs, which increased the risk. As we mentioned previously, there are an alarming number of mechanics who are also poorly or inadequately trained in the right way to repair a puncture safely, and this can result in complacency.
In addition, many auto shops and garages will opt for a plug-only repair over more complex techniques in an attempt to save money – plug-repairs are cheaper to purchase, and do not require any extra training to install. Ultimately, however, this attempt to cut costs is costing lives on the road.
What Kinds of Accidents Can Be Caused By Defective Tires?
Now that we have established the nature of these repairs and the reasons why they continue to be used on a widespread basis, you may be wondering how this can impact you.
A defective or faulty tire can result in a wide number of accidents, and these include tire blowouts; if your tire loses pressure suddenly, you may suffer a blowout. This means that your vehicle will be suddenly thrown off balance, and can cause you to lose control of the car.
Other accidents may include:
- Tires that shred
- Tires that fall away from the vehicle, or fall off completely
- Crossing lanes into oncoming traffic
- Hydroplaning – skidding on water
- Running off the road
- Losing control of your vehicle
- The car rolling over
Who Is Responsible For Damages and Compensation?
There is no denying that consumers and motorists must take some responsibility for maintaining their tires, and there are a number of steps that you can take to minimize the risk of catastrophic tire failure, and reduce the chance that you will be involved in a crash or accident.
These responsibilities include:
- Ensuring that tires are properly maintained and checked
- Using only reputable repair shops and sources
- Carry out a visual inspection on your car, at least once a month
- Make sure that your tires are not over or underinflated
- Check your tire tread depth at least once a month
- Rotate your tires once every 5,000 to 8,000 miles that you travel
- Make sure your tires are aligned correctly
While consumers must take some responsibility, some accidents are outside of their control. If it can be proven that your accident was the result of a defective tire, or that a faulty tire worsened your accident or crash, then you may be able to claim compensation by bringing a case against the distributor, the manufacturer, or the retailer of the tires.
There are three main forms that a tire defect can take: a manufacturing error, a dangerous design, or a marketing mistake.
Manufacturing errors mean that a tire that would otherwise be safe by design is made dangerous due to an issue that has occurred during manufacture and production.
While vehicle owners do have a responsibility to replace any worn tires, manufacturers also have a significant part to play. If a tire is not manufactured and produced correctly, serious safety problems and issues can arise – the most common is tread separation which, as we have seen, can be fatal.
It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to recall any dangerous or faulty tires, and brands such as Firestone have taken this action in the past. Tragically, recalls come far too late in some cases, and may not occur until an accident has taken place.
There are a number of state and federal requirements in place to help ensure that tire manufacturers are held to stringent regulations, but issues still occur, and defective tires still make their way to the market.
In some cases, the issues occur at the design stage; a problem or miscalculation here can see tires shred more easily when they are used. Poorly designed tires may also blow out suddenly, compromising the stability of the car.
If there is an error in the marketing campaign for a tire, or if marketing is inadequate, this can result in misuse by the consumer. This includes failure to replace their tires as required, as a result of the misinformation that they have been given during the marketing.
What Injuries Can Be Caused By Defective Tires?
If your defective tires result in an accident, the injuries sustained can be catastrophic. These may include:
- Crushed limbs
- Broken bones
- Internal injuries
- Head injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries or damage to the brain
- Damage to the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis
Ultimately, there is no limit to the injuries that can be sustained, and this is why compensation is likely to be needed.
The damages awarded can be used to cover a number of expenses, including but not limited to:
- Medical expenses and costs, including those sustained at the time of the accident, and moving forward into the future. This may include medication, surgery, hospital visits, transportation, and physical therapy.
- Physical pain and suffering
- Psychological distress and mental anguish
- Loss of income and earnings, both at the time of the accident and in the future. This includes situations where the victim is unable to return to their original occupation, or who are forced to take up a lower-paid role.
- Special damages – the state of Texas allows “special damages” to be paid. As an example, a full-time housewife may not need to claim for loss of earnings but may be entitled to compensation to provide additional assistance around the home, including a housekeeper, gardener, or nanny.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Tire Plugs?
Tire plugs are a form of puncture repair that involves a small plug being inserted into the puncture to fill the gap and stabilize the tire.
What are the Issues with Tire Plugs?
Tire plugs rarely, if ever, offer a complete repair – they can result in air and moisture seeping into the inside of the tire, causing corrosion and rust that can be devastating to the integrity of your vehicle.
Are Tire Plugs Legal?
Despite the issues and lawsuits surrounding them, tire plugs remain legal and in frequent use across Texas and the wider United States.
When it comes to repairing a puncture on your tire, it is crucial that you use a solution that is safe, reliable, and reduces your risk of damage or hazard.
If you are involved in an accident, and the fault lies with the plug-only method of puncture repair, then you may have a case, and be eligible for compensation and financial support.
Get in touch today, and see how our team can help you lighten your load.