In this guide, you will learn how to fix any leaking ATV tire. This knowledge will more than likely come in handy sooner rather than later, and with just some simple tools, you will be able to handle most flats completely on your own.
Sometimes the leak is small, and the tire will gradually deflate over several days. This is usually not the type of leak you have to repair out in the field but can wait until you return to your garage.
Other times the leak happens abruptly and needs instant repair before you can continue riding. That’s why it can be a good idea to carry some means of fixing a tire in your onboard toolkit.
1. How to locate the leak
Before you can start repairing, you need to determine where your tire is leaking. There are 4 possible locations where the wheel can leak.
- Punctured tire
- Leak between the tire and the rim/bead
- Tire valve
- Cracked or bent rim
There are a couple of simple ways you can quickly locate the source of the leak.
Listen for escaping air
If the size of the leak is of some significance, you should be able to hear where the leak is. As soon as you have determined the leak’s approximate location, move on to the next step.
Apply soapy water and look for bubbles
You won’t be able to hear the smallest leaks, but don’t worry, they can’t hide!
If you spray some soapy water on the tire where you think it is leaking, the escaping air will create small bubbles on its way out of the tire.
And voila, you have found your leak. Just a few squirts of dish soap in the water is all you need.
If you are out in the woods, plain water will also work, but the bubbles will be a bit harder to spot. When you think you have found the leak, you can rub some spit on the location to be sure, as spit is a more effective “bubble make”r than plain water.
2. How to de-bead and re-bead the tire
Some of the methods for fixing a leak that I will describe in this post will require removing the tire off the rim.
This may sound a bit intimidating if you never did it before, but fear not. This procedure is actually not as hard as it may seem, and it’s something most DIY mechanics should be able to achieve with no real issues.
But if you don’t feel comfortable doing this procedure, any tire shop will be able to do it for you.
De-beading (breaking the bead)
Make sure you release all of the air out of the tire before you attempt breaking the bead. This is done either by pushing down the small valve pin until all air is out or if you don’t want to spend all day, get a valve-stem removal tool. They only cost a couple of dollars.
There are several ways you can go about doing this. We’ll go through a couple of good methods for those who rarely need to have this done and do not want to invest too much into equipment that will be standing unused most of the time anyway.
Your first option is to get a set of Beadpro spoons. They are cheap and quite easy to use, but they take quite a bit of time compared to other methods. Follow the instructions on the package closely.
Because of the small size of these tools, they would be a great addition to your onboard toolkit so that you can take off a tire even in the woods if needed.
The next option requires you to use a so-called bead-breaker. Additionally, you will need a couple of tire spoons and a valve-stem removal tool. You can get all of these tools at most automotive supply stores.
But buying a bead breaker is probably not the most fun way you can imagine spending the 100 dollars you should expect to pay for a decent one. Luckily, you can save most of this money if you are willing to use 15 minutes of your time on a little DIY project.
Re-beading (seating the tire to the rim)
To do this, you need:
- An air compressor
- A cheap air chuck
- A solution of water and dish soap.
- And if this does not do the trick, you will also need a ratchet strap.
Start by spraying a generous amount of soapy water to the bead area of the rim. This will act as a lubricant. Without proper lubing, you will have difficulty seating the tire with the low pressure that ATV tires run.
Remove the valve stem core to allow air to be pumped inside the tire quickly. Then fill the air with the air chuck as normal. You will hear a small “popping” sound when the tire slips over the bead inside the rim, one for each side.
If your attempt fails, try strapping a ratchet strap around the outside of the tire. Tightening the strap will push the tire walls out against the beads, requiring less airflow for the tire to be seated successfully.
Then try again with the air chuck. Don’t go crazy putting too much air into the tire with the strap fitted. All you need is the tire to catch the bead and seat.
When the tire is seated, you can release the strap. Be careful; it is under a lot of pressure and will come undone with quite a bit of force.
Always make sure you don’t put too much air into the tire. As soon as you hear the 2 “pops,” the tire is beaded, and you should release the chuck from the valve. Install the valve stem core and fill the tire to the desired air pressure using a gauged tire inflator.
To get a tire seated, you will need about 15lbs (1 bar) of air pressure. ATV tires with stiff sidewalls will require up to 40lbs to seat properly.
Just make sure you never exceed your tire’s rated maximum capacity, as this may result in the tire tearing or the tire slipping over the rim’s lip. The force of a tire exploding like this can send you to the ER in no time, be cautious!
3. How to fix a tire leak
A leak in the tire itself is likely caused by a sharp object like a nail, screw, or thorn piercing the rubber, creating a hole where air can escape.
There are several ways you can go about fixing a puncture in the tire. Some are fast and easy but have disadvantages like not lasting so long or making a huge mess inside the tire.
A permanent fix requires some more work and equipment and cannot be performed as easily out in the woods.
Plug the hole with a string plug
This is my favorite method for fixing a punctured ATV tire as it does not require you to break the bead of the tire and can be done in a hurry and anywhere with very few tools. It is not perfect, but it is good enough.
This method does have the disadvantage of not completely sealing the tire cord, leaving it exposed to the elements so that it may rust over time. Rust will weaken the cord, and given enough time; the tire can explode because of this.
However, this problem is more relevant to car tires, where you ride at much higher speeds and operate with much higher tire pressure.
To do this, you need a tire plug kit. These kits are cheap, and you can get them at almost any automotive supply store.
- Use some pliers to remove the nail, screw, or whatever object that is causing your leak.
- Push the probing tool (the one with the rough edge on it) all the way through the hole, in and out about 4-5 times. This may require quite a bit of force, so get a good grip and utilize your body weight. This will clean debris out of the hole and make it the correct size for the plug you are about to fit.
- Then you should place one plug in the small V-shaped groove at the end of the other tool. An equal length of the plug should be sticking out on each side of the groove.
- Push the tool with the plug attached almost all the way through the hole. Leave about 1/2 inch on the outside of the tire. It’s important to get the plug all the way through the rubber.
- Pull the tool out with a determined pull. This will create a “mushroom” inside the tire, which helps keep the plug in place.
- Cut off the part of the plug that is sticking out of the tire with a sharp knife. I like leaving about 1/4 inch sticking out as this will wear down over time anyway. Done!
Patch the hole with a mushroom plug patch
This method is by many considered to be the proper way to patch a punctured tubeless tire.
You will need:
- A high-quality rubber patch
- Rubber cement
- A stitching tool
- A crayon
- Liquid tire buffer
- A tire buffer tool that connects to a drill
If your budget is really tight and you have plenty of time, you can even use some 120 grid sand-paper.
- Start by completely removing the tire from the rim with the method and tools you chose to break the rim described above.
- On the inside of the tire, mark the area where your puncture/hole is located. Draw a ring with a diameter of approximately 10 cm, with the hole located in the center. This will make it easier to keep track of the hole throughout the process. Make sure you don’t wipe out this ring in any of the other steps.
- The inside of the tire will be very smooth so that a patch will not stick well. Use the tire buffer to rough-up the area within the ring you’ve marked. Continue until the smooth surface on the inside of the tire is gone and you have just pure rubber. This should take about 30-60 seconds with a motorized tire buffer tool and much more with just using sand-paper. Make sure you do not dig into the rubber too far to get into the tire cord.
- Clean the buffed area with some liquid tire buffer on a rag. This will remove the “rubber dust” from the buffing process and will ensure good adherence. Finish by wiping with a dry part of the rag. The surface should feel a bit sticky compared to the untreated parts of the tire.
- Use the brush that comes with your rubber cement box/ glue to apply a moderate amount of glue to the area where the patch will go. One full dip of the brush should be about enough. Apply the glue to a bit larger area than the size of the patch.
- Leave the glue for a couple of minutes to cure a bit. If you apply the patch when the glue is still wet, it will not attach.
- Gently remove half of the backing paper of your patch. Ensure you do not touch it with your fingers, as any oil or contaminant from your fingers will compromise how well the patch will stick.
- Check the glue with your finger. It should be tacky but not wet.
- When it’s ready, place the patch in the center of the hole. Push it with your finger to make it stick. Peel off the other part of the paper and “massage” all of the patch with your finger so that it sticks.
- Use the stitching tool by rolling back and forth over the patch, all the way to the outside edge. Start in the center of the patch and work your way to both sides.
- Turn the stitching tool and do one more complete pass, perpendicular to the first pass in step 10. Use about 1 minute in total.
- Use a knife to gently pull off the plastic on the back of the patch. The patch should not pull up anywhere when you do this. If so, you are done and can refit the tire. If the patch does come loose in some spots, you need to remove the patch and start all over.
Install a tube
If you wish, you can install a tire tube, even in a tubeless tire, and it will stop any leak.
However, this method is not ideal for ATVs.
If you puncture in the tube when on the trail, you will have a hard time fixing it on the go. And because of the rough terrain we sometimes ride on, ATV tires are quite prone to puncture. You may end up doing a lot of patching.
It’s best to have a setup that allows you to fix a leak easily out on the trails.
Also, the valve stem on a tubed tire tends to shift and tear when riding off-road with little air in the tires.
If you decide to install tubes in your tires, make sure you get tubes with tr6 valve stems that are purposely made for ATV use. These will not shift as easily as the tr6 that are more common on garden tractors and other small equipment.
4. How to fix a leak around the rim / at the bead
This is the most common cause of why people get leaks in their ATV tires.
Dirty bead causing a leak
Because ATVs run at such low tire pressure, sand/silt from muddy water will migrate between the bead and rim, creating a leak. These kinds of leaks will not appear suddenly but worsen gradually over time as more dirt gets trapped.
To prevent this, it’s good practice to break the beads and clean thoroughly between the bed and the tire once a year.
But some tires will leak no matter how smooth and clean the bead is.
If the problem persists after you have cleaned the bead on the rim, you can try taking the tire off the rim once more. Before you refit the tire, you can apply some bead sealer or silicone to the bead and the inside of the rim’s lip.
Bead sealer can be bought in most automotive stores or a tire dealer.
Please do not put too much air into the tire before the bead sealer/ silicone has completely set, as it will push out the sealant.
This fix should prevent any dirt from getting in between the rim and the tire in the future.
Rusted rim causing a leak
This, of course, only applies to steel rims. Over time, water trapped between the tire and the rim, combined with dirt and sand, will make the rim start rusting.
The most permanent option to fix this is removing the tire and getting the rims sand-blasted and powder coated. This will make any rusted old rim look like new and should make a tight seal between the tire and the rim.
If you don’t wish to spend (almost) any money to get the leak fixed, you can try the following:
- Remove the valve stem core to let out any air and remove the tire from the rim using your preferred method and tools for breaking the bead.
- Clean the inside lip of the rim, the area that comes in contact with the tire, with some soapy water and a sponge.
- Use some sandpaper, first some 120 grid, then some 180 (or in this ballpark) to remove as much rust as you can. You can also use power tools to do this, depending on what you have available.
- Clean again with soapy water and let dry.
- Apply bead-seal or silicone on the lip of the rim before you refit the tire. This will, in most cases, fix your leak.
If all else fails, use green slime, or install a tube.
Damaged rim or tire
If you’ve hit a rock or, in other ways, damage the tire or rim where it seals, you may get a leak.
As long as the rim is fine structurally, you may be able to fix this by removing the tire from the rim and smoothing out any nicks with a Dremel tool or some fine sandpaper.
Apply a bead-sealer before you refit the tire if you want to be on the safe side.
5. How to fix a leaking valve stem or valve stem core
If the air is leaking from the core, you can try removing it with a valve stem core removal tool, cleaning with soapy water, and replacing it. If this does not fix it, you can try replacing the valve stem core with a new one.
If the air escapes from the outside of the valve stem, it is likely bad or badly fitted. Valve stems are quite cheap, so your best option is to replace it if it starts leaking.
De-bead the tire from the rim and use a valve stem tool to pull out the old valve stem. Clean the area where the valve stem sits and spray with soapy water before inserting a new stem from the inside of the rim.
Again, pull out with the valve stem tool until the new stem pops into place. You will need a valve stem tool.
6. How to fix a leak caused by a cracked or bent rim
A cracked rim can sometimes be welded successfully with a TIG or MIG welder if the crack is not too big.
However, achieving a satisfying result requires some above-average welding skills. I recommend searching for a local specialist company to do this if you want to make sure you get a good result.
A small bend in the rim’s lip after hitting a rock may also make for a bad seal. Try gently tapping the bent part with a rubber mallet to straighten it out. Do not use a metal hammer as this may damage the rim further.
7. Quick fix: Use tire slime
Putting a product like green slime or similar inside the tire will likely fix any of the types of leaks listed in this post, except maybe a bad valve stem core or a ripped tire.
Keep in mind that the slime makes a bit of a mess that needs cleaning the next time you remove the tire from the rim. You will likely not become very popular at your local tire shop when you give them tires filled with slime that will get their tire machine all messed up.
But if you are willing to live with the mess, it is a cheap, easy, and quick option to fix almost any leak.
You also get the benefit that the slime will also instantly repair new leaks as soon as they occur.
Remove the valve stem core to release all air before putting the slime into the tire so the back pressure won’t create a mess.
Be aware that the slime can unbalance the tires, causing the bike to vibrate when riding. Make sure you go for a ride instantly after injecting the slime, and don’t use too much.