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 get back to your garage.
Other times the leak happens abrupt 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.
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 an 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.
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 approximate location of the leak, move on to the next step.
Apply soapy water
You won’t be able to hear the smallest leaks, but don’t worry, they can’t hide!
If you simply 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.
Learn how to de-bead and re-bead the tire from the rim
Some of the methods for fixing a leak that I will describe in this post will require you to take 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)
There are several ways you can go about doing this. I’ll describe 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 do take quite a bit of time compared to the other method I will describe underneath. Just follow the instructions on the package.
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.
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, most of this money can easily be saved if you are willing to use 15 minutes of your time on a little DIY project.
I’m working on a separate article on how to build and use this DIY tool. This will be published in the near future.
Re-beading (seating the tire to the rim)
To do this you simply need an air compressor, a cheap air chuck and 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 a hard time seating the tire with the low pressure that ATV tires run.
Remove the valve stem core to allow air to quickly be pumped inside the tire. Then just 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 you don’t succeed, 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 tires rated maximum capacity as this may result in the tire tearing or the tire slipping over the lip of the rim. The force of a tire exploding like this can send you to the ER in no time, so be cautious!
Fix a puncture in the tire
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 has disadvantages like not lasting so long or making a huge mess inside of the tire.
A permanent fix requires some more work and equipment, and cannot be performed as easily out in the woods.
Plug the hole
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 little 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 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 in much higher speeds and operate with a 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” on the inside of the tire, which helps to 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
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 and liquid tire buffer.
Additionally, you will need a tire buffer tool. You can get one that’s driven by an air compressor. A cheaper alternative would be to get just a tire buffer bit that fits in any drill.
If your budget is really tight and you have plenty of time, you can even just 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 box of rubber cement/ 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 one half of the backing paper of your patch. Make sure 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 of 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 getting punctures. You may end up doing alot of patching.
It’s best to have a setup that can be fixed easily out on the trails.
Also, the valve stem on the tubes tends to shift and tear when riding off-road with little air in the tires.
If you do 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.
Fix a leak leaking around bead/rim
This is the most common cause to why people get leaks in their ATV tires.
Because ATVs run at such low tire pressure, sand/silt from muddy water will migrate in between the bead and rim, creating a leak. This kind of leaks will not appear suddenly but worsen gradually over time as more dirt gets trapped.
To prevent this it’s good practice to once a year break the beads and clean thoroughly between the bed and the tire.
But some tires will leak no matter how smooth and clean the bead is.
If the problem still 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 it the lip of the rim.
Bead sealer can be bought in most automotive stores or a tire dealer.
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.
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 to remove the tire and get the rims sand-blasted and powder coated. This will make any rusted old rim look like new again 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 get a small damage to 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 bead sealer before you refit the tire if you want to be on the safe side.
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 you insert 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
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 lip of the rim 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.
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.
However, 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 you put 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.