By Steve LaFerre
Senior Editor, TIRE REVIEW
Even for the most skeptical motorists, inflation-in-a-can is a valid answer to experiencing a flat tire at the wrong time in the wrong place. But there are many caveats that must be followed explicitly when connecting a can of sealant and quite a few psi to the valve stem.
Most important is that it’s only a “temporary” fix. In no way should any technician, tire dealer or motorist think for a moment that this type of repair is remotely permanent. That is dangerous thinking, with dangerous consequences.
Everyone in the business of manufacturing these products and every tire company stresses the word ‘temporary.’ Continental Tire North America (CTNA) sells the ContiComfortKit to such carmakers as BMW and Volvo, but with this advice: “It is capable of comfortably sealing typical tire punctures, making it possible for the motorist to complete the drive home and go to work as well as make the all-important visit to a tire repair facility for a proper tire repair or new replacement tire.”
Even the $140,000 Ford GT Supercar, which doesn’t come with a spare tire or even run-flat tires, is equipped with the Conti kit. The unit weighs fewer than five pounds and fits under the GT’s hood.
The ContiComfortKit combines a powerful, high-volume, 12-volt air compressor, integral pressure gauge and a latex liquid tire sealant. “Once the sealant is activated, and inflation pressure is correctly set, the fix is still temporary. The temporarily repaired tire is ready to be driven for up to 125 miles at speeds up 50 mph,” says CTNA.
The company also advises that not all sealant systems are safe, effective or allow subsequent repair to the tire. “Again,” says CTNA, “no sealant system is a permanent repair.”
The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) does not recognize any form of tire repair, other than removing the tire from the wheel and repairing it from the inside out. CTNA agrees with this position and sells the ContiComfortKit solely as a mobility restoration device intended to get the consumer to a nearby tire service facility.
Says the RMA: “Our general position is that we do not advise using any sort of roadside inflation-in-a-can material as a permanent solution. If used, such devices must only be considered as a very short-term solution until the motorist can safely reach the first facility which can complete a proper tire repair or tire replacement.”
Goodyear takes a similar position. “We do not advocate the use of these types of products, but do realize that it’s the only option sometimes for a motorist.” It has no product advisory for its passenger tires, but it does for its new medium truck tires.
So there’s no confusion, we are talking strictly about canned products that contain both air pressure and a sealant for passenger tires. We are not talking about sealants that are manufactured into a brand-new tire or fill materials intended to replace air in a tire.
Going further, Goodyear will not give credit in any adjustment transaction for any kind of material added to the tire after leaving a Goodyear factory, nor will it adjust any tire that has failed as a result of adding such material.
Michelin North America (MNA) says it is reviewing inflation-in-a can products. The company states clearly that the use of such a product instantly voids the warranty that attends its PAX system tires, but it has yet to issue a statement regarding its other passenger tire products. Taking a stronger stance, Bill Vandewater, consumer products sales engineer at Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire (BFNAT), says any form of temporary mobility kit voids the tire warranty. “It says on the side of the can that this is only a temporary fix,” he says. “We continue to believe that the only way to repair a tire is when it is removed from the rim.
“We are aware that a few tire inflation-in-a-can temporary fixes are now water-based as opposed to those with petrochemical ingredients,” he said. “Even so, our concern for this type of product is that, when applied to the tire cavity with an injury, the water will find its way into the steel cords, thus promoting rust. We also know that the tire has been in a run-flat condition, even if for only a short period of time. Is there damage to the tire that can’t be fixed with inflation-in-a-can?
“We are also concerned that the driver who uses a water-based inflation-in-can may forget to tell the next driver of that vehicle about the flat tire experience. Driver number two may use the vehicle for days or weeks before being made aware of the temporary fix.”
EFFECT ON TPMS
Vandewater expressed yet another concern, this one tied to the TPMS sensor. “There is a very small inlet valve on these units that allows the sensor to read tire inflation pressure. The introduction of any sort of tire sealant to the interior cavity of the tire is likely going to plug this inlet. That means the vehicle owner is going to have to pay roughly $50 to $150 for a new TPMS sensor. If the tire can be properly repaired, the motorist avoids the price of a new tire, but will have to buy a new sensor.”
It is estimated that three million vehicles on the nation’s highways right now are equipped with TPMS sensors, and all vehicles are expected to have the units installed by September 2007. Although BFNAT is sticking to its guns, like Goodyear, it admits that, sometimes, it is the motorist’s only choice.
Greg White, national sales manager for Casite, a producer of the product, has lots of experience with what he sells. “Although this is a temporary repair product, I have driven 1,800 miles on a tire filled with our product following a small nail hole puncture.”
Is he recommending this for everyone? “Absolutely not,” he said, “but it should give the motorist some sense of how far they can drive before having the tire properly repaired or replaced. Our product is designed to get the consumer out of harm’s way,” he said.
White, a student of the game, points to another major investment protection for users of inflation-in-a-can. “Do you know that one replacement wheel on a Lamborghini costs $15,000?” he asked. “Of course, we don’t see many of these cars, but even everyday polished aluminum wheels easily cost $500-plus.
“For those who suffer a flat on a busy, dangerous road, this is the scenario we see. Our product takes seven minutes to seal a routine nail hole puncture and inflate a tire to somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 psi for tires requiring 32 psi. That’s enough to limp to the closest tire repair outlet for a proper repair or new replacement tire.
“Our thinking works this way: If you are in a dangerous neighborhood and need to get out of there quickly, our product allows you do so in seven minutes. Better, if the tire injury only requires a routine tire repair, you have saved yourself the price of a new tire and the price of a new wheel. That, alone, can easily add up to $600 or more. If the tire is trashed, and the TPMS unit has become clogged, you will still save the cost of a new wheel.
“That is our selling point,” says White. “Our material retails at $7 a can. Its easy-connect, push-and-lock mechanism has received an award for ease of use and features a one-touch actuator. You simply sit the can on the ground near the tire, remove the valve cap, connect our hose and move away.
“From my point of view, a motorist can spend $7 for a can for my product and still be ahead of the game, even if the tire warranty is voided and a TPMS sensor must be added.”
Finally, White wants every user of his product to inform the tire tech that he or she has used a tire repair liquid. “When the bead is broken for proper tire repair, our material is going to run someplace. It just makes good sense to let the tire tech know what he’s facing. He or she can take steps, then and there, to help avoid a time consuming cleanup.”
Add up what you’ve just read, and the answer is this: If you choose to sell inflation-in-a-can, do some homework before you buy the product. Not all of it works. The ones that work provide temporary mobility.
Never sell inflation-in-a-can as a permanent tire repair, and always instruct the motorist to repair any flat tire at a reputable tire dealership quickly and in accordance with the strict tire repair guidelines provided by the RMA.