Tractor Tire Repairs Made Easy
Can a Tractor Tire be Patched?
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Tractor tire repairs can seem like a daunting task due to their size. As counter-intuitive as it may be, the extra-large nature of these round rubber behemoths makes our lives a bit easier compared to an average car tire. There are a lot of commonalities between tractor tire repairs and automotive tire repairs because, well, they’re all tires. Let’s look at what the layman can repair in the field and some tips and tricks of the trade.
Tractor Tire Repairs
Many tractor tire repairs require you to remove the tire from the rim. Most times you only need to partially dismount the tire, and even more often; the tire will dismount itself. If you find yourself in need of fully dismounting a tire, you’ll want to pick up a set of tire irons or “spoons”. These tire tools are meant to allow you to pry the tire off the bead without damaging your rim. You can find these tools at your local tractor store, truck stops, and most discount tool suppliers. Look for the longest ones available to give yourself leverage.
Seating a Bead
Many old-timers like to use a flammable fluid and a match to seat a bead. Yes, it’ll work, but most of these fluids are deleterious to rubber and may compromise your tire. Not to mention it’s a safety risk. The safer way of reseating a bead is with a ratchet strap around the tire. Tighten the strap, use a spray bottle of water and dish soap to coax the bead back on, and use a large mallet to finish seating the tire as you inflate. Use a rubber, wood, or dead-blow hammer in case you whack the rim by accident.
Farmers are notorious for using aging equipment well beyond its expected life span. If you ever come in contact with equipment that has a split-rim, be warned. They’re a dangerous sort and should be managed by professionals with a rim cage. You can tell a split-rim by the removable half-moon steel edge on one side. These are dangerous and have caused fatalities while being worked with.
Sticks and Stems
One common flat tire-inducing issue is broken tire stems. It’s surprisingly easy to catch a stem on a stump, stick, or rock during hard use, especially when navigating brush and overgrown fields. Changing a tractor tire valve stem is a laborious but straightforward job. You need to dismount the tire enough to reach the stem hole inside the rim to pull a new stem through. Optionally, you can use a Quick Stem, which you don’t need access to the inside of the rim to install. It’s a simple rubber crush washer design and works well on low-speed tires like tractors and implements. Using a stem replacement like this will let you forgo dismounting the tire, saving you time and effort.
Tractors may work in fields, but many see heavy use in the farmyard doing all sorts of things. Building structures, moving equipment, and even being impromptu engine lifts are all within the scope of practice for most tractors. Operating in these environments inevitably ends with an errant nail or screw finding its way into the tire tread. There are a few ways to remedy a tire puncture like this.
A tractor tire repair tool worth investing in is a well-built tire string plug kit. You can buy cheap, plastic-handled tools at the bargain store, but these always seem to break the handles, risking hand injury. Look for quality, steel-handled tools that won’t send you to the hospital.
String plugs are an old-style tire plug that has been popular for a long time; however, they have their limitations. They provide a quick repair; however, they don’t protect the tire from future failure. Therefore, string plugs should be considered a temporary repair, not a permanent fix.
Always use an inside patch to finalize a tractor tire repair where a string plug is used. The combination of patch and plug will seal the air in the tire and keep moisture from penetrating the carcass of the tire, which will lead to internal belt rust and rot. To use these patches, you need to access the inside of the tire, which means at least a partial dismount from the wheel. This job is easier done at your barn or shop versus in the field, so consider the string plug the field fix and the patch the final stage of repair.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) in the USA has been advocating for “combination tire repairs” for a long time. The NHTSA states that a plug and patch repair is the only safe way to repair a road-going tire. A string plug and patch combination qualifies; however, there is a product available on the market that combines these into one easy-to-use system; the patch plug.
The patch plug is favored by professionals who want to do the job right. Patch plugs are shoved into the tire from the inside out, and feature a steel spike to allow you to push them through the tire. Using a patch plug will be the best tractor tire repair for punctures, sealing the air within and protecting the tire’s carcass from moisture incursion.
Tractor tires are prone to damage and abuse, especially in rock or brush-rich environments. Gouging the treads is inevitable in these situations, and as long as the damage only pertains to the rubber lug itself and not the main tire where the steel belts reside, it’s not a big concern. Gouges and cuts on the lugs of tires are par for the course, so don’t be overly alarmed by them unless they compromise the main body of the tire.
Sidewall damage, be it cuts, gouges, or dry rot, are not candidates for safe tractor tire repair. Although these are low-speed equipment tires, it’s still a dangerous game to operate a tractor (especially at comparatively high speeds) on tires that have compromised sidewalls. If you have a sidewall failure, decode the tractor tire size on the sidewall and find a suitable replacement tire. If you’re stuck replacing a tire, it may be prudent to replace both on the axle or all the tires. Before buying a duplicate of what you had before, consider what the best tractor tires for your farm may be. It might be time to upgrade to a different tread style that suits your needs better.
Have you had to repair your tractor’s tires in the field? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.