Ever wondered why your brand-new tires are getting deflated so quickly? Or why your tires are getting flat even though there are no signs of puncture? The answer may be that your tire is leaking around the rim or the bead or someone intentionally slashed your tires.
Rim leak can occur due to several factors – the tire may not have been installed correctly, rim corrosion due to exposure to harsh environments (water, road salts, dirt, debris), and corrosion of the valve stem. This can also lead to your tires making an unwanted humming noise.
The corrosion of the aluminum rim can cause the metallic rim to swell and expand nudging the tire bead off the rim and ultimately resulting in a tire leak.
Fortunately, repairing a rim leak is straightforward and inexpensive which mainly involves cleaning the tire rim and applying a sealant to make the rim airtight.
How to Check for a Rim Leak?
Identifying a rim leak can be a very daunting task as it is not at all obvious and many drivers are simply unaware of this slow leak.
The easiest method to detect a rim leak is the ‘water-bath’ test. It helps if you have a big container with soap water in which you can submerge your tire but a simple bottle with a spray nozzle filled with soap water can also suffice.
Spray the soap water over the tire and look for bubbles appearing around the edge where the rubber meets the rim (known as the ‘bead’ of the tire). If you notice bubbles appearing around the rim, it is a definite sign of leakage around that area. Otherwise, if you do not see any bubbles, your wheel is air-tight around the rim.
How to Fix a Rim Leak? (Step-by-Step Guide)
Whether be it a tubeless tire or a tubed one, both are susceptible to rim leaks. Once you have identified that your tire has a rim leak, it is time to dismount the tire and get to repairs!
The following is a step-by-step guide for repairing rim leaks for your average daily-drive vehicle. The same procedure can be followed for a tubeless tire as well.
1. Dismount the tire
Jack up your vehicle. Secure the jack and apply wheel wedges. Remove the lug nuts using an impact or a lug wrench from the tire and pull it towards you until it is completely dismounted from the vehicle.
2. Deflate the tire
You will need to deflate the tire in order to easily remove the rim from the tire. Locate the valve stem. You can use a nose plier, or a valve core removal tool specially designed for this task.
Using the nose plier, twist the metallic part of the stem counterclockwise to remove it. Take extra care in twisting it, gently twist it at the end as it shoots out once it is removed. Take care to protect your fingers from the high-pressure air.
3. Separate the rim from the tire
Apply some lubricant (dishwashing liquid is easily available in homes) around the rim. Push down the tire with your boot and use a pry bar or tire lever to pull the rubber off the rim such that the lip of the tire rests over the rim. Apply more lubricant if you find it difficult to lift the rubber.
Once the rubber is lifted, you can manually remove the rim by hand or push it down on the rim to get it off. Flip over the tire. In a similar fashion, use lubricant and tire levers to get the tire off of the second lip of the rim.
4. Clean the rim
Once you remove the rim, examine the edges of the rim. A common problem with alloy wheels is that corrosion builds up on the bead seal. You will notice signs of oxidation and corrosion on both sides of the aluminum rim.
These are caused when water or road salts infiltrate the rim and accumulate on the rim for an extended period of time wearing away the aluminum surface. This is the prime cause of slow rim leaks.
Clean the rim with sandpaper (150 grit sandpaper is a good option) or a wire brush thoroughly. You can use an air tool or manually clean the surface by hand.
Once you have cleaned both sides with sandpaper, it is recommended that you use polishing paper or acetone if available or even soap water for smoothing and further cleaning of the rim surface.
5. Clean the sidewall
You may also notice the peels of aluminum coating on the sidewall of the tire. This is another indication that your tire was not sealed properly causing the tire to leak around the bead.
Or maybe your sidewall is damaged. Learn how much sidewall damage is too much.
Thoroughly clean the sidewall and inside of the tire with a cloth removing any dirt or contamination that had been accumulated.
6. Apply bead sealer
Apply a bead sealer or a specialized tire solution (both readily available in the market) on the rim surface and of the tire using a paintbrush or any other tool. The chemical acts as a sealant for making the tire airtight preventing any leaks around the rim.
7. Clean the valve stem
It is also possible that your tire may be leaking air from the valve stem of your vehicle as a result of a damaged stem. In that case, the best course of action is to replace your valve stem. Alternatively, you can apply the sealant on the valve stem as a temporary fix.
8. Install the rim back into the tire
Once you have applied the sealant, mount the rim back on the tire. Use lubricant around the sidewall.
Position the tire around the rim and push it down with your boot such that one side of the tire is mounted on the rim. Push down on the wheel again and use tire levers or pry bar to strap the rubber onto the rim.
9. Apply sealant on the sidewall
Once the rim is mounted, apply a good amount of bead sealer on the sidewall as well. Make sure there are no dry spots around the sidewall.
10. Inflate and let it dry
Inflate the tire back to the recommended air pressure (normal tire pressure is usually around 32-40 PSI). Apply the valve stem back onto the tire and let it sit for an hour.
11. Check for sidewall leak again
After the tire is all dried up, check for rim leak again using the water-bath test. Spray the liquid soap around the sidewall and check for bubbles.
If you have followed our step-by-step guide, you will not notice any bubbles around the bead. This is a sign that your tire is sealed properly and ready to be mounted back onto the vehicle.
12. Install the tire back into the vehicle
Mount the tire back onto the vehicle. Put the lug nuts back into each of the threads and tighten them firmly up until the point you cannot turn them anymore.
13. Test Ride
Take your wheels for a test ride to ensure your tires are operating as intended. Check pressure after 3 days to see if you notice any irregularities. If you have followed the mentioned procedure, the pressure should roughly be the same after 3 days.
What is the Rim Leak Repair Cost?
Repairing a rim leak is quite inexpensive and straightforward. You can easily fix a rim leak at your home without needing to take your car to an auto-shop.
All it costs is a $15-20 bead sealer and your normal tire repair toolkit including tire levers, car jack, pliers, etc.
If you do not want to put in the effort yourself, you can save yourself the hassle and take your car to an auto-shop that can cost you anywhere from $65-400.
Does a Tire Sealant work on Rim Leak?
A tire sealant like fix-a-flat does indeed work on rim leaks, but it is not recommended as it comes with a few caveats. Firstly, you still need to remove your rim and clean it thoroughly.
Tire sealants are directly applied from the valve stem not requiring you to disassemble the tire but in case of rim leak, it is recommended that you clean the rim first by removing it and then apply the tire sealant/tire slime afterward.
The other caveat is that tire sealants make a lot of mess and completely fill up the inside of your tire making future repairs a real bother.
Seeing your brand-new tire flat out in a few days can be quite frustrating. You may think to yourself that there is no sign of puncture or any visible area of air leak, then how is it possible that my tire is leaking out?
The answer to your question would be that there may be several culprits of this gradual leak, you will have to test them out yourself, but the most probable one is that your tire is leaking air around the bead or the rim of the tire or you just bought tires from the worst tire brands without knowing!
Luckily, patching up a rim leak is a straightforward process, yet many drivers are unaware of the procedure. Follow these vital steps as per the procedure laid down in the article and always remain vigilant when it comes to tire maintenance and safety.