Sealant maker says calls for spare tires fall flat

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

Tire repair in a can lets you get back on the road quickly.

About two months ago, this newspaper was among those publishing stories based on the American Automobile Association’s call for automakers to put spare tires back in their vehicles.

While spare tires are disappearing, flat tires are not, a AAA director was quoted. “AAA responds to more than 4 million calls for flat tire assistance annually and, despite advances in vehicle technology, we have not seen a decline in tire-related calls over the last five years,” said John Nielsen, managing director of automotive engineering and repair for AAA.

Stories also quoted the AAA as saying that tire inflation kits that are supplanting spare tires have only limited use and cost as much as $300 to replace after being deployed. Such claims have drawn a response from the company that produces such kits, not only under the Fix-A-Flat and Slime brand names but for many of the original-equipment automakers.

“We’ve been making TRKs (tire repair kits) for a long time for both the OEMs and the retail segment, and we have a product that helps consumers,” said Patrick Mallon, director of marketing for ITW Global Tire Repair, which is based in San Luis Obispo, California. Mallon noted that Fix-A-Flat, the pioneer in the field, has been in business since the 1970s.

The Fix-A-Flat kit includes a can of sealant and an electric inflator pump that plugs into a vehicle’s 12-volt outlet. The kit is available at big-box retailers for less than $30, according to an ITW spokesman.

Further, ITW notes in a news release, tire-maker Bridgestone reports that 85 percent of tire punctures are repairable, which means a puncture no larger than a quarter-inch and in the tread area. “These are the same puncture parameters that are applicable to the use of an original equipment or aftermarket tire repair kit,” the news release notes.

The AAA report said testing showed that tire repair kits work only when the puncturing object is left in the tire. But Mallon said OEM requirements involve testing with the object both left in the tire and removed as well. “Our sealant has been tested thousands of times and works with it (the puncturing object) intact or removed,” he said.

Mallon also said that the sealant does not harm the tire and can be washed out with water before a tire shop makes a permanent repair to the tire.

Another benefit of a tire repair kit, according to ITW, is that a tire can be sealed and re-inflated in as little as seven minutes, compared to an average of more than 27 minutes it takes to change a flat tire. “The longer you remain on the side of a busy highway, the more dangerous it is for you,” the ITW news release notes.

The ITW news release also pointed to a Michelin survey that showed that 42 percent of drivers could not identify even the first step in changing a flat tire.

Mallon said ITW continues to work to improve its products. This summer, to meet Environmental Protection Agency regulations, it will change the propellant used to move the sealant from the can into the tire. It also is developing a next-generation sealant that is effective in a wider range of temperatures and will seal a puncture not only in the tread but in the shoulder area of a tire.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.