What’s Really Causing Your Tires to Lose Air?

If one or more of your tires are constantly deflating, you have a slow leak in the tire. A leaking tire, whether big or small, causes air pressure to escape from the tire.

Leaking tires is unnerving and frustrating and can reduce gas economy, leading to accelerated tire wear and compromising road safety. Driving on a tire with a low leak can increase the chances of a tire blowout.

Several factors can cause slow leaks in your tire. This makes it challenging to track the root cause of the leak. In this article, you’ll learn the probable causes and how to track and rectify the underlying issues. But first, let’s look at the symptoms of a slow leak in tires.

driving on a tire with a slow leak

Symptoms of a slow leak in tires

It’s easy to identify a significant leak in a car tire. Your car tire performance will tell if you have slow or significant leaks. Here are the common signs that show you have a slow air low.

Tires going down frequently.

The typical sign of a slow leak is frequent flat tires. If you keep inflating your tires more frequently than you should, you have a slow leak. Slow leaks can happen in both new and old tires. This is true because bad tires are not the only thing that causes leaks in cars.

The tire pressure drops when parked for a long

By default, your tires should lose air, deflate, and even warp if parked in one place for an extended period because they carry the entire weight of the car. This typically happens when the vehicle remains parked for months. But you have slow leaks if the car loses air pressure after being parked for a few days or within two weeks.

However, if you are traveling for long, lift the vehicle and suspend it with jack stands. This will relieve the vehicle weight from the tires.

Low pressure on one tire

Another common indicator of a slow leak in a tire is low pressure on one tire while others are filled. If you notice that one tire goes down more frequently than others, you have a slow leak in that tire.

If this is the case, stop inflating the tire and have a service technician check and address the underlying issues. It could mean you have a bent or damaged rim, a puncture in that tire, a defective valve stem, or a nail in the tire.

What causes slow leaks in tires?

Like several other tire issues like inner tire wear and outer tire wear, a few factors can cause a slow leak in your tire. If you are wondering why you keep inflating your tires regularly, you have slow tire leaks. Regardless of the root cause, you have to fix it if you want the leak to stop. Below are the most prevalent causes of a slow leak in car tires.

Tire puncture

A common cause of a slow leak in a tire is a puncture. Disregard any information that says tires will go flat immediately after being punctured. Punctures can cause the tires to go flat immediately or cause a slow air pressure drop.

For instance, If you have a nail in tire, it’ll cause a slow leak because the nail is still inside the tire, preventing the air from escaping quickly. Therefore, it is essential not to ignore any puncture in a tire. Ignoring tire punctures like nails or screw in tires may cause the object to find its way into the tire and damage it.

Leaks around the wheel rims and tire beads

If you have a slow leak in the tire, no puncture, check the wheel rims and the tire beads. I’ll explain how to do this in the next section.

The tire can leak around the wheel rim or the tire bead. The tire bead is the part of the tire that snugs tightly to the rim. Over time, the tire bead can wear off due to its exposure to aggressive agents on the road.

The wheel rims can damage or bend when driving over potholes or hitting a road curb. If you have a slow leak in the tire rim, contact a service technician to check it. Some leaks from this area may not need repair.

Damaged valve stems

Valve stems are essential wheel components that help regulate the tire’s air pressure. Through the valve stems, you inflate and deflate air pressure in the tire. The valve stem comprises two essential parts – the valve stem core and the valve stem cap.

If you lose the valve stem cap, it’ll allow dirt and debris to cover the valve stems, invariably causing air leaks. Also, the system can corrode or become brittle over time due to its location and exposure to aggressive agents on the roads. Tire valve stems do not last the life of a car.

These tiny essential parts would not come with new tires unless you got a pre-mounted wheel. Damaged valve stems usually cause a slow leak in tire with no nails.

Normal wear and tear

Tires wear off under regular use over time. The tire treads can wear off under regular use. And sometimes there’s nothing you can do than replace them. As the tires wear down, they can start leaking slowly.

Tires can generally last 25,000 to 50,000 miles, depending on the road conditions, driving styles, and tire conditions. If you suspect your tire treads are down, measure the tread using a tire penny test.

Having explained the causes and symptoms of slow leaks in tires, let’s see how to find slow leaks in tires.

slow leak in tire repair cost

How to find slow leaks in tires

If you suspect slow tire leaks, you have to inspect the tires to track where the leaks are coming from. There are many ways to find tire leaks.

Listen to your tires

A leaking tire will emit a hissing sound from where it comes. The larger the leak, the louder the hissing sound. This means that slow leaks will emit small sounds. So, you’ll pay close attention to hear the hissing sound from the tires.

You can also find leaks by moving your hand on the tires and feeling if there’s a puncture or hole in the tire. However, touching the tire may not be effective in every case.

Using soapy water

The soapy water method is reliable and effective for tracking where a tire is leaking from. Try the soapy method if the listening and touching method does not work.

To use this method, get water and mix it with detergent and spray it on the suspected area. Firstly, pour the soapy water on the valve steam before proceeding to other areas like the tire sidewalls, the center treads, and the tire beads.

The soapy water will start bubbling on any leaking areas. However, the degree of the bubble and when it’ll start depends on the leaks. For instance, a small leak will take time to start bubbling, and the bubbles will be tiny.

Use water

Another way to determine if the tire is leaking is to submerge it into a water drum. Once you put the tire into the drum, the leaking areas will start to bring bubbles. Do not bring out the tire once you spot a leaking area. Let the tire sit for a few seconds. It could be leaking from multiple places.

What should you do if you have a slow leak in a tire?

Now what? You must fix any form of leak in your tire. If a puncture causes a slow leak in the tire, remove the nail or screw and fix it using a puncture repair kit.

If the leading cause is a defective valve stem, have a tire technician replace the valve stem. In some cases, the mechanic may need to replace the entire tire.

And, if a lousy tire bead is a culprit, apply a slow tire leak sealant on the edges of the tire and the rim. This can properly seal the tire bead and the wheel rim to prevent slow leaks.

However, if you have a bent or damaged rim, have a tire service mechanic diagnose it and advise you on what to do or proffer solutions to the problem. In some cases, the only solution could be to replace the rim. The technician may also reseat the tire and apply a slow tire leak sealer.

Lastly, replace the tire if the leak results from a worn tire due to normal wear. The diagnosing and fixing procedure is quite simple. You don’t need the service of a tire service technician unless you don’t want to roll your sleeves and do some dirty task.

Slow leak in tire repair cost

The slow leak-in tire repair cost is around $25 if you follow the DIYer route. However, you should prepare to pay as much as $50 to $120 if you want a professional tire mechanic to track and address the leak. And in some cases, the only solution is to replace the tire. On average, 12 to 15-inch tire replacement will cost around $115, while 16 to 20-inch will cost around $250 per unit.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

Q: Can I drive with a slow leak in a tire?

Yes, you can drive on a slow leak tire. While driving with a low tire, do not let the tire run flat.

You may wonder how far you can drive on a tire with a slow leak. You can drive as far as you want with a slow tire leak if you do not let the tire run flat. However, you must understand that driving with a tire leak means compromising your vehicle’s safety. For this reason, you need to track where the leak is coming from and fix it ASAP.

Q: Does a slow leak mean I need a new tire?

A slow leak when cold, driving, or parking doesn’t necessarily mean you need to replace the tire.

If the leak comes from the tire bead, a tire technician may have to clean the rim edges, apply bead sealant and reseat the tire. And, if you have a puncture in the tire, you need to fix the puncture using a puncture repair kit. But if the damage is much, the only solution could be to replace the tire.

Q: Will a slow leak cause a blowout?

Slow tire leaks can be unnerving and frustrating. Aside from causing low tire pressure and reduced gas mileage, it can build up heat in the tire and potentially increase the chances of a tire blowout.

However, there are several other causes of a tire blowout. So, do not blame a slow tire leak whenever you have a tire blowout.

Q: Is it better to drive fast or slow on a leaking tire?

Driving faster on a leaking tire may seem better because one may think he’ll get to his destination much faster than when driving slowly.

You should do the opposite instead. In all you do, only drive 20-25 miles per hour on a flat tire. Ignoring this may compromise vehicle handling and cause irreparable damage.  

Q: Why is my tire losing air but no hole?

While punctures cause slow leaks in car tires, most leaks are not caused by holes in tires. Manufacturing defects, valve stems, and bent rims can be the leading cause of the leak.

As explained, the valve is where you plug in the pump when inflating and deflating the tires. It can go bad and cause leaks.

The tire rim can bend when driving over a pothole or if you hit a road curb, leading to air leaks. Lastly, new tires can have manufacturing defects.

Final Word

There are several causes of a slow leak in tire. The most common culprits are road punctures, potholes, and rod curbs. You should always be careful with road hazards once you hit the road.

This article has outlined the symptoms, causes, and how to diagnose and rectify the underlying issue. Follow the instructions religiously if you’re a DIYer. But if you don’t like fixing things in your car, contact a tire technician to address the leak.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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