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Compact emergency flat tire sealants are fast-replacing spare tires

Consumer Reports News: November 09, 2012 09:08 AM

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Automakers are eliminating spare tires to save space, weight, and cost, instead providing run-flats or just a can of sealant and an inflator for emergencies. And as we saw at the recent SEMA show, aftermarket suppliers are getting into the act with similar emergency kits for car owners.

We saw a number of new products at SEMA in Las Vegas that claim to quickly inflate a punctured tire and get you on your way, without the need to jack up the car or remove a tire. None are intended to provide a permanent fix, but all can be used temporarily or to get you to a mechanic, without damaging tires, wheels, or sensitive tire-pressure monitoring systems. Unlike the goopy sealants that have been around for decades, manufacturers claim these new products are water-soluble and can be easily cleaned out of the tire using a rag or shop vacuum.

First up was the Fix-A-Flat, the brand probably best known for aerosol tire sealants. Their Ultimate 1-Step Tire Repair Kit is similar to kits that come with some new cars, and it includes sealant and a 12V pump with pressure gauge that plugs into a car's power outlet. Claimed to be capable of inflating and sealing a car tire in 7 minutes at the push of a button, Ultimate 1-Step retails for around $35.

SEMA-2012-Airman-tire-inflator.jpgThe Airman ResQ Pro includes a 24-oz. can of sealant and a 12V compressor with a built-in pressure gauge that the company claims will inflate a midsized car tire from zero to 35 psi in 5 minutes. The kit also includes adaptors for bicycles and recreational equipment, a safety reflector triangle and a carrying case. ResQ Pro retails for $50. Replacement cans of sealant are available for $20. Airman makes other kits for motorcycles, trailers, ATVs, and trucks.

We also saw a variety of kits from Slime, including the compact Smart Spair. With a 16-oz. can of sealant and a 12V pump with 10-foot power cord and built-in gauge that can inflate a car tire in 7 minutes, the Smart Spair retails for around $25, including attachments for bikes and balls.

The simplest alternative award goes to Super Spare, whose kit skips the air compressor altogether. Just connect one hose from the sealant container to your flat tire, and another from the sealant to any donor tire with sufficient air to get you going. Of course, that runs the risk of running on two underinflated tires, so we'd suggest only using Super Spare for a short term, emergency solution. The kit costs $12.95, and refill bottles are available for $7.95.

Our take is any of these systems is a temporary fix at best; a prompt follow-up service is required. Inflation kits are only good for small punctures in a tire's tread and users should be very cautious of driving on a sealant-repaired tire. Expect to pay a service installer an additional fee to clean-out the sealant in the wheel, tire pressure monitor sensor if present, and the inside of the tire. Also, some tire manufacturers will void the limited warranty if the sealant renders the tire unserviceable.

Jim Travers

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