Photos: AirMan. Click image to enlarge
by Paul Williams
The AirMan tire repair system is a new take on an old chore. With roads becoming busier, and fewer places available to pull over and jack up the car, changing a flat tire can be a dangerous activity.
Similarly, in remote locations motorists may not be able to get help, and may have security concerns if stranded without assistance.
At an introductory price of $49.99, the AirMan simplifies the job by fixing a flat tire in minutes without the use of jacks. The repaired tire can be used for up to 300 kilometres to a maximum speed of 80 km/h, and can subsequently be repaired permanently by a tire professional.
The AirMan can be used to repair perforations up to approximately six millimetres in the tread of the tire (sidewall punctures are unfixable with any system). It can be used in temperatures between -30C and +70C
What’s the difference between the AirMan and other tire repair products? Plug it into your 12V power point and the AirMan injects a Dunlop latex sealant (the only sealant actually made by a tire manufacturer) into the tire as the compressor inflates it. The process will not damage the tire or rim, says James Hou of Active Products Inc, the company which designs and builds the AirMan.
Once used, a $19.99 replacement sealant bottle readies the unit for the next flat tire.
Already, products like these are becoming more widely used by car manufacturers as a replacement for the spare tire. In Europe, General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, Volkswagen and BMW are using this type of system. Volvo is using the technology in its new V50/S50 range of vehicles. This is not to say that such a system is better than having an actual spare wheel and tire, but it is an emerging trend (ideally, I’d like to have both a spare tire and an emergency system like the Airman).
The AirMan arrives in a handy canvas pouch with an instruction booklet. It weighs just over two-kilograms and is approximately 25 x 17 x 8 centimetres in size (about the size of a large clock radio). Its sturdy plastic case includes the sealant, compressor and safety lamp. Two colour-coded hoses and 12V connector stow tidily in compartments at either end.
The compressor in the AirMan operates rapidly, inflating up to 50 per cent faster than other models, according to Mr. Hou.
On the front of the AirMan, six pictures provide instructions on its use. On the back, a toll-free number is available for additional information. This number supplies a recorded message (in English only) on how to use the device.
In practice, most consumers should not have difficulty operating the AirMan. Following the pictographs, the first step is to plug into one of the 12V powerpoints in the disabled vehicle (the wire is 3.6 metres long, and will reach any tire, and some vehicles have power points in the back, as well as up front).
Next, you release a locking mechanism and flip one half of the AirMan to its vertical position, then plug in a black hose (already attached) to access the sealant.
After clamping a red hose to the flat tire’s valve stem, simply turn the unit on, and inflate the tire to its recommended pressure. There’s a gauge on the AirMan (measured in psi, and bar) and a recommended zone in case you can’t find your tire’s correct pressure.
The instructions do recommend that you drive the car a few kilometres to spread the compound in the tire, then check the inflation pressure, adjusting if necessary).
The AirMan can also be used to maintain proper tire inflation by securing the compressor hose to a tire and reading the gauge (its maximum output is 100 psi). If the pressure is too high, pressing the deflate button will lower it. If the pressure’s too low, turn on the compressor to increase it.
Your tire’s recommended pressure can be found on a plate attached to the doorjamb, or in your owner’s manual. The recommended tire pressure for your car is not found on your tire (there you’ll find the tire’s maximum recommended pressure, not your vehicle’s).
A recent study by the Rubber Association of Canada showed that 70 per cent of vehicles on the road have at least one tire that is improperly inflated by more than 10 per cent. Incorrect tire inflation contributes to poor fuel economy and reduced safety. Under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failure.
The AirMan also comes with several needle adaptors to inflate sporting equipment such as basketballs and footballs.
AirMan and its replacement sealant is initially available only at Canadian Tire retail stores. Other retailers will carry it later in the year.