Reader Question: Leaky Wheels?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Tom asks: I have alloy wheels on my 2007 Lacrosse and the right front loses 5 lbs. every two days. I have had this before on another car, I think it’s the wheel. My wife bought a used 2000 Subaru Legacy. All four tires keep losing pressure – 15 psi or so from each tire every two weeks. The dealer blames it on the aluminum wheels, saying “aluminum wheels leak.” Another shop noticed some small cracks on the tire sidewalls and says the tires may be leaking pressure through the sidewalls. Do you have an opinion? What can I do about it?

My reply: The dealer is correct, sir! (Best Ed McMahon voice). Aluminum wheels can and sometimes do leak; it is a common problem. I have the same problem with the passenger side front wheel on my ’02 Frontier. It loses about 10 lbs. of pressure over 2-3 weeks, if I don’t keep after it.

And the problem is almost every late-model car has aluminum wheels – chiefly, so reduce weight so as to eke out some fuel economy savings. At our expense, of course.

Including the expense of greater fragility vs. steel wheels, which can take a bad pothole or curb strike that would damage or even ruin an alloy wheel. And of course, the alloy wheel is much more expensive to replace than the steel wheel.

What can you do?

There are two options. One is cheap but entails hassle. It is to regularly check the pressure in your tires and top them off as needed. If you have leaky wheels, you might have to do this as often as once a week.

Option two is to buy a new wheel – which will be warranted. If it leaks, you can return it for a new one until they get you one that doesn’t leak.

Meanwhile, the almost 50 year-old steel wheels that my ’76 Pontiac came with still don’t leak.

.  . .

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t automatically just assume it’s the wheel though. I have steel wheels on my vehicles, and often have the same problem. Sometimes, having the tire remounted can solve the problem- making sure that whoever does the job cleans up the rim really good where the tire bead sits, and using some sealer all around the bead. That usually solves the problem for me.
    Another thing that can cause a slow leak is the valve stem- even if the stem is in good shape, make sure that the core is not loose (You can buy a valve stem core tool for under $2).
    You can also go to a good shop and tell them you have a slow leak and ask them to find it (Play dumb), and they’ll put soapy water all over the tire (after taking it off the car) and pump the air pressure up high, and should be able to see where the leak is- most likely, it’s the bead though, and a tire remount and clean-up will fix it.
    Funny- but years ago this was never an issue….but now it seems common- even with steel wheels.

  2. Aluminum wheels sometimes leak when corrosion forms at the bead seat. Clean up the corrosion, and no more leaks. Unfortunately you have to dis-mount the tire to do this, but it’ll also give the mechanic an opportunity to check for cracks, etc.

  3. Had this happen to a leased escape. Just filled up the leaky tire once every 2 weeks and when i handed it back in i filled up the tire right before the hand off so there would be no issue at the return. If it gets low after that point oh well, must have picked up a nail in the dealer’s lot.

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