It sounds like a gunshot has gone off in your car, and feels like something else has grabbed hold of the wheel. What’s happened? A tire has blown. Even though they may seem counter intuitive, the next steps to take will be critical for avoiding a serious accident.
The type of vehicle you’re driving will play a big part in your ability to maintain control. A high center of gravity in SUVs and vans make them more likely to flip due to a tire blowout. A sedan has a lower center of gravity, and will be easier to control until you can stop in a safe area, though not necessarily less scary.
Several factors can make a tire more prone to blowing. Poor tire tread is often a culprit. The more tire between you and the road, the more separation between potholes, nails, or other objects that can damage the tire. Perhaps you’ve already heard of the “penny check”. Stick a one-cent coin in between the treads of your tires, with the heads-side facing you. Make sure it’s right-side-up, and see if Abraham Lincoln’s head is still visible. If you can see the top of his head or more, your tires need to be replaced.
Do not underinflate your tires. Underinflated tires plus an overloaded vehicle can place extra stress on tires.
Lastly, if a tire has a puncture, it may slowly be leaking air. That leads to underinflation. Especially if one or more of the other factors present – a heavy load, hot air temperatures, or a long time traveling – this can be enough stress on the tire for it to blow. Make sure you regularly check the tire pressure, and do a visual inspection while you’re at it.
If a tire does blow, here are a few tips on how to handle this kind of emergency, from the National Safety Commission.
Immediately after a tire blows, the vehicle will try to veer towards that side. If it’s a front tire, the situation becomes especially dangerous. While a rear tire blowout is similar to a skid, as if you suddenly hit a patch of ice, a front tire also greatly effects your ability to control the steering.
Don’t apply the brakes. Allow the car to slow on its own, which it will due to the drag the blown tire creates. While it may feel automatic to brake suddenly, that can make the vehicle very difficult to handle at least, or worse, cause it to flip. The imbalance of the lost tire pressure will make the braking uneven, which causes the car to veer even more. If you want to stabilize the car more, even though it seems completely counterintuitive, tap the gas pedal very lightly. Accelerating when you lose a tire, you ask? Yes, because the blown tire will create so much drag you likely won’t go faster, but this will help keep the car from losing speed so quickly, which is a hard thing to control. The lack of a tire on one side will make your braking uneven or “asymmetrical” and can cause your car to veer off even more.
Concentrate on steering. Make small adjustments to steer towards the shoulder. It may be hard to resist the urge to get off the road as soon as possible, but jerking the wheel towards the shoulder is the last thing you want to do. Especially in the case of a rear tire blowout, sudden and extreme turns of the wheel can cause the car to spin out, or flip. This also applies in other emergencies, like skidding or hydroplaning. Just remember: keep it steady. Resist the urge to oversteer, and calmly steer in the direction you want to the car to go.
The drag of the blown tire will slow the car naturally and gradually. This is good. So do not slam the brakes, which can make the car veer off. Again, this may feel counter intuitive, but steering and slowing down must be done gradually to keep the vehicle under control.
Once you’ve regained control of the vehicle then you can apply the brakes. A general rule for this is wait until you’re going about 30 mph before braking.
Steer the car off the road, or onto the shoulder if there is one. Turn on your hazard lights, and stay in the vehicle. Take a deep breath – you’ve earned it! Make sure you’ve got good clearance between you and other traffic before you exit. Don’t try to change the tire yourself if you don’t have plenty of room to do so. If you can’t change the tire, then call for a tow truck. Driving on the steel rims is very damaging to the car, so avoid doing this once you’ve come to a safe stop.
Simply reading this article and thinking about the steps involved already benefits you – the more you can learn about how to handle driving emergencies, the better equipped you are in the slight chance they occur.
If you were involved in an accident that occurred because of a tire blow out, call Bill Coats. His knowledge and experience can help you determine if the tire failure was due to factors beyond your control. It’s a free case evaluation, so you have nothing to lose. You can start the process by filling out this contact form. Serving Whatcom and Skagit Counties, Bill Coats Law is conveniently located in downtown Bellingham, Washington.