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Why Blowouts Happen and What To Do If Your Car Has One


For most motorists, a tire blowout is one of their worst fears. Nothing is as frightening as having a tire, especially a steer tire, blow and suddenly go flat, jerking the vehicle to one side, while traveling at highway speeds. Let's look at why tires have blowouts, what you can do to avoid them, and what you should do if you have one.

Why Blowouts Happen

Many things can cause a blowout. The age of the tire, its condition, hazards in the road, improper inflation, a fault in the tire's construction.. Most people will drive for most of their lives and never experience a blowout. But not everyone is so lucky.

Regular inspection of your tires is important. When you fill up at the pump, wash your car, etc., you should pay attention to your tires. Look for:

  1. Signs of early wear.
  2. Proper inflation.
  3. Overloading.
  4. Potholes and road hazard damage.
  5. Cuts, gouges, tears in the sidewall.

Anything that is out of the ordinary with your tires should be checked carefully and, if you are unsure, taken to a professional for inspection. Even small problems with your tires can become big issues down the line. Further, if you do your own rotations with your car's tires, inspect them thoroughly while they're off the car and before mounting them again.

What To Do When a Blowout Happens

If you're traveling at speed and the tire blows out, your first order of business is not to panic. Next, don't jerk or yank the steering to "compensate" for the sudden pull in another direction as this will likely cause you to lose traction and control.

It seems counterintuitive, but use the gas pedal. If you use the throttle to add a burst of power immediately after a blowout, you're far more likely to maintain control. This seems backward, but the point is, a forward-thrusting vehicle maintains its stability better than does a rapidly slowing vehicle that is being slowed by a blown tire on one corner.

Avoid the brake pedal! Braking causes sway when one tire is flat or gone (especially a steer tire). Your vehicle will naturally be slowing from the drag of the dead tire anyway, so maintain control by staying in your lane and allowing the car to slow itself without the brakes. Use the throttle (gas pedal) to control the slowing and jerking of the vehicle, if need be, with gentle feathers to add power when needed.

Your goal is to maintain control and allow the vehicle to slow itself as you ease off of the roadway as safely as you can.

There Are Worse Things Than Blowouts

A blowout is actually not as dangerous as many might assume. Most vehicles will maintain their upright position, even at highway speeds, when a blowout occurs. Unless something happens to suddenly turn the wheels and cause the car to flip (relatively rare), the blowout will most likely result only in the vehicle rapidly slowing down and pulling to the side where the tire blew.

The worst thing that can happen, and thankfully it happens only rarely, is partial tread separation. Tread separation occurs when the tread of the tire literally peels off of the rest of the tire. This doesn't always result in deflation, but it does almost always result in a wreck. With the exception of big rigs, which have 17 other tires to make up for the loss, tread separation on a small car (four tires), means total loss of traction for that tire. If it's a partial tread separation (worst case scenario), the vehicle is very likely to go into a spin. Spinning is never good. This doesn't even take into account the probable damage that the separating tread will do to the car itself as it rips away.

Luckily, this type of tread loss is very rare. Blowouts, with the tire deflating, are far more common. When handled well, they are just another road hazard requiring a tire change or call for roadside assistance. When handled badly, they can result in a wreck, usually with another vehicle on the motorway.

Your goal during a blowout is to maintain control of both yourself and the car and to keep from leaving the roadway until you've slowed down to a near-stop so that you do not hit dirt and flip the vehicle. If you maintain control, you will be just fine.