What to Do If You Have a Tire Blowout While Driving
Imagine a professor saying, “A passing grade requires you to do nothing.” That’s exactly what I told the 1,500 or so drivers I taught to safely handle a tire blowout.
Blowing a tire can be scary, and resisting the urge to do something can be hard, but practice makes perfect — so I put my students to the test. With a student behind the wheel and me sitting alongside, we simulated a tire blowout or tread separation.
We did this demonstration in almost every type of vehicle, including SUVs, minivans and 18-wheelers, and no one ever lost control. So, here’s what to do if you have a tire blowout while driving (and earn yourself a passing grade).
How to Safely Handle a Tire Blowout
If the driver drove straight down his lane and simply allowed the drag of the deflated tire to slow the vehicle to less than 30 mph, he earned a grade of a “B.” This is essentially “doing nothing,” and it’s a safe way to react when a tire blows out.
To get an “A,” however, you must act counterintuitively and press the accelerator for a short instant after the blowout. Because of the drag of the failed tire, even a sports car in high gear will not gain speed. Pushing the accelerator does two things. First, it stabilizes the vehicle in your lane. Second, but just as important, it helps you focus your mind and helps prevent you from turning or braking while trying to remember what to do. By the time your brain accesses the answer, you will likely have slowed almost enough to safely ease off the road. (As opposed to racetracks, where blowouts happen frequently in turns, tires frequently blow on long trips, on straight stretches of highway.)
What Not to Do if Your Tire Blows Out
You’ll get a failing grade if you turn the steering wheel even a little after a blowout or tread separation. This is especially true if you turn away from a failed rear tire. (For example, do not try to get to the right shoulder after a left-rear tire blows.) A slight turn will cause the vehicle to spin out faster. I know this from experience, as I was always selected to intentionally incorrectly drive a blowout for videos and testing. (My performance review included a minimum number of times to say, “Hey, y’all watch this.”)
What Can Cause a Blowout
Poor tire maintenance is one factor in a potential blowout, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Make sure your tires are inflated properly and have them rotated and balanced as outlined in your owner’s manual. Driving on underinflated tires can be especially hard on them as the components of the tire may bend beyond what they are designed to handle. Over time, the tires can weaken and fail. There are also other factors that can potentially lead to a blowout, too, such as overloading the vehicle, hitting a pothole or heat.
Avoiding a Blowout
The best way to avoid a blowout is to keep your tires at the proper inflation pressure. Check your tire pressure once a month. Set the pressure to what the vehicle maker recommends, which you can find on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door or in the owner’s manual. You should also visually inspect your tires to look for cracks, bulges or signs of wear, says the NHTSA. And if you notice the tires are not performing as well, are vibrating or are making noise, have them inspected by a professional.
To correctly handle a blowout, keep the wheel straight, wait for the vehicle to slow down and follow the Brits’ advice from 1939: Keep Calm and Carry On.
Originally published on July 2, 2013.