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How to Handle a Tire Blowout: Don’t Blow Your Cool

So you’re driving along quite happily and enjoying your ride. Life is good behind the wheel! Suddenly you hear a tremendous booming sound that literally shakes your whole car. It totally freaks you out. “What was THAT?” That, my dear readers, was a flat tire or a tire blowout. The first thing you do is don’t panic.

Srsly, calm down.
Srsly, calm down.

The next sound you’ll hear is a “whooshing” as the air quickly escapes from the tire, and then you’ll hear a repeated flapping or flopping as the deflated tire hits the road.

The sounds are scary enough. But it’s the sudden pulling to the right or the left that can be even more alarming. Your steering wheel suddenly grew a mind of its own!

Here’s what you do:

  1. Take a firm grip of the steering wheel and just hold ‘er straight.
  2. Ease off the gas pedal and allow yourself to slow down to 20-25mph.
  3. Apply the brake slowly and pull safely off the road.
  4. Activate your emergency flashers.

That’s right, just stay calm. Avoid panic. Don’t overreact. Drive THROUGH the blowout.

Resist the urge to do something, anything. The worst thing you can do is to give in to the temptation to jerk the steering wheel before the car has slowed down. If it’s a rear tire blowout, turning the wheel at a high speed may cause the car to spin out and roll over. It’d be like trying to drive on an icy road. Flat tires have no traction. None.

Also resist the instinct to slam on your brakes. This could lead to a spinout and rollover also. The sound of a blowout can be scary, but that’s all it is. Just sound. Your car won’t crash unless you panic and do something to make it crash.

More often than not, a flat tire’s probably gonna look like this…

flat-tire
Curses!

…rather than this…

Photo by Bryan Alexander/Flickr
Photo by Bryan Alexander/Flickr

…but if you keep driving on it, it might end up looking like this…

busted-tire
Bye, bye tire.

Many newer cars have automatic tire pressure monitoring systems that will let you know when your tire is underinflated, but according to SaferCar.gov, blown tires still cause over 11,000 collisions and 200 fatalities every year. You don’t want to be one of these stats, fam.

Once you’re safely stopped on the side of the road and have activated your emergency flashers, you can either call for roadside assistance or get out and change the tire yourself. Be sure it’s safe to get out, and put up your reflective cones or triangles (you do carry them, right?) before you begin.

It’s good to know how to change your own tire because these things always seem to happen when roadside assistance could be busy with rush hour fender-benders or it’s raining and/or it’s dark. Just like sitting in the ER, they’ll take care of the more serious stuff first, and you could be stuck there for hours before they can get to you. (Note: If you’re stuck on the side of a freeway, though, you’ll get top priority ‘cuz no one wants you to be hit at 65mph.)

Whether you change it yourself or get someone else to help you, remember that your spare tire is not for driving long distances or at high speeds. So if you’re in the middle of your summer vacation, get yourself to the nearest tire shop and have your tire replaced with the same regular tire as your other three tires.

Another good thing to know is that’s there’s a difference between a tire blowout and a tread separation. This is potentially more dangerous than a blowout because the loose tread will be flapping around and could rip into your passenger compartment like “a giant steel-reinforced Weed Eater.”  (Thank Popular Mechanics for this good verbal visual!)

Tire blowouts are caused by:

  • Potholes (we’ve got plenty of those these days!)
  • Running over something sharp, causing a cut into the tire
  • Overloading the car with people and stuff (think summer vacation when the asphalt is very hot anyway)
  • Small wheel punctures not caught in time — causing a slow leak until the whole tire fails

Be sure to check your tire’s air pressure regularly. Look at your tires for anything that might be lodged in the tread, like a screw or a nail. Do this every week, like make it a weekly thing.

Staying focused on the road ahead is another good idea. Truck tire treads are scattered everywhere on the freeways these days. Running into or over them can cause you to have a blowout or even an accident.

Blowouts can happen at any time, dear Acelet. Be British: Just stay calm and carry on!