You’ve likely seen them while driving down the highway . the rubbery, black remnants that are a sure sign of a blowout. Tire blowouts can be scary to witness, let alone experience firsthand. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, blowouts cause thousands of crashes each year.
Luckily, there are things you can do to ensure that your tires are highway ready. That’s why we’re providing you with these tips in honor of National Tire Safety Week, run by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.
How to Avoid a Tire Blowout
First, monitor your tire pressure. According to Firestone Tire, incorrect tire pressure is the leading cause of blowouts. Since 2008, all new cars have been required to come with a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Your TPMS continuously monitors the pressure of your tires and displays a warning on your dashboard if they get too low.
Though your TPMS can help alert you to tire pressure issues, it can’t fix them. Schrader International, a company that makes pressure-sensing systems, conducted a study that found that more than 42% of American drivers couldn’t accurately identify the low tire pressure warning lights on their dashboard. Furthermore, Schrader found that 10% of drivers willfully ignored their tire pressure warning light when it turned on.
While properly using your TPMS can go a long way toward preventing blowouts, it may not be enough on its own. According to Edmunds, auto manufacturers are only required to equip cars with tire-pressure monitoring systems that turn on when your tire pressure is 25 percent below its recommended level. For that reason, it’s a good idea to manually check your tire pressure once a month using a tire pressure gauge.
Checking your tire pressure is especially important when temperatures are extreme. Cold weather can cause the air in your tires to condense, lowering the pressure, while hot air can cause it to expand. Your TPMS won’t warn you about over-filled tires.
Next, be sure to replace worn tires. According to U.S. News & World Report, a new set of all-season tires typically lasts between 50,000 to 70,000 miles or six to 10 years.
The easiest way to tell you’re in need of new tires is to check the tread. The deeper the tread on your tires, the better your traction. That’s why snow tires have especially cavernous grooves.
According to tire manufacturer Goodyear, you should start paying close attention to the depth of your tread when it reaches 4/32 of an inch and you should replace your tires when it reaches 2/32 of an inch. Of course, if you’re used to driving in especially slippery conditions, it may be better to replace your tires even sooner.
Fortunately, you don’t need to find a ruler to stick in the ruts of your tires to measure their depth. Instead, try this: Stick a penny in the groove of your tire with Lincoln’s head pointing down. If you can see Lincoln’s entire head, then it’s time for new tires.
Some tires also come equipped with tread indicators. These are typically horizontal bars embedded in your tire that only protrude about 2/32 of an inch. Once the rest of the tread is level with the indicators, it’s time to replace your tires.
Not only can wear cause tires to lose traction, but it can also make tires heat up faster. Overheated tires are frequent causes of blowouts.
Lastly, be cautious to avoid road hazards. Road hazards, from potholes to steep driveways, can also cause serious tire damage. Sometimes the impact of these obstacles can be so severe that the tire pops right away. Other times, the damage can go unnoticed but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Even if you do your best to prevent it, it’s still possible that you could experience a blowout. Fortunately, knowing how to handle a tire blowout can go a long way toward keeping you safe.
Here’s how to handle a tire blowout in four steps:
You’ll hear a loud pop before the car veers violently to one side. What to do: stay calm. It may sound counterintuitive, but the first action you should take is none at all.
You’ll instinctively want to slam on the brakes, but DO NOT do this. It can cause you to lose control of the vehicle. Instead, grip the wheel tightly and hold it straight. Even though your car will likely start pulling to the left or right, don’t try to correct it because overcorrecting could prove disastrous.
Expect to maintain forward momentum. According to Firestone, you can achieve this by lightly pressing the gas pedal. This strategy is beneficial because if you’re hitting the gas, you won’t be slamming on the breaks … which is the worst thing you can do in this situation.
You’ll regain control after completing steps 1, 2, and 3, which means you’ll finally want to ease off the gas and let the car slow down on its own. This should happen quickly because of the drag of the blown tire. Once you hit about 30 mph, then apply the brakes.
If you can turn on your hazard lights as your car decelerates. Avoid turning the wheel too significantly as you work your way to the shoulder. Then take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back . you just survived a blowout.
It’s one of the most unexpected—and unnerving—driving experiences: a tire blowout. And something as small as a nail in the road can be the cause.
“It happens any time the air in the tire escapes at a rapid speed,” says James Solomon, a defensive driving expert with the National Safety Council (NSC). According to the NSC, the top five causes of tire blowouts are under-inflation, overload, uneven tread wear, damage and defects.
Fortunately, tire blowouts seem to be on the downswing since the implementation of tire pressure monitoring systems, says Solomon. Still, he cautions, the unexpected event could occur, so it’s important for drivers to understand the possible causes and the proper responses, as well as the steps to take to help prevent a tire blowout.
What To Do
“A blowout is pretty obvious,” says Solomon. “You’ll hear a pop, and one side of your car will drop down.” If it’s a front tire, you’ll hear a flapping sound, and the steering wheel could jerk from your hands. A back tire may be less dramatic, but both situations should be handled the same.
“The last thing you want to do is jam on the brakes, especially in traffic,” says Solomon, even though that may be your gut reaction. The goal is to gain control of the vehicle as it continues to move and to get it away from traffic. He recommends signaling for a lane change and easing your foot off the gas pedal while steering to the side of the road as quickly and as smoothly as you can.
Turn on your hazards, and once the car is safely off the road, call for assistance. If you have the GEICO Mobile app, you can use it to request Emergency Roadside Service. If you’re fixing the flat yourself, make sure you’re a safe distance from traffic.
How To Prevent It
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that about 11,000 tire-related accidents happen every year, so tire upkeep is essential. A good first step is to check tire pressure, using a tire gauge, just as often as you check your oil or washer fluid—preferably once a month, advises Solomon. “If the PSI (pounds per square inch) is off by more than two pounds, fix it.” You can find the correct pressure for a tire in your owner’s manual or on the sticker inside the driver’s side door frame. And it never hurts to do a visual check before you get in the car, says Solomon. “If one tire looks lower than the others, it probably is.”
NHTSA also recommends that you check tread wear every month using a simple penny test. Place the coin headfirst into the groove; if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tire.
Another smart strategy? Add Emergency Roadside Service to your GEICO car insurance policy for just pennies a day per vehicle. Plus, you can request roadside help in as little as two minutes when you use the GEICO Mobile app. Be prepared and download it today!
First you’ll hear a loud BOOM, then a sudden jerk and pull to one side. At highway speeds a tire blowout can quickly cause an inexperienced driver to panic and lose control. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire blowouts cause over 75,000 accidents and kill over 400 drivers each year. Yikes! Before you let those numbers send shivers down your spine, know that a tire blowout doesn’t necessarily spell disaster, even if you aren’t a professional stunt driver.
By following a few simple tips, almost anyone can safely regain control after a blowout. Here’s everything you need to know for surviving a tire blowout (plus how to avoid one in the first place).
Surviving a Blowout
Step 1: Stay calm. The absolute best thing you can do in the first few moments after your tire blows is absolutely nothing. Don’t turn the steering wheel. Don’t step on the breaks. Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal. Any of these actions could cause you to suddenly lose control of the vehicle and spin out. Take a deep breath and don’t panic.
Step 2: Steer straight. When your tire blows, you are going to feel the car pull to one side. Grip the wheel firmly with both hands at 10 and 2. You might feel the car wobble or fishtail, but it is vitally important that you resist the urge to turn the wheel sharply and overcorrect. Do your best to keep the vehicle going straight.
Step 3: Gently press the gas pedal. This may feel counterintuitive, but accelerating slightly after a tire blowout can help you regain control of the vehicle by maintaining your forward momentum. Once you’ve gained control, step off the gas pedal slowly.
Remember: the worst thing you can do when your tire blows is hit the breaks.
Step 4: Allow the car to slow itself. A blown tire is going to act like a parachute, naturally slowing your speed. At this point, either you or a passenger can turn on the emergency lights, as you’ll quickly decelerate to below cruising speeds. Do your best to point the vehicle straight and avoid turning your steering wheel.
Step 5: Once your speed drops below 30 mph, gently step on the breaks. When you’ve slowed down to a safe speed, 20 mph or so, you can turn the steering wheel slowly to guide your vehicle off the road. When you are safely out of traffic, take a deep breath and call for help.
Avoiding a Blowout
Double check tire pressure early and often. When it comes to blown tires, prevention is the best survival strategy. The vast majority of blowouts are caused by improper tire pressure. In the United States, cars sold after 2007 are required to be equipped with an electronic tire pressure monitoring system that alerts you when your air pressure fluctuates above or below safe levels. If you have an older car, you’ll have to do the monitoring yourself.
Check your tire pressure before any long trips (find out your vehicle’s recommended tire pressure with this helpful online tire pressure tool). This is especially important in the summer, when the temperature of the pavement can rise to 140 degrees and cause your tire pressure to rise to bursting levels. If your tires feel “off” or you have a tire pressure warning light on, head to your local Firestone Complete Auto Care location to take advantage of a total tire checkup and repair service. Having your tires examined at the first sign of trouble is the best way to avoid a blowout altogether.
Don’t drive on old, worn tires. If the tread on your tires is worn down or if there are any cracks in the rubber, you could be doing some serious damage to your ride and your rims. Driving on worn tires in the heat of summer is asking for trouble, plain and simple. If checking your tires isn’t something you think you’ll do often, (because hey, we’re all busy) you may want to choose a set of tires that does the work for you. Some tires, like DriveGuard tires, are uniquely engineered with a high tech cooling system that evenly distributes heat to help maintain safe tire pressure and prevent a blowout, even in extreme conditions.
The bottom line? High quality tires and a little bit of due diligence can prevent most blowout situations. If you have any inkling that your tires may be "off," visit your local Firestone Complete Auto Care for a total tire checkup. Our tire shops are open late and on weekends, so when you need us–we’re ready!
Your critical link to the road, four tires are what keep you moving from place to place comfortably and safely. With a good alignment, tight suspension and steering components, and proper tire pressure, tires generally last 20,000 to 80,000 miles. If a tire fails, it may do so catastrophically, suddenly losing all pressure. The dramatic loss of pressure, called a “tire blowout,” can lead to loss of vehicle control.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) estimates that tire blowouts cause more than 78,000 accidents and 400 deaths every year, and this doesn’t include the untold number of tire blowouts that don’t cause accidents or injury. Still, spend time on practically any highway and you’re bound to see proof that tire blowouts happen, the separated tread of a tire or someone changing a blown tire for the spare.
What Causes Tire Blowout?
In general, tires are both sturdy and flexible. They need to be, to manage the forces of acceleration, deceleration, and turning, in environments cold, hot, wet, dry, and slippery. To maintain this level of capability, proper tire pressure must be maintained. Too much pressure and you could suffer abnormal tire wear. Too little pressure, and you’d suffer poor fuel economy and poor traction. Lower pressure, still, and you could suffer a tire blowout. The Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) was developed and mandated by law for exactly these reasons.
Low-pressure tire blowouts, the most common, occur because the tire overheats. Low tire pressure causes the tires to flex more, creating heat. Eventually, so much heat is created that the rubber starts to deform. The sidewalls can no longer support the air pressure inside the tire and vehicle load, blowing out the tire sidewalls in an instant. The tread may even separate from the rest of the tire. The instant loss of traction and height could even cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
Additionally, other factors could cause a tire blowout, such as a pothole or curb hit, a defective or damaged tire, or severe vehicle overloading. Even inflated properly, tires are susceptible to damage from extraordinary circumstances. An impact with a pothole or curb could cause a leak large enough to let all air pressure escape instantly. Even properly inflated, a defective tire may blow out if its structure is too weak to support it. Most car tires can handle a minimum load of around 1,000 pounds, which includes the vehicle, fuel, driver, passengers, and luggage. Excessive loading, perhaps towing a heavy trailer, could lead to a tire blowout if the tires aren’t rated for such loads.
How Do You Prevent Tire Blowout?
Aside from regular inspections, driving carefully, and avoiding excessive loads, the single most-effective thing you can do to prevent tire blowouts is to check and adjust your tire pressures regularly. This is important, even on TPMS-equipped vehicles, as studies have shown that TPMS is only about 55% effective at keeping tires inflated properly. Most failures, the other 45%, are related to ignorance or negligence on the part of the driver.
Once a week, spending about 10 minutes looking at your tires could save you from a tire blowout in the future. Check the tires for damage, such as cuts, punctures, or dry rot. If you have any questions regarding the condition of your tires, be sure to check with your local trusted auto repair technician. Using a tire pressure gauge and tire inflator, perhaps at your local gas station or a portable one – even a bicycle pump will do – check and adjust your tire pressure to the recommended pressure. You can find this information on the Tire & Loading sticker, on the driver’s door jamb, or in the owner’s manual.
If Your Tire Blows Out, What Do You Do?
That all being said, there are some times when all the preparation in the world can’t prevent a tire blowout from occurring. It just happens. If you want to prevent an accident, even in the case of a tire blowout, your best course of action could save yours or someone else’s life!
Preparation – Aside from checking and adjusting tire pressures regularly, be a responsible driver. Keep both hands on the steering wheel, always wear your seatbelt, and do your best to limit distractions. An undistracted driver with both hands on the wheel is far more readily able to react to any sudden change in traffic or road conditions, such as avoiding a pothole, swerving around an animal, or driving through a tire blowout.
Steady as She Goes – *BOOM* You just realize one of your tires has blown out. Resist the urge to slam on the brakes and swerve straight to the breakdown lane! Instead, simply let off the accelerator or cancel cruise control. The normal drag of the car and the friction of the blown-out tire will slow you down gradually. At the same time, gently counter-steer to maintain your intended direction of travel.
Pull Over Safely – As the car slows and you have control over it, signal to get off the travel lanes and into the breakdown lane. Don’t worry about damaging tires or wheels – the damage is already done – your own safety cannot be priced. Use the brakes to gradually decelerate to a stop, as far off the road as you can manage. Set your four-way flashers and call a tow truck or replace the blowout with the spare tire.
A Special Note on Truck Tires – Tens of thousands of trucks pass through St. Louis highways every day, and truck tire blowouts can be deadly for those that share the road with them. While car tires rarely weigh over 30 pounds, truck and trailer tires can weigh over 100 pounds. A truck tire blowout or tread separation could send a chunk of rubber flying, and no windshield can stop forty or fifty pounds of rubber at 60 mph. Always maintain your distance from trucks to give yourself time and room to react.
Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers is Here to Help
Since 1976, Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers has been serving the St. Louis, MO, area. From one location, established forty years ago, to 42 locations today, there is sure to be a location convenient to your home, work, or school. At Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers, we employ ASE-Certified auto repair technicians, specializing in every area of your automobile, from tires, steering, and suspension, to engine, transmission, and diagnostics. Stop in or call us today if you have any concerns about your tires.