The idea of experiencing a tyre blowout may be among many drivers’ worst nightmares. Although not a frequent occurrence, it may happen to anyone on the road. It is, therefore, worth knowing what to do if your tyre bursts and what measures you can take to prevent such car tyre emergencies.
What does a tyre blowout feel like?
Every blowout is dangerous, irrespective of the axle on which it occurs. When the front wheel bursts, you will sense a violent jerking motion and your steering wheel will pull towards the broken wheel. A rear tyre blowout, likewise, will be sensed through your seat. You will feel that your car is fishtailing or otherwise behaves as if you are driving on a slippery surface.
Tyre blowouts on the steering axis of heavier vehicles - such as heavy cargo cars, campers, buses and trucks - will always result in a loss of control. Furthermore, a high profile tyre makes the sudden lean even deeper, whereas the extra weight increases the force pulling the vehicle to one side.
A tyre blowout can be very dangerous, especially when driving at high speed.
What to do if your tyre blows out
So, what is the correct reaction to a tyre blowout? The most important thing is to stay calm. If you feel that your tyre has blown out, do not panic and follow these steps:
- Maintain the correct driving posture behind the steering wheel and, using both hands, retain control of your car after the tyre bursts. Do not lay back on the seat or drive with one hand as this delays defensive reactions.
- Stay calm and avoid making sudden, violent movements on the steering wheel. Many passenger cars maintain their balance after a tyre bursts, even when driving fast (especially when using low profile tyres).
- Slowly remove your foot from the accelerator. Do this gently as a more sudden release of pressure may disturb the vehicle’s balance.
- Do not press the brake pedal. While this will be instinctive, doing so will make the force pulling the vehicle to one side even stronger.
- If you have successfully regained control of the car, let it gradually lose speed. You can start braking gently when the speed is below 25-30 miles per hour.
- If the front tyre blows out, you can also engage the hand brake. If you do so, be very careful (and only if your handbrake influences the rear wheels alone) as this enables you to transmit part of the load to the rear axles, removing some of the pressure at the front.
- This is one of the most difficult methods but, if you have no direct control over the car, speed up. The less dynamic your vehicle is, the more you should accelerate. The difficulty, however, lies in your ability to overcome your instinctive urge to stop the car. Once the car accelerates and becomes steady, gradually remove pressure from the accelerator.
Tyre bulge may possibly be a reason for tyre blowout.
Acting according to these steps will help you counter the forces pulling the car to one side, reducing the effort required to hold onto the steering wheel. However, you should be aware that it is extremely difficult to hold a steering wheel that is pulling your vehicle in one direction, even for a little while.
If you would like to be prepared for such an emergency, you can always practice these techniques from time to time, to help develop your natural, instinctive reactions. In the case of a tyre blowout, you may need to counter fishtailing or position the front of the car back on track, even when it's trying to go another direction. A tyre blowout is one such instance where an intuitive response is very beneficial.
What causes a tyre blowout
There are many reasons why you might encounter a tyre blowout while driving, although it is most often the result of an improper tyre use or the complete wear out of the tyre itself. The most common tyre blowout causes are:
- Driving with too low tyre pressure (around 75% of all cases).
- Driving over a hard or sharp object, such as a stone, brick, bottle or metal bevel.
- Overloading the vehicle, leading to a temperature rise which may make the overheated tyre blow out.
- Air pressure exceeding the level recommended by the tyre manufacturer.
- Excessive tyre wear or age.
- Manufacturing defects on the tyre (these usually surface over the first 1,000-2,000 miles).
- Driving with a defective steering system, which causes the wheel to heat up, especially if the brake shoes are blocked. This can often be difficult to detect on a loaded truck.
Whatever you do, never try to unblock the brake or pump up air on a heated tyre as soon as you stop. During a temporary stop, the circulating air is no longer cooling the tyre and, during the first several minutes, the pressure in a heated wheel rises.
Driving with too old or worn out tyres poses a threat to our safety.
Furthermore, a tyre blowout on a truck or semi trailer wheel poses a big danger to the surrounding area. Pieces of a blown-out tyre (this usually occurs when the tyre is pumped up to a pressure between 8.5 and 9 bar) are thrown away within a large range and with considerable force. They can, at times, even cut through the floor of a cabin. Therefore, it is best to wait 15-20 minutes for the tyres to cool down before you try to pump them up.
How to prevent a tyre blowout?
In an ideal world, you should not have to experience a tyre blowout. Correct use of your tyres increases their safety and lifespan. You cannot fully guarantee that it will never happen but there are a few rules you can apply to prevent an unpredictable tyre blowout:
- Make sure you regularly control your air pressure, preferably once a week and before every longer journey. You should also check your pressure when the temperature drops significantly. The more you drive, the more frequently you should check your tyre pressure.
- If your tyre falls into a deep hole (such as a pothole) or you hit a hard object on the road, check both sides of your tyres at the earliest opportunity. Make sure there is no ‘swelling’ on the sidewalls, as this indicates a broken cord. Sometimes, when tyres on one side of the car fall into a hole, the front tyre comes out unharmed while the rear tyre is subsequently broken.
- Avoid driving over kerbs but, if you have no other choice, try to do it as slowly as possible, to minimise the potential impact.
- Do not park your car with a tyre pressed against the kerb.
- You may wish to use nitrogen in tyres. This makes it possible to reduce air pressure changes caused by the difference between the outside temperature and the tyre’s own temperature while driving.
- Sometimes, a long-lasting air leak precedes a tyre blowout. The vibration level, as well as the temperature of a working tyre, often rise shortly before the burst, even if the pressure is correct.
Tyre blowouts may be really scary even to experienced drivers. You cannot be completely sure that it will not affect you one day. What you can do, however, is knowing how to react in case you get a blown tyre, and that may be enough to keep you safe in a dangerous situation. Having the above tips in mind may become nothing else but useful.