How to Safely Handle a Tire Blowout
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 we put our students to the test. To create a blowout, we affixed a charge to the tire. With a student behind the wheel, me sitting alongside, we set off the charge to cause a blowout.
If the driver drove straight down his lane and did nothing but allow the drag of deflated tire to slow the vehicle to less than 30 mph, he earned a grade of a “B.”
We did this demonstration in almost every type of vehicle, including SUVs, minivans and 18-wheelers. No one ever lost control.
We also did tread separations, which are arguably more dangerous because the tire doesn’t immediately deflate and provide a slowing force. A tread separation is when the steel-reinforced “belt package” violently departs the tire. Picture a giant, steel-reinforced weed-whacker. Often, the flailing tread would smash away door handles and side mirrors. At least once, the rapidly spinning strip of steel and rubber penetrated the wheel well of the demonstration vehicle.
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. (Many real-world “Fs” are given to those who try to get to the right shoulder after a left-rear blows.) A slight turn will cause the vehicle to spin out faster than I can say, “Oh, Fudge,” (or similar) — I know. 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.”)
To get an “A,” you must act counter-intuitively: Press the accelerator for a short instant after the blowout. Because of the drag of the failed tire, even a Ferrari in high gear will not gain speed. Pushing the accelerator does two things. First, it stabilizes the vehicle in your lane. Importantly, it locks up your mind and prevents you from turning or braking while trying to remember this article. By the time your organic computer (“Working, Please Wait.”) accesses the answer, you will 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.)
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 at least what the vehicle maker recommends: See the placard on the door jamb. Three or even five pounds per square inch (psi) high is better than one psi low.
To correctly handle a blowout, follow the Brits’ advice from 1939: Keep Calm and Carry On.