How to Drive Through a Tire Blowout

Detail of blown tire, showing exposed steel belts and carcass
Photo © Aaron Gold

When one of your vehicle's tires has a blowout, driving through it safely is an important skill to have. A tire blowout at high speed is one of the most dangerous automotive emergencies one can ever face. In the latest statistics reported from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire malfunction contributed to 733 fatalities in 2016 alone.

Prevention

The first step to handling blowouts is to prevent them to begin with. The single most common cause of tire blowouts is under inflation, which is why tire pressure monitors have been mandatory on all cars since 2007. If the low-pressure symbol on your dashboard lights up, it means one or more of your tires has lost 25 percent of its rated pressure. If possible, immediately drive to your service department, mechanic, or local tire store to have the tire checked. Otherwise, contract with a tow truck to do so. 

If you have a vehicle without tire pressure monitors, (and really, even if you do) check your tire pressures about once a month. This can be one of the hardest things for drivers to remember to do, but it can be vital to your safety. Tires will lose some air over time anyway, and under-inflated tires will not only be at higher risk for blowouts but will have a seriously bad effect on gas mileage, not to mention cutting down on the useful life of the tires.

If You Blow Out

Let's say you're driving down the highway at 65 mph, enjoying a nice day out, and suddenly one of your right-side tires blows out. It can be the front or rear, it doesn't really matter. The first thing that happens is that the car veers to the right. The instinctive response is to slam on the brakes and yank the wheel to the left. This response is wrong. Doing this will most likely cause the car to lose all grip and yaw back to the left, putting the car at a 90-degree angle to your direction of travel. At this point you are no longer a driver, you are a projectile wrapped in a ton and a half of metal. The next thing that will happen is that the tires will regain grip and proceed to flip the car over. Now you're rolling. Rolling is bad. Very, very bad.

So, the single most important thing to do when a tire blows out is to control your panic reaction. Easier said than done, we know. Some driving schools try to teach this by using tires rigged with small explosive charges to simulate a blowout condition. Failing that kind of training, the best approach is to take some time and effort to fix the proper response in your head, so if this does ever happen to you, you're not in the car thinking, “Now what was it I'm supposed to do?"

With this in mind, we offer a simple and hopefully effective phrase to fix in your memory: Drive through.

How to Drive Through

Here are four important steps to take, in order, that will save your car and possibly your life:

  • Keep your foot on the gas and steer in the direction of the skid. If necessary, give the car even a bit more gas to overcome the initial drag that is pulling you to one side. In order to control your car, you need its wheels to keep rolling. 
  • Gently correct your steering to bring the car back into line. When you have the car under control, start easing your foot off the gas to slow down.
  • Don't use more than minimal braking, and pull off the road when your speed has come down. If possible, pull off so that the blown tire is away from the road to make changing the tire safer and easier.
  • Don't go for the hazard lights until the car has stopped. Unless you can hit that button without looking, it takes your eyes and concentration off the road. The cars behind you have seen you swerve and are busy getting the heck out of your way. You want to stay predictable while they do that.

Given today's tires and tire pressure monitoring systems, the odds are against you ever having to do this. But if just a couple of minutes of visualization and some thought about how to react can help to save your life, that's a pretty decent risk-management equation. So is regularly checking the pressure of your tires and making sure you buckle up.