Experiencing a tire blowout doesn’t have to screw up your whole day, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly, either. The first few minutes after your tire goes pop is critical to keeping you safe and getting you back on the road after a quick change-out. You will become aware of a blowout by actually hearing it pop and seeing a cloud of escaping gas flashing by the windshield, or the problem may reveal itself through the way the car handles as the tire quickly deflates. The sound of flapping, totally-flat rubber will make things completely obvious.
Tires fail for a number of reasons, including over-inflation, under-inflation, overloading, or from driving over a road hazard, like a nail or a piece of glass. Tires also naturally wear out after rolling for a certain amount of miles.
The sound of a blowout, especially at highway speeds, can be quite frightening, and your first reaction might be slamming on the brakes — which is exactly what not to do. Most tire experts believe that after a blowout, you should actually accelerate slightly in order to compensate for the loss of speed caused by a rapidly flattening tire. By initially maintaining your speed, you increase the odds of keeping control of the vehicle. As the tire deflates, the car will begin to “pull” towards the side where the flat is. Your job is to keep the car pointing straight without any sudden jerks on the wheel.
Once you have your car and your wits under control, ease off the gas, flip on your emergency blinkers and look for a place to begin the tire-changing process. Put on your turn signal to let everybody know you’re heading toward the shoulder. Once a tire has blown, chances are it’s already beyond repair, so don’t worry about damaging it further by driving on it while flat. Even if it can be repaired, the important thing at this point is getting to a safe location to change the flat. You can bend the rim or mess up the wheel rotor by driving on a flat, so the object of the game is to find a safe place to change the tire without having to drive too far.
If you were in the left lane and could safely get to the right lane shoulder, try that first. If there is too much traffic behind you and you can’t get right, get off on the left shoulder. If you’re on a highway and close to an exit, head that way. If you can’t see an exit, try to end up on a stretch of road with high visibility. You don’t want to be parked on a blind curve or just over the crest of a hill. Ideally, you’re looking for a straight, level stretch of road where everybody will be able to witness your extreme tire-changing skills.
Once you’ve selected your spot, stop the car, put it in the park, and set the emergency brake. Open the trunk and pop the hood to make yourself more visible. Make sure your emergency flashers are still on. If you have emergency warning cones or flares, set them up and ignite them — especially if it’s dark or lousy weather. If you are tire-changing savvy, it’s time to go to work. If not, pull out the cell phone and call your nearest Automotive Center for assistance.