By Megan Hart
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.
What to Do in the Event of a Blowout
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.