What to do during a tyre blowout

Tyre blowouts can be anything from unnerving to downright terrifying. We look at a few simple rules to follow when a tyre lets go.

What is a tyre blowout?

Tyre blowouts are sudden, catastrophic failures in a tyre’s structure. They generally happen without warning and can be dangerous, as the car starts behaving unpredictably and becomes difficult to control.

For an in-car perspective on a blowout, take a look at this example (forward to 0:33):

The main causes of blowouts in a future post include overloading, under-inflation and age — we’ll look at these in more detail on a future post.

What you shouldn’t do during a blowout

One of the main difficulties with blowouts is that our driving instincts may make the situation worse. If the car suddenly starts swerving — perhaps accompanied by a loud bang — most people’s instinctive response is to take their foot off the accelerator, slam on the brakes and perhaps to turn the steering wheel forcefully. Unfortunately, all three are likely to increase the risk of an accident.

Here’s why:

  • If the front tyre has blown out, violent braking will only result in throwing more weight onto the damaged tyre. This increases the possibility of swerving. If the tyre has already disintegrated, leaving only the wheel rim, this could dig into the tarmac and cause the car to flip over.
  • If the back tyre has blown out, forceful braking throws the vehicle out of balance. The vehicle may then fishtail, swerve or even spin right round.
  • Taking your foot off the accelerator may increase the temptation to hit the brake, but also encourages the redistribution of the vehicle’s weight. This is because the vehicle will be experiencing massively increased drag from the blown-out tyre. Abruptly redistributing weight adds to the vehicle’s instability.
  • If the vehicle is travelling at speed, vigorously turning the steering wheel can be disastrous. Again, with greatly increased drag from the damaged tyre, this may result in the vehicle flipping over.

What you should do in a blowout

The standard advice on driving during a blowout is as follows:

  • Avoid the dangerous responses outlined above, in particular violently turning the wheel and braking forcefully. If you manage to stop yourself doing either, you’re already massively reducing your risk.
  • Take a firm grip on the steering wheel — you need to be prepared for much greater turning forces on the vehicle than you are used to.
  • Tap the accelerator for a few seconds. This will help stabilise the car.
  • Let the speed of the vehicle decrease, while trying to control any swerving.
  • Check for escape routes. Ideally, you want to be on the shoulder of the road. Make use of your mirrors.
  • Once the vehicle’s speed has decreased and it feels more in control, try to steer gently towards your escape route.
  • Gears can be used to slow the vehicle, but be careful about changing into too low a gear — the goal is to slow down gently.

All good in theory…

Some blowouts happen so quickly that there may be zero opportunity to put any of this into effect. And of course, in the heat of the moment, it can be very hard to resist instincts gained over hundreds of hours of driving.

But having said that, the majority of tyre blowouts don’t result in disaster, and many drivers do handle them successfully and safely. The best advice of all is to be vigilant about your tyres and get them replaced before they are likely to fail. Look for signs that your tyres need changing, and if in any doubt, consult a professional.