That’s how a driver on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula described her tire blowout. Blowouts are sudden and forceful – one of the most jolting mechanical failures you can experience behind the wheel. And despite advances in tire technology and onboard monitoring systems, dangerous tires still contribute to more than 600 fatal crashes a year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Here’s what to know about tire blowouts and how to keep your family safe.
What exactly is a tire blowout?A tire blowout is an abrupt, explosive loss of tire pressure. Drivers often report hearing a loud boom followed by a whooshing sound. The car decelerates and may shimmy or pull to one side. It also may become very hard to steer.
Excessive strain on the internal structure of the tire causes most blowouts. That can come from underinflation, overheating (tire blowouts happen more often in the summer), overloading, or striking an object like a pothole or roadway debris. More below on how to prevent blowouts.
Blowouts are different than ordinary flat tires, where tires lose pressure more gradually.
What should I do if I have a tire blowout?Maintain control of the car, starting with two important DON’TS:
- Don’t slam on the brakes, since that could lead to an even greater loss of control and potentially a rollover. That’s harder than it sounds, because your first instinct will be to hit the brakes.
- Don’t jerk the steering wheel. Instead, steer steadily and forcefully enough to make the car respond. Like hard braking, jerking worsens control.
Instead, here’s what to DO:
- Keep your foot on the gas pedal as you decrease speed. That will help you maintain forward momentum and regain control.
- Keep a firm two-handed grip on the steering wheel. The blown tire may pull your car toward the ditch or oncoming traffic. Your goal is to hold it steady as you “counter steer” against the pull. Use the same mindset as you do when driving on ice. Look in the direction you want to go and turn your wheel to center the car in its lane. That’s easier for most people to remember than the old advice to “steer into a slide.”
- Turn on your signal to let other drivers know you need to pull off.
- Brake gently to a stop once the car is under control. As with an ordinary flat tire, you can drive on a blown-out tire long enough to get safely off the road.
- Turn on your hazard lights.
- Decide if you want to call for help or change the tire yourself.
RELATED: What to do if you get a flat tire | PEMCO
How can I prevent a tire blowout?The single biggest thing you can do to prevent blowouts is to keep your tires well-maintained:
- Learn the right pressure for your tires. You’ll find it on a sticker inside the driver’s door jamb or in your car’s owners manual. If you have neither, check with a tire professional.
- Test tire pressure monthly or any time you’re concerned a tire might be low. Check them when they’re cold, not after a long drive.
- Understand your tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS). If your tire pressure has dropped to 25% of manufacturers’ recommendations, a horseshoe-shaped warning light will appear on your dashboard. While it can prevent a tire emergency, significant tire damage may occur before the pressure gets low enough to trigger the light, meaning it’s no substitute for regular pressure checks. All cars manufactured after 2008 are required to have a TPMS.
- Replace tires immediately if the tread is too worn or you notice a visible cut or bulge in the sidewall.
- If your car pulls to one side when you’re driving, get it checked out. A defective or unevenly worn tire may be to blame.
- Repair slow air leaks (rather than just topping off with air when you notice it’s low).
- Understand tire aging. Tires can fail prematurely on cars that are used infrequently, parked in muddy areas or exposed to prolonged, intense sunlight. Even spare tires degrade over time.
- Replace recalled tires as soon as possible. The NHTSA offers an online tool to check whether your tires have been recalled.
Can PEMCO help me if I have a tire blowout?If you need help after a blowout, please let us know! You can report a claim anytime day or night by logging in to your account at pemco.com or calling 1-800-GO-PEMCO (1-800-467-3626).
If you’ve selected PEMCO’s Towing & Roadside Assistance* coverage, we can send someone to change your tire or tow your car to a repair shop.
If part of your car (other than the tire) was damaged as a result of the blowout, your insurance can pay to fix it, provided you bought comprehensive and collision coverages, which are normally sold together. You’ll be responsible for the deductible you selected when you bought your insurance (that’s the amount you pay out of pocket before insurance coverage kicks in which, for most people, is usually between $500 and $2,000). Your insurance can cover the rest of the repair costs. If the damage is so bad that your car is totaled, you’ll receive the retail value of your car (right before the crash), minus your deductible.
If you hit another vehicle or damage someone’s property because of a blowout, your policy’s liability coverages would pay them for damage and injuries they suffer for which you may be legally liable.
If you’re hurt in the accident, your policy could cover your medical bills under personal injury protection (PIP), which is an optional purchase for consumers in Washington and required in Oregon. If your medical bills exceed your policy’s limits, your personal health insurance may help make up the difference.
RELATED: Auto coverages and what they mean | PEMCO
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*PEMCO’s Towing & Emergency Road Service is a low-cost, add-on coverage that gives you benefits like jump-starting, flat tire changes, gas (if you run out) and emergency towing for about $10 per year, per vehicle, if you opt for $100 in towing reimbursement. You can add it as long as you have Bodily Injury and Comprehensive coverages on your cars. Call 800-GO-PEMCO or ask your local PEMCO agent for details.
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