Love it or hate it, highway driving is pretty routine. Ontario drivers rack up a lot of miles on the 400 series roads and most of those miles are incident-free. A scenario that will strike fear into the heart of anyone who hasn’t experienced it is a tire blowout.

How Blowouts Occur

Fortunately, tire failure is a rare occurrence with contemporary manufacturing techniques. A blowout is any sudden loss of air pressure, so that the weight of the vehicle is no longer supported. Typical causes include chronic under-inflation, an overloaded vehicle, damage to tire such as nick and cuts that cause failure.

The failing tire may not necessarily burst with a bang. Old-style inner tube design was more prone to explosive failure. Now, it’s more like a “whoosh” followed by the flap-flap-flap of the deflated tire. At highway speeds a flat tire can disintegrate quite quickly.

Controlling a Blowout

car off the road

There are three important phases when dealing with tire failure:

  • Stabilize the vehicle
  • Assess other traffic and safety
  • Get the vehicle safely off the road

Stabilizing The Vehicle

This is the most critical part of handling the incident. Your chances for success improve if you’ve got both hands on the wheel. If you’re sipping a beverage when the blowout occurs, you may have hot coffee flying as you attempt to get your car under control.

Counterintuitively, you will keep your foot on the gas pedal. Why? Two reasons: maintaining your vehicle’s momentum helps offset the lateral pulling, which you will also gently steer against, and you avoid surprising a driver behind you by suddenly slowing down. This takes us to…

Assessing Other Traffic

At this point, you’ve recovered control of your vehicle. Stay in your lane and take stock of the traffic surrounding you. Begin to let the increased resistance of the flat tire slow down and start your emergency flashers. Let traffic around you pass and wait until there is a gap in traffic behind you.

Getting Your Vehicle Off the Road

Unless you have absolutely no other option, do not head for the centre median. You can drive on the flat tire, even if it is smoking and falling apart, long enough to get to safety. Head for the right-hand shoulder or, better yet, an exit. Pull off as far as possible if you must stop on the shoulder but keep your car on level ground. Go beyond an overpass or underpass and use the bridge to partially shield your car from other traffic. Leave your flashers on and open the engine hood to indicate you have car problems. Get out of and away from your vehicle, preferably over a guard rail.

Unless you can get completely off the highway and out of traffic, do not attempt to change a tire. Use your auto league membership or roadside assistance to get help. Your life is worth more than the cost of a tow.