What Should I Do if My Tire Blows Out?

Natalie Josef
July 6, 2011

When I first started driving, I was worried about everything. What if I have to parallel park? What if I hit something when driving through a tollbooth? What if I get stuck on a big hill with a manual transmission? What if I start to skid on black ice? Do I turn into the skid? Away from it?

I have mentioned before that I am a worrywart, but luckily, most of those car-related fears have gone away in my nearly twenty-year driving career.

But the one thing that hasn’t gone away is my fear of blowing a tire. In my mind, it won’t be me driving along at 25 MPH when I hear a little pop and have to pull over. No, in my mind, I am barreling down a dark mountain highway at 70 MPH, half asleep and running only on caffeine, when a group of baby deer walk innocently onto the crazy curve I am navigating. I slam on my breaks, swerve, and my tire blows out, sending me careening into a broken guardrail, off a cliff, and down to a fiery death in a rock-filled ravine below. And then, of course, my car explodes.

Obviously, that’s only going to happen to me, but here's advice on how you can deal with a blow out, how long you can drive on a flat tire, and other helpful suggestions.

What causes a blowout?
Contrary to the belief that too much pressure will cause a tire to burst, it’s actually the opposite that happens. Most blowouts occur when there is too little pressure, which allows the tire to flex beyond its limits. It then overheats until the rubber loses its bond with the rim. Blowouts are usually the result of a slow leak, a puncture, heavy load, a faulty valve, or damage from impact. Blowouts are way less common today because the quality of tires has increased so much over the years, but they do happen.

What do I do if my tire blows out?
Unfortunately, the best way to react to a blowout is to do the opposite of what your instincts tell you. My instincts tell me to stop accelerating, slam on the brakes, and steer to the side of the road. Um … not so much. Stepping off the gas pedal and slamming on the brakes are the two worst things you can do.

First, don’t panic. Any sudden movement—including removing your foot from the gas pedal to slam on the brakes—is not a good idea. Instead, gradually release your foot from the gas pedal and grip the steering wheel firmly. You will want to counter steer (gently) until you have stabilized your vehicle. Let the car slow down on its own while you guide it to the side of the road.

You should think about driving through the blowout, not driving against it.

How long can I drive on a flat tire?
The short answer? Not very long. Let’s say your blowout was not the stuff of nightmares—your tire is simply flat, but you need to drive a little more. Driving on a flat tire can damage the wheel, the hub assembly, and other parts after only a few hundred feet. Do what you need to do to get off the roadway, but that’s it.

How long can I drive on a donut?

Donuts or spare tires are not designed to replace your regular tires, so unless you have a full-sized spare, drive on them as little as possible. Remember, spares don’t have tread and are not reinforced, so don’t push it. Don’t go over 55 MPH and try not to drive more than 50 to 70 miles on them. Consult your owners manual for more precise information.

Ultimately, staying calm (and perhaps ignoring some of your instincts) is the best way to deal with a tire blowout. What you can do is to keep your tires in good shape with regular maintenance, thus preventing all of this from happening in the first place. If your tire pressure light comes on, get your tires checked out—don’t wait. Sure, replacing tires is expensive, but so is hauling the burning wreckage of your car from its fiery resting place at the bottom of a ravine.

Note: California recently passed a law that requires all automotive service providers in the state to set and document tire pressures on all vehicles written up for service, no matter what type of service is performed. Hopefully more laws like this one will be passed to keep tire pressures up to specification, which will save fuel, promote longer tire life, and keep us safe. Read about the law here >>


Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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