Driving Safety Tips: Surviving A Tire Failure

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Tires are among the most reliable and abuse-resistant components on your vehicle. But when a tire fails, the results can be tragic. Under controlled test-track conditions we have driven while the vehicle's tires -- both front and rear -- were intentionally blown out, but, with the correct driving techniques, it was easy to control the vehicle during both blowouts and other tire failures.

Here are some tips that will help you avoid tire problems and survive the driving emergency created when one fails.

Take Care Of Your Tires
The best way to survive a tire failure is to avoid having one. Make sure your car's tires are set to the pressures recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. You can look on the driver's door jamb to find the suggested number. Don't rely on tire-pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), as some give no warning until a tire is significantly under-inflated.

Low Profile, High Damage
Today's tall wheels and short-sidewall (also called "low-profile") tires can be damaged by potholes and driveway lips. Pinching the tire between the obstacle (such as a curb) and the wheel terminally damages its internal structure. The injury may not be visible to the untrained eye and often doesn't cause the tire to fail immediately. If you hit a road hazard or bend a wheel, have a professional inspect the tire.

Know The Time And Place
Summer is the most likely season for a tire failure and a fast highway is the most common place for it to happen. Higher road-surface temperatures add to the heat created by the rapid flexing of an under-inflated tire at higher speeds, and that overheating can cause the tire's internal bonds and components to break down and separate.

Know the Problem Position
Rear-tire failures cause far more catastrophic accidents than front-tire problems. Without the stability provided by two rear tires, a vehicle may spin out, leave the road sideways and flip over.

Drive Straight Ahead
If you suffer a tire failure on the highway, you need remember only one thing: Keep driving in as straight a line as possible and do not rapidly or suddenly apply the brakes, as a blown tire creates plenty of braking force on its own. Wait until your car coasts down below about 30 mph before gently steering toward the shoulder or the road. When you do apply the brakes, do it as slowly and gently as possible. Don't do anything in a hurry; don't jerk the steering wheel and don't slam on the brakes.

Beware the Boom
A blowout can sound as if a bomb has gone off under the car. This causes drivers to panic, jam on the brakes and steer toward the shoulder. To counteract this, some instruct drivers to press the accelerator pedal for an instant immediately after the blowout. This focuses the driver's attention on driving straight down his lane and gives a moment to recover from the shock. The blown tire's drag prevents the car from gaining speed.

Tread Separations, A Common Danger
Tread separations are more common and arguably more dangerous than true blowouts. A tread separation is usually caused by the failure of the bond between the tire's body and its steel belts, and overheating from under-inflation is the most common cause. The tread then peels away from the tire. As a warning, which can last for several miles, often a rhythmic slapping precedes a tread separation, so if you feel or hear something unusual, slow the vehicle, get it off the road and check it out.

While the tread is still partially attached to the tire, the rapidly flailing, steel-reinforced rubber can slice into the passenger compartment and injure people. Also, a partially attached tread can cause the wheel to hop and shake violently, and the tire can provide no traction in that condition. In addition, when the tread flies off the noise or vibration may temporarily go away, and some drivers might think the problem is cured and continue driving at speed. However, they are riding on the fabric body of the tire, which provides no grip and will soon blow out.

The driving technique to overcome a tread separation is the same as for a blowout: Drive straight down your lane. Allow the car to coast to a slow speed before you do any steering.

Some say tires are your vehicle's most important safety feature. That's because the only things connecting your vehicle to the road are four small areas of rubber, each about as big as a man's hand.
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