You're cruising at 72 mph. There’s plenty of fuel in the tank, the A.C.'s blasting, and your sunglasses are dimming the brightness. It's a perfect road trip. Then *BAM* thudthudthudthudthud.
You’ve just had a blowout on the highway. What the hell do you do now? And we're not talking five minutes from now, but right at this very moment, at 72 mph and with only three tires.
1. Don’t do a goddamn thing
That’s step one. Look straight ahead and keep the steering wheel pointed in the same direction, no matter how hard it tries to pull towards one side. If you’ve had a blowout, one of the corners of your car is now a couple of inches lower and everything is highly unstable as a result. Worse still, you could've had a tread separation, where the tread literally pulls away from the rest of the carcass. It might feel safer at first, but ultimately it's just as dangerous. The single worst thing you could possibly do is pull on the steering wheel and make the car turn.
2. Hit the gas
Sounds crazy, right? Do you know what happens when a tire blows? The blown tire adds a ton of resistance, and your car tries to decelerate so rapidly that it can feel like you’ve already slammed on the brakes. That resistance is concentrated in one corner, so your car will want to rotate around that corner. You need to stabilize the car first and foremost. Don’t floor it, but definitely hit the gas hard enough to counter the deceleration caused by the tire.
3. Assess your situation
Is one corner of the car lower? If so, which one? This won’t be something you have to guess, you’ll know when it happens. The big takeaway here is that you need to know first and foremost if it’s a front or rear tire, and then which side it’s on.
4. Ease up and gradually slow down
You're going in a straight line, and you know which tire is the problem. Now ease off the accelerator in a smooth motion and continue driving straight. If the car isn’t slowing down much at all, lightly apply just enough brake pressure to get the speed under control. Too much and you might upset the car’s balance, resulting in a spin. And you don't want to spin, especially at highway speeds. Ideally you want to get down to neighborhood speeds before you do anything else. If it’s a rear tire, slow down even further before doing anything, because even the slightest movement of your steering wheel can cause a loss of control.
5. Pull over toward the side with the flat
Once you’re down to an appropriate speed, carefully work your way over to the shoulder. Do not sharply turn the steering wheel. You’re going to have to change the tire now, and you definitely don’t want your wheel right by the nearest lane of traffic while you’re squatting down and messing with the jack.
Don't let any of this happen in the first place. All that stuff you've been taught about checking for proper inflation and looking for damage is true. Think of your tire like a rubber band that you've found sitting on the sidewalk. If it's been out there for a couple of years, like your tire, it will start to crack and lose its elasticity. Tires aren't quite as dramatic, but they do behave similarly. An underinflated tire will cause the rubber to flex excessively. Combine that with reduced elasticity and you've got a blowout waiting to happen.
Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor, and can be found on Twitter. He's destroyed a few tires in his day, but fortunately has never had a highway blowout as a driver.