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Near-fatal accident, tire burst

Last August I was involved in a near fatal car accident. Luckily everyone came out okay. It’s stayed with me, however, and I’m a little paranoid because of the seemingly random nature of the accident.

We were driving late at night on the interstate, myself, my cousin, and my mother. We were in my mother’s car. There was no kind of alcohol or substance use involved (we were getting my cousin from the airport). I was behind the wheel and it was around 3:30AM, but was awake and alert. I’m going at about 65 to 70, cruise control on, when suddenly the left rear tire bursts—completely. The car starts sliding—I suppose they seized up or something. I try to control it—but as you may know if you’ve ever been in a similar situation and have lived to tell, there’s not really much you can do. The car slides for, who knows, an eighth of a mile before it spins out of control. It spun three times and winds up on the grassy median of the interstate. Luckily it was late and there was not a lot of traffic behind us, or I wouldn’t be writing to tell of this. I guess we were equally lucky it spun to the left instead of to the right, since that may not have ended well either.

A few things put us at risk, apparently. For one, the tires hadn’t been rotated in a while. But on top of that, the burst tire was apparently put on improperly…something about the tread; I don’t know, the gentleman behind us who stopped at the scene of the accident to help told us this. But this has stayed with me. And I just can’t figure out how something that random can happen.

Either way, I just want some general safety advice because I’d like to do all I can to prevent this from recurring.

The best advice that I can give you is to locate a firm that provides driving lessons for emergency situations such as the one in which you were involved. There may not be many of these firms, but they do exist, and they can teach you various techniques that can be life-savers.

Nobody can duplicate exactly what conditions you were under, but learning how to react when a tire blows out can mean the difference between maintaining control of the vehicle and sliding/spinning three times.

  1. Make sure your tires are properly inflated.
  2. Make sure all have good amount of tread.
  3. Make sure there is no damage to to tires.
  4. Don’t overload the vehicle.

The blowout wasn’t caused by not rotating the tires, and nothing the guy who witnessed the blowout makes sense. Either you ran over something that caused the blowout, or the tire was under inflated or damaged in some way.

First, it is entirely possible you ran over something in the dark. Even in bright daylight, at 65 to 70 mph, objects have to be pretty big for the average person to notice them. I had a friend who ran over a wrench. He never saw it until he heard it hissing in his driveway.

But there are routine things you can do to reduce the future risk.

Check the pressure in your tires regularly. Sometimes tires will develop slow leaks.

Rotate your tires regularly and often. Difference in wear can cause one end of the vehicle to become more prone to sudden skidding.

Inspect your tires regularly. That way you know what issues there may be and you’ll know well in advance when the tire need to be replaced.

+1 to what Texases & CapriRacer stated.

And, just to complete the thoughts contained in my earlier post, when I experienced the same situation (when I was all of 17 years of age), it resulted from picking up a large, jagged piece of metal in the tread of one of the rear tires on our '63 Plymouth.

Despite the fact that the blowout happened at ~65 mph, I maintained control of the car and it never skidded or (God forbid) spun. The difference, I suspect, between my ability to maintain control of the car, and the OP’s lack of control was that I allowed the car to slow on its own, and did not apply any braking power until we were on the shoulder, going about 30 mph.

I think that my parents, who were in the car with me, were amazed that at the age of 17, I was able to maintain full directional control of the car, but I knew enough to NOT apply any (very light) braking until the car had slowed down considerably on its own.

Because we were in the left lane when the blowout happened, because I had to dodge the cars that began passing us on the right, and because I knew enough to stay off of the brake, it probably took us about 1/2 a mile to get to the shoulder and bring the car safely to a halt–but I did it–and with the proper training the OP could do the same.

A blowout of a front tire is even worse than what you experienced! I don’t think anyone could look at the tire and wheel after this accident and see enough evidence to tell you why that tire blew. Most cases of a rapid blowout are related to an under inflated tire. The tire might have been soft when you started out on your trip. A tire can look OK with as little as 10 pounds of pressure to the untrained eye. Also the tire might have been fine at the start and picked up a nail or something a lost air.

Either way a soft tire flexes a lot and that causes heat leading to the tire coming apart suddenly. By the time you came to a stop there would only be a few shredded remains of that tire hanging onto a bent and scraped up wheel.

Buy a tire pressure gauge a use it to check the tire pressure every couple of weeks. This can reduce your chances of going through this again. The risk will never go to zero since there is always debris on the road that can take out a tire.

That’s why all new cars have tire pressure monitoring

^That is a good point.

Every time that somebody discounts the value of TPMS by saying that he checks his tire pressure regularly, that position does not take catastrophic pressure loss into account. That being said, even with a TPMS warning, a driver still has to react very quickly and has to know what to do–and that includes staying off of the brake pedal unless there is no other alternative.

And…I have to add that many–perhaps most–drivers are not likely to recognize the TPMS warning symbol unless they have actually taken the time to read their Owner’s Manual. So, as we often counsel in this forum, reading that manual is extremely important, as is knowing what to do and what NOT to do in a situation like this.

I discount the value of “TPMS.” Some people may want to rely on a system that has many faults but I rely on driving experience to keep me safe. I can tell if a tire is just a few pounds low by the way the vehicle drives and feels. I will also add that a lot of people out there have tires that are way too old. We just discovered that my wife’s aunt has her original tires from 2002 on her Impala. The car has low miles but we insisted that she buy new tires since she drives on the interstate now (recent move). There is no way that TPMS or experience will help you if you hit the wrong pothole or piece of metal on the road at night. Drive safely and stay alert at any hour of the day. I will add that having the cruise control on in the middle of the night (3AM) is not the smartest way to drive. The cruise control should not be used in when it’s raining or snowing either.

One thing you can do is to make sure you always have two hands on the wheel in the proper position. That can make all the difference in a situation like this.

As long as you keep your tires properly inflated and check them for damage regularly, you shouldn’t be paranoid. The chances of this happening again are very slim.

I agree with all the posters here. Preventive maintenance is worth every minute it takes you to check the pressure and inspect the tires. @lion9car is right on when he says blowouts are very rare… these days. @missileman brings up a GREAT point about old tires that aren’t worn out, but really are no longer safe to use.

You can hit trash in the road that can blow out the tire, no one can avoid everything, but keeping your foot off the brake and keeping your eyes up, look where you need to go and steer there will go a long way to keeping you safe.

Thank God you had a grassy median to end up in. In NH they’re replacing grassy medians with concrete Jersey Barriers.

Sincere best. With time, hopefully the memory will fade.

I wonder how old that set of tires was . . .

agreed ;
how old are the tires ?
where, on the steering wheel were you hands while ‘‘just cruising’’ ?

No matter how much tread depth is left on tires…AGE is everything. I had a front blowout on my …PARKED… truck a few years back. Just imagine if I had been driving at the time.

In every emergency maneuver…grasping the wheel and forcing it to go in the direction YOU want it to is paramount.
How ?
BOTH hands on the wheel all the time…
then if any thing happens…,
anchor both elbows and grasp the wheel , essentially locked on the direction you want it to go. FORCE it to go your way ! the flopping flat that has a mind of its own will be forced to do what you want it to.
If it caused you to swerve over to one side…DO NOT SWERVE BACK ! ( this causes roll over ) force it to go in a gentle arc back to a strait line.
– this I say from experience…it works…especially if the flat is a front tire ( or a trailer veering wildly from an explosive blowout )

We had nail in 3 month old car/tire. No way in heck a new car should hit a nail. Yep.

The best advice is to stay off the brakes. Non-intuitive advice is to give it more gas


It’s all about forces. I could type it all out, but this video put out by Michelin does a great job of explaining it. They’re talking about RV’s but as they say, the principle applies to any vehicle you’re driving. (I’ve started you a minute or two in, after all the boring introductory junk)

Years ago I had a blowout going through a curve. The car wa a non-power steered Chevy and the tires had tubes in those days. I had to wrestle the wheel to keep control of the car.

The blowout was so severe that part of the front supension was torn. Needed front end work as well as a new tire, tube and rim.

Today, blowouts are not quite severe with tubeless tires.

The tire likely did not burst from a defect. It was due to age/dry rot, road debris, worn out, or underinflation. In most cases it’s due to the latter.

A TPMS is helpful and should not be ignored like temperature gauges and oil pressure lamps. A car driven another 30 miles on an underinflated tire can easily damage the tire sidewall and inflation after the fact won’t help make the tire any safer.

Some respondents brought up an excellent point. If, in fact, the tire failed due to dry rot, you really need to change the other three out too.

And, in any event, it would be good to try to find out why the tire failed. If it was due to underinflation, let it be a learning experience, an illustration of what can happen when you don’t monitor your tire pressures. If the tire is already gone with no cause determined, have your other tires checked out to see if they also suffer from whatever the cause was.

I’ve ranted about this before, so I’ll keep it short. The requirements for a driver’s license should include training on what to do in an emergency like this. Stuff happens, and assigning blame is always popular, but it avoids the real issue, which is that, no matter what, the driver is always responsible for piloting the car safely. Always. Even if you are hit by a falling airplane or a watermelon falling off a truck or run over a bag of roofing nails. It’s always on the driver. Right now to pass a driving test you drive around the block and maybe parallel park, and that’s it. Pretty silly.