A blown tire can ruin your whole day—or a whole lot worse. Tire blowouts are responsible for more than 78,000 crashes per year, ending in more than 400 deaths. In 2017, 738 people died across the U.S. as a result of blown tires alone. Are you prepared to survive a tire blowout? Preparation and following simple steps can make the difference between a tire blowout being an annoyance or a trip to the graveyard.
Stop them before they start
Knowing what causes a tire blowout is the first step in avoiding one altogether. Blown tires on RVs are most likely to occur because either the tire was overloaded, or underinflated. On the road, it’s best to check your tire pressure daily, before you hit the road. Test your tire pressure COLD—that is, before you’ve driven on it that day. A tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) will go a long way to helping you avoid a blowout caused by low pressure.
A catastrophic tire incident can also be caused by tire age. Got an old rubber band lying around? Pick it up and stretch it. Look at it closely, and you’ll likely see cracks. Tire aging is similar. Once a tire has “aged out,” it may not lead to a blowout but the tread can separate from the tire body while driving, leaving you with a control situation similar to a tire blowout.
Age and road hazards
So when is a tire too old? There’s no pat answer. The federal government defers to tire manufacturers. Tire manufacturers offer a variety of answers. RV tires being exposed to some extreme conditions may not last to the “change out” recommendation time of manufacturers. Best bet? Read this article by Roger Marble, whose working life as a tire engineer can help you sort this out.
Finally, road hazards can lead to immediate, or “farther down the road” tire blowout incidents. Do your best to avoid driving through potholes while maintaining safe lane placement. A pothole can cause an immediate blowout, or it can damage the tire and cause a failure later.
What if, despite your best prevention attempts, you do have a tire blowout? Hopefully, you’re safely seat-belted. This isn’t just to protect you in case of an accident; it could well PREVENT an accident. If you blow a tire, you’ll need to stay fixed firmly in the driver seat, not sloshing around. Properly adjusted, the seat belt will help keep you where you belong—behind the wheel and in control.
Tire blowout! What to do—and what not to do
Blowout! How to react is probably counterintuitive. Most of us, on hearing a tire blow and feeling the reaction, want to stop, NOW! That’s the WRONG thing to do. Your RV has been moving forward happily, not giving you any trouble. Your control of the RV is partially due to the forward momentum. When a tire blows, the rig will naturally pull in the direction of the blown tire—off the road, or possibly into oncoming traffic.
Getting off the gas or stepping on the brake simply gives more “force” to the pull of the blown tire. Surviving a tire blowout means stepping on the accelerator. By increasing the forward momentum, you actually help keep the rig stable. Simultaneously, steer to correct for the “pull” of the vehicle. This part you already know—when a side wind pushes against the rig and steering is affected, you automatically correct for it with the steering wheel. The same is true for the force of a blown tire—correct with the steering wheel.
Once you have the RV back in control (and it may take some effort with the steering), moderate your speed and start planning an “out.” Look for a safe place to pull the rig over and get off the road. Moderate your speed simply by moderating how much you’re pushing on the accelerator. Make a controlled pull off, and stop the rig.
Simple steps apply—no matter what tire blows
These simple rules for handling a tire blowout apply in all situations. It doesn’t matter if the blown tire is up front on a “steering” wheel, or on a rear “drive” wheel, on a straight stretch, or in a curve. Apply these rules, and your chances of surviving a tire blowout are greatly enhanced.
Related (and very important!):
- Lessons learned from deadly I-81 RV crash
- How to handle a tire blowout in your RV (video from Michelin)