I checked the mirrors, let up on the accelerator and steered the car to the shoulder. “What was that noise, Mom?” asked the drowsy voice behind me. “We’ve blown a tire,” I said. Tire blow outs are more than an inconvenience. Blow outs can result in vehicle accidents, many of them fatal. What causes a tire to blow out?
1. Improper inflation is a major cause of blow outs.
a. Underinflation — Underinflated tires will flex excessively in the sidewalls, which leads to a buildup of heat in the sidewalls. That heat buildup can lead to a blow out, especially with highway driving in hot weather. Use your tire gauge to make sure your tires are at the recommended pressure. The upside to this check is you’ll save around $0.12 per gallon if your tires were 10 psi too low. Don’t forget to check the spare in the trunk!
b. Overinflation — Filling up your tires without a tire gauge can lead to overfilling. Never exceed the maximum pressure, which you’ll find on the side of your tire. The recommended tire pressure is found on the sticker inside the door jamb on the driver’s side.
2. Overloading your vehicle. This is more of an issue for trucks, SUVs, vans and trailers used for hauling heavy loads. Check the loading rating of your tires to make sure they are up to the task.
3. Road hazards. This was the cause our blow out. Something unseen on the road punctured the tire. Steering around obvious road hazards, such as potholes or objects in the roadway and avoiding “curb shots” are the only real preventatives here.
4. Tread wear. Eventually, all tires wear out. Check the depth of the tire tread and look for any bulges, punctures or cracks on the tire’s surface. Tires should be checked every time your vehicle is serviced.
Fortunately for us, our tire blow out was largely a non-event. Traffic was light, there was plenty of room on the well-lighted shoulder to pull off and we were home and safe within the hour. I couldn’t help but think that had we been farther from home, on a darker road or in the middle of rush hour traffic, the situation could have been much, much more dangerous.
The health of those who live and breathe in Kentuckiana is also riding on your tires. Driving on properly maintained tires helps save the air by decreasing your vehicle’s emissions. The US Dept. of Energy estimates the waste of 1.2 billion gallons of gasoline per year because Americans are driving on underinflated tires. Since burning one gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, our air could be much cleaner if everyone just took a few minutes to keep their tires maintained.
Check your tires frequently. It’s a matter of safety, economy and health.