Flat Tire vs Blowout: What's the Difference & What Should You Do?

By Kijiji Autos
What to look for when buying used tires

A tire blowout while driving is one of the most alarming events a driver can experience. A sudden bang followed by drastic changes to the handling of your vehicle can cause spins and lead to serious accidents. Thankfully there are a few techniques you can remember that can keep you and your passengers safe in the event of a blowout. This article will examine the difference between a blowout and a regular flat tire and give you advice on what to do should you experience either.

Flat tire vs. blowout tire

The main difference between a flat tire and a blowout is that a blowout often feels like an explosion has occurred underneath your vehicle. Blowouts can cause sudden and drastic changes to the handling of your vehicle and can lead to minor or even serious accidents.

With a flat tire you may feel that your vehicle is pulling to one side, as a tire with low pressure experiences greater rolling resistance than the other three tires which are correctly inflated. Flat tires are often much less eventful than blowout tires but can still produce some fairly alarming vehicle handling characteristics and can lead to accidents as well.

A blowout tire is much more immediately noticeable and is often rapidly followed by a loud hissing noise as all the tire's air escapes in a short time. Blowout tires are also vulnerable to disintegration, as they are caused by a breakdown in the tire's structure.

What is a blowout tire?

Technically speaking, a blowout tire is a bursting tire followed by a very rapid loss of pressure. Drivers often imagine that blowouts are caused by over-inflating the tire when in fact the opposite is true. Driving on over-inflated tires is not safe or advisable but is more likely to lead to accelerated tread wear rather than a dramatic tire blowout.

Most blowouts are caused by a tire having air pressure that is too low, which leads to it flexing in ways it was never designed for. This can cause the inner layers of the tire's construction to separate from each other, weakening its structure and eventually leading to a blowout.

What does a blowout tire sound like?

Blowout tires are immediately noticeable, as they will often announce themselves with a loud bang as the air, which is under pressure in the tire, makes an explosive exit. Whooshing sounds can often follow the initial bang as the air escapes followed by a thumping as the now-airless tire keeps rotating.

Driving for too long after a blowout can cause the tire to completely disintegrate and fall off, scattering dangerous debris across the roadway.

What can cause a tire blowout?

Tire blowouts can be caused by a number of issues, and they all involve the tire being used in ways it was not designed to be. Overloading a vehicle puts too much weight and stress on the tires, and if one of them is under-inflated it can lead to a dangerous blowout compounded by the fact that the vehicle is much heavier than it's supposed to be.

Environmental hazards like potholes and sharp objects on the road can tear into a tire's structure, weakening it and leading to a blowout. Unnoticed small punctures can also lead to a tire blowout as they allow air to escape from the tire over time leading to lots of driving on an underinflated tire as mentioned above.

What to do if a tire blows out

1 - Stay calm

This might not seem like the most intuitive thing to do when you've just experienced a tire blowout while driving at speed but remaining calm is one of the most important things you can do in this situation. Sudden movements of the steering wheel or brake pedal can further upset the car's handling and lead to your vehicle spinning out across multiple lanes of traffic. Staying calm and using gentle, progressive inputs with the steering, accelerator and brakes can make all the difference in this situation.

2 - Maintain momentum

Slowing down too quickly should be avoided in the event of a tire blowout. By either maintaining pressure on the gas pedal or simply not hitting the brakes you can keep your vehicle moving down the road as it was before the blowout giving you a much better chance of safely pulling over to the side of the road.

This can be thought of as driving “through” the blowout, carrying on in the same direction as you were before the blowout occurred. You’ll need to make adjustments to the steering and gas pedal to achieve this.

3 - Counter-steer

After a blowout, your vehicle will naturally pull to the direction of the damaged tire as there is now much more drag on that side.

Your job is now to counter-steer against this pull and keep your vehicle within the confines of its lane and out of the path of other vehicles on the road that may be overtaking or slowing down. This ensures that you maintain control of the vehicle and keeps other drivers from getting caught up in your tire blowout event.

4 - Gently slow down

Now that the vehicle is under control it's time to gently slow down and pull off to the side of the road where you can stop and call for help or, if it's safe, change your tire. Doing this in a gentle, controlled manner is very important as the vehicle is now in a state that it was not designed to be used in. The vehicle’s brakes and steering will respond differently than they do normally so it’s important to use incremental inputs and see how they react before adding more steering angle or brake pressure.

5 - Hazards on

Turn your hazard warning lights/four-way blinkers on as soon as you can to alert other drivers to your presence. You should always turn on your warning lights if you pull over at the side of the road to give drivers a chance to slow down and move to another lane to avoid you.

6 - Change the tire if you can

If you're in a relatively safe location and have a little know-how you can change the damaged tire yourself and get back on the go without having to call for help. Loosen the wheel nuts while the vehicle is on the ground then lift the vehicle by finding the jacking points on the frame. These specially reinforced areas are designed to support the vehicle's weight and are usually located under the vehicle behind the front wheels and in front of the rear wheels. Ideally, the jack should be placed on hard, level ground. Replace the damaged wheel and tire with the spare then hand-tighten the wheel nuts before lowering the vehicle. With your ride back on four wheels, you can tighten the nuts with the tire iron and get back on the move. It's good practice to stop and check the nuts have stayed tight a little further down the road.

What is a flat tire?

A flat tire is a tire that has been breached by a sharp object or has worn over time so that it does not hold air as it was designed to. A flat tire is much less startling than a blowout tire, but can still prove to be a hassle for you on the road and can eventually lead to blowout failure.

Flat tires can sometimes be patched and DIY kits are available but with something as vital as your vehicle's tires we would always recommend letting the professionals take care of it for you. Blowout tires always need to be replaced.

What should you do if you have a flat tire?

If you notice your vehicle has a flat tire you should try to make it to a service station or other location where you can add some air. If the tire has a slow leak you may be able to drive to a repair shop or make it home, but if the tire won't hold air you shouldn't drive on it.

Doing so may cause the tire to disintegrate as the edges of the wheel, pushed down by the weight of the vehicle, can cut into the tire. If the tire won't hold any air at all you should have your vehicle towed to a repair shop. Used tires can provide you with many more driving miles for less than a set of new tires. Check out our guide to used tires to learn more.

We hope this article has provided you with useful information on what to do in case of a flat tire or blowout, and we also hope that you never experience a blowout and need to use the steps listed above.

Blowouts are a much rarer occurrence on today’s roads than they used to be thanks to modern tire construction methods but they can still occur in cases of overloading, excessively worn tires and environmental hazards like potholes and jagged materials on the roadway. If you have a flat tire or blowout you should always try to get the vehicle to a safe place to stop.

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