What causes vehicle tyres to explode?

Nearly every motorist will, at some point in their driving career, see someone stranded at the side of the motorway with a trail of broken rubber and an exploded tyre, looking rather despondent while they wait for roadside assistance to come and tow them home, or to the nearest garage. Inevitably, thoughts then turn to “what if?” What would you do in that situation? Do you know it’s coming? How can you avoid it? Luckily, Scrap Car Comparison has all the answers, so have a read and keep all four wheels well and truly on your wagon.

Used Tyres

What causes a tyre explosion?

Tyre explosions, also known as a tyre blowout, can come via a wide range of reasons, and some are simply unavoidable from the driver’s seat. However, as with many aspects of driving, a little bit of care and regular maintenance can keep you and your car motoring along without drama for as long as possible.

  • Tyre Pressure: The most common cause of exploding tyres is something that can be easily avoided through regular checks of your tyre pressures. You might think that it’s simply the case of overinflating that can lead to a blowout – a bit like when you try to blow a balloon up too far and it bursts in your face – but underinflating can be just as dangerous.

    An underinflated tyre will move around a lot more on the road, causing additional friction and, as a result, bringing the temperature of the tyre up to a point where it can no longer take the heat. This is more common in summer as the warmer surface temperature of the road can exacerbate the issue, weakening the tyre and leading to exploding tyres. It has been said that underinflation of tyres is the main reason for truck tyres exploding on motorways.

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On the other hand, an overinflated tyre will cause them to expand more than they were designed to. Tyre pressures rise as you drive along and the rubber gains temperature, and if the ambient and road temperatures cause enough of a change, when added to a tyre already above its recommended levels, it’s only a matter of time before something has to give, and that something will usually be your tyre.

  • Tyre Condition: It is always important to keep an eye on the condition of your tyres in general. If your wheels have been subjected to rough roads or you regularly drive through potholes, your tyres could be rather second-hand at best. If there are cuts, cracks or any other damages on the exterior of the tyre, or you have uneven wear due to a suspension problem, the chances of them giving out increase exponentially.

    The same goes for the age of your tyre. An older tyre will be worn down considerably more than a brand new tyre, and if you do not have an adequate amount of tread left on your rubber, you could be driving towards a hefty bill – either from the garage through repairs, or from the long arm of the law if the tyres don’t have at least 1.6mm of tread on them.
  • Weather: It’s been alluded to already, but you’re more likely to suffer a tyre blowout in the summer than you are in the winter. With summers getting warmer and warmer, road temperatures are soaring, and the hotter the tarmac, the hotter the tyre will get. The increase in temperature will see the tyre become much more volatile, and if there are any defects at all or discrepancies in pressures, you’re (ironically given the weather) driving on thin ice.
  • Impact: We’ve mentioned potholes already, but on that occasion it was if you were lucky enough to be able to drive on after hitting one. Sometimes you’re not as fortunate, and if you hit a crater masquerading as a pothole, or any form of debris in the road, in just the wrong place at the wrong speed, it can cause an instant tyre failure. This issue could come at any time, and on any road – a motorway could see a shed load from a poorly-contained truck, while a back road is less likely to be maintained to a high standard. It’s important to be vigilant when driving, and if safe to do so, try to avoid any form of obstruction in the road to protect your tyres.
  • Driving at High Speed: Regular followers of motorsport will be used to seeing tyres failing – an unfortunate by-product of pushing cars and their components to the absolute limit. Now, you’re not likely to be driving at the speed of Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton, but driving above the speed your tyres are designed to do can have a similar effect as driving at nearly 200mph around the streets of Azerbaijan.

    Increased speed means increased friction. Increased friction means increased temperature. Increased temperature… well, you should have a good idea of what that does by now. If you have an empty stretch of motorway ahead of you, stick to the speed limit – which you should be doing anyway unless you fancy a fine and some penalty points – and keep all four tyres intact.
  • Overloading: If you’re going away for a week or two on holiday, chances are you’re probably going to be loading your car up with more stuff than you normally would (and when you get there you’ll still have forgotten something). However, other than making it potentially uncomfortable for someone in the back, or obscuring your view out the rear window (which we do not recommend), did you know that overloading your car could be driving towards a tyre blowout? In a similar way to underinflation, overloading the car causes the tyres to flex more on their sidewalls, increasing friction, and the cycle we’ve been through so many times now starts again…
Old car tires, one with no tread

What to do if your tyre explodes while driving

So, you’re heading down the motorway doing 70(ish)mph and your tyre lets go. Now what? The most important thing is to try and stay calm. One of the main reasons for exploded tyre accidents is drivers being unable to keep control of their car in the immediate aftermath of a tyre explosion. What you should do varies depending on where the blowout has occurred, but one of the most important things to remember is don’t touch the brake pedal.

  • Front tyres: If one of the front tyres explodes, the car will start to suddenly veer off in one direction. As mentioned above, do not touch that brake pedal. Instead, take a firm grip on the wheel, come off the power and try to gently bring the car under control. If you do decide to use the brakes after you’ve got the car under control, do so only very, very lightly. You could try pulling the handbrake on and off to bring the car down to a slower speed, but this could pitch you into a spin. Shifting down could be an option if your car is rear-wheel-drive, but only do so if you can avoid any sudden movements on the wheel, your main priority should be to keep the car under control and let it gradually, and naturally, lose momentum.
  • Rear tyres: If a rear tyre goes, particularly at higher speeds, you’re likely to experience some weaving. Once again, the best thing to do is to hold the steering wheel firmly, keep the car pointing in the right direction – it’s only going to go in the direction that the front wheels are pointing in – and let it slow down naturally. Once again: do not brake. Braking will very likely cause you to enter a skid or a spin, making your situation much, much worse. You may find you need to accelerate slightly, not to speed up, but to keep your momentum going to keep the car in a straight line. If you can keep control of the car with one hand and you’re in a front-wheel-drive car, slowing the car down through engine braking and changing gears is also an option.

Finally, we’ve said this a lot in this section, but we’re going to say it again one more time: do not brake. If that’s the only thing that you take away from this article, it could be the difference between a simple replacement of a tyre and a trip to A&E on the blue light express.

What to do after your tyre has exploded

If you’ve been able to bring the car under control safely, the first thing you’re going to want to do is pull over to the side of the road. If this is a single lane road then pull over as far as you can onto the verge and pop your hazard lights on. If you’re on a motorway then pull over to the hard shoulder and, again, park the car, make it safe with the handbrake on and make sure to put your hazard lights on. If the motorway doesn’t have a hard shoulder, then pull across to the leftmost lane and, with your hazards on, slowly bring the car down to a stop.

Once you’re safely parked up, it’s time to get out the spare tyre, usually found underneath a hatch in the boot. It’s useful to keep a small toolset in the boot for this very eventuality, and set about replacing the wheel. Remember, most spare wheels will be “space savers” – a smaller, thinner wheel than would usually fit on your car, but will do the job until you can get a proper one fitted. You’ll have to be sensible when driving on one, however, and you can’t drive above 50mph while using it.

If you’re unable to fit the spare due to a lack of available tools, or you simply don’t know how to, then a quick call to your breakdown/recovery service should get you back on the road in a matter of minutes… if you have one, that is.

As soon as you’re back home, arrange to get a new tyre fitted as soon as possible. Your local/regular garage will be able to provide this service, or there are plenty of online alternatives if you want to shop around.

How to avoid a tyre explosion

The easiest way to avoid tyre explosions is, simply, to look after your tyres. Regular maintenance and checks on both pressure and tread depth will ensure that your tyres are always running how they’re designed to run, and even in the hottest of summers should be able to withstand the heat of the road. 

Also make sure that you don’t overload your car, and if you are expecting to take a larger load than normal, that you adjust your tyre pressures accordingly – more weight = more pressure. Don’t overdo it, though, and refer to your owner’s manual for exact figures to abide by. 

Finally, and this may not be achievable for all, but always buy the most premium option you can afford. It may be tempting to save a few quid and go for a lesser known brand, or part worn tyres, but those more household names (Bridgestone, Michelin, Pirelli etc) are known for a reason. Not only will they last longer, they’ll provide you better performance and could actually save you money in the long run. Better tyres can actually help improve your fuel consumption, and the longer they last, the longer it’ll be before you need to replace them again.

If you’ve recently suffered a tyre explosion and your car has been heavily damaged as a result, then you might be wondering what to do next. Scrapping your car with Scrap Car Comparison is the easiest and most cost-effective option open to you when it comes to selling as scrap or salvage. With our nationwide network of trusted buyers, you’re never too far away from someone looking to come and get your car, and you’re guaranteed to get the best price. We monitor the price of scrap daily, meaning you’re always going to get up-to-the-minute pricings when using our service.

So, why wait? Use our quick and easy online quote generator today and find out just how much your car could be worth, and for more hints and tips on how to keep your new car motoring along visit our Car Care hub.

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