Causes of wheel explosions and how to prevent it

Causes of wheel explosions and how to prevent it

Why Blowouts Happen—and How to Avoid Them

In the heat of summer vacation season, tires are more prone to fail.

Tire-blowout season runs from the middle of May through early October. (Tire companies carefully track such information but also guard it.) The reason more tries fail from late spring to early fall is simple: that’s when the outside temperature is the hottest, and when motorists are driving farther, and faster, in more heavily loaded vehicles. The combination can push a neglected or injured tire beyond its breaking point. However, tire failures can happen any time of year, especially in the warmest parts of the United States. Besides heat and overweight cars, other major tire problems include lack of proper air pressure and, of course, exposure to obstacles.

Why Blowouts Happen—and How to Avoid Them

Overloading

Overloading a vehicle can also fatally damage a tire. Just because your pickup’s bed will accept a full load of free mulch from the recycling center doesn’t mean your tires can carry the weight, especially if they’re under-inflated. When pulling a heavy-laden trailer with your SUV, your 350-pound brother-in-law might have to find another ride.

To be sure about all this, you’ll have to find your vehicle’s Gross Vehicular Weight Rating (it’s on the same placard as the recommended tire pressure) and do the math. Those who haul extra-heavy loads can increase a tire’s weight-carrying capacity by raising pressure to the “maximum load,” shown by the “maximum pressure” number found on a tire sidewall. The number molded into the tire tells the maximum weight the tire can carry if the tire is inflated to that maximum pressure.

Overloading a vehicle can also fatally damage a tire

Potholes

Another way to fatally injure a tire, especially with today’s ultra low-profile rubber, is to slam into a pothole, driveway lip, or other road hazard. The impact pinches the tire’s inner parts between the wheel and the obstacle. If the hit is hard enough, it can cut or fray the inner parts. Sometimes the pothole will cut all the way through fabric and rubber, and the tire will die right there. In other cases, the damage won’t appear for months. Which brings us to:

The Slow Death

Commonly, a tire suffers the damage that will cause its death long before it fails. Sometimes people forget to check their tire pressure—imagine that the minivan was hovering just above the TPMS warning threshold when the high school football team’s offensive linemen hopped in. Perhaps a driver doesn’t realize that they have a slow leak (or procrastinates about it) and motors 20 miles before getting a repair. Now and then, a teenage driver forgets to mention the encounter with the pothole.

Any of these can speed up a tire’s death. Perhaps months later, when the vehicle is loaded with the entire family and rolling toward a vacation destination, the combination of the heavy load, ambient temperatures in the 90s F, and highway speed limits stresses the tire beyond its limits. The previously damaged tire can take no more and fails.

Too many, there are few more frightening thoughts than a tire failure at highway speeds. In a followup piece, I’ll explain how to handle this situation safely. Until then, be careful out there.

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