Three of the main factors that have been found to lead to blowouts are the type of vehicle involved, the state of the tire before the crash, and conditions on the road.
A 2012 NHTSA sample study of 5,470 car crashes found that SUVs were the most likely type of vehicle to be involved in a rollover.
In fact, nearly half (45%) of SUVs with pre-crash tire issues rolled over. By contrast, cars, pickup trucks, and vans with pre-crash tire issues rolled over less than 25% of the time.
One problem with SUVs is they offer a lot of interior space, so there’s a temptation to overload them with passengers and cargo. This can put extra pressure on tires and cause them to fail. (The same is true with pickups, but because they have a lower center of gravity, they’re less likely to roll over.)
Did you know that a tire is three times more likely to be listed as a critical factor during the pre-crash phase when it’s underinflated by more than 25%?
When looking at a sample of 5,470 car crashes — which reflect 2,188,970 crashes from a national perspective — 9% involved a vehicle with pre-crash tire problems, according to the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey.
Factors that can create problems include:
- Tire pressure (underinflation)
- Tire tread depth, as measured to the nearest 1/32 of an inch
- Previous tire damage, such as tread separation or partition tread separation.
- Failure to use a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS)
- Vehicle body type
- Overloading vehicles (something to watch for when packing to go on vacation)
Underinflation can cause a tire’s sidewall to flex more because the air pressure isn’t high enough to bear the load of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo. This leads to heat buildup and is especially dangerous on warm days and when you’re traveling at high speeds.
If your tire is more than 25% under the recommended standard (usually 30 to 40 psi), you’re at risk for a sidewall blowout. But in one study, 34% of men and 50% of women said they rarely check their tire pressure.
Tire-related crashes are a particular risk for teenagers. Of the 2.2 million U.S. accidents each year, nearly 300,000 involve teen drivers and are related to tire issues such as worn treads and improper tire inflation.
The good news is that all vehicles manufactured after 2007 are mandated to come with a tire pressure monitoring system. But according to one study, 10% of drivers said they’d intentionally ignored a dashboard warning when they saw one and just kept on driving.
Less than half (42%) of drivers regularly checked their tire pressure, and only 58% could correctly identify the TPMS warning symbol, even though three-quarters (75%) of all roadside flats were preceded by a slow leak or underinflation.
If safety isn’t a good enough argument for paying attention to your TPMS, then consider this: Keeping your tires properly inflated saves gas, which saves money.
In all, 11% of vehicles in the NHTSA statistics from 2012 experienced tire issues during the pre-crash stage when at least one road condition applied (such as wet or slick road conditions).
Comparatively, only 3.9% of tire issues occurred during the pre-crash stage when there weren’t any inclement road conditions.
Environmental and road factors that can increase your risk of tire failure include:
- Wet or flooded roads
- Slick surfaces
- Washed-out roads
- Poorly maintained roads and shoulders
- Potholes and road damage
- The month when you’re driving