ATLANTA There has been much conversation in recent newscasts about accidents that involve tire failures, most particularly Firestone tires and Ford Explorers. However, those are not the only vehicles that sometimes roll over.
I have seen a variety of makes of SUVs that have succumbed to the roll-and-tumble scenario. A few may have been victims of tire failure, but many probably occurred because the drivers asked the vehicle to perform in a way it couldn’t.
There is no reason that a driver should lose control of a vehicle and roll over just because its tire went flat. We have all had flat tires over the years. How many of us have ended up on our roof because of it? Not many.
So what is the proper action to take in the event of a tire failure?
First, any conscientious driver should feel some sort of vibration or unusual sensation through the steering wheel when tire failure takes place. It’s the driver’s responsibility to pay attention to what his/ her vehicle is doing.
When you feel such a change in the steering wheel, you should begin to slow down. I did not say slam on the brakes. Slamming on the brakes is exactly what most people do, and it is the worst possible response that you can take.
Let’s say it was a front tire that went flat. When you step on the brakes, you transfer the vehicle’s weight to its front wheels. Most SUVs and many front-wheel-drive vehicles tend to be front-end heavy to begin with, so when you put additional down force on the front end, you compound an already bad situation.
With one tire flat, you have different diameters for steering control, so immediately the vehicle is going to pull to the side where the tire is flat. With little down force left on the rear wheels, the rear end of the vehicle will start to rotate, putting you into a spin.
Next, the average driver will try to correct for the spin and abruptly yank on the steering wheel. On a vehicle with a high center of gravity, like an SUV, it is the first step toward rolling over.
With a rear tire deflation, the driver will feel less feedback through the steering wheel, but there will still be some vibration. Unfortunately, many drivers don’t notice this until the tire completely disintegrates or comes off the wheel.
At that point, the typical reaction is to slam on the brakes. That transfers weight to the front of the vehicle and takes traction away from the one rear tire that is still inflated. With different diameter wheel/tire combinations on the rear of the vehicle and no real down force, the vehicle is prone to getting “dancy” in the back end.
The driver typically tries to steer to compensate, but ends up overcorrecting, causing a skid or spin and the potential for rollover in tall vehicles.
What should you do? Don’t hit the brakes. Just gently back off the throttle and, with both hands on the steering wheel, steer the vehicle in a straight line until it has slowed enough that you can safely maneuver it off the road. It is much easier to maintain a vehicle in a straight line than in any type of turn.
Note that I said use both hands. We seem to have forgotten thanks to power steering, coffee cups, cell phones and heaven knows what all else that driving is like a Whopper: It takes two hands.
The basics are really pretty simple:
Pay attention to what your vehicle is doing at all times.
Drive with both hands.
In the event of any mechanical failure, tire or otherwise, slow down but don’t use a panic brake. Steer in a straight line until you can safely move off the roadway.
Stay calm. Panic can be your worst passenger.