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What You Need To Know about Exploding Tires


Passenger and light truck tire tread separations are an unfortunate by-product of steel-belted radial tire technology. Due to the difficulty in obtaining adhesion of steel to rubber there is a potential for tread separation of all steel-belted radial tires. This is true especially at high speeds in hot climates with high mileage tires.

The results of tread separation can be catastrophic. They often cause vehicle crash and rollover resulting in serious injury or fatality. This problem is exacerbated by high-center-of-gravity vehicle designs such as employed in popular utility vehicles. The tire design problem can be overcome by use of a nylon overlay design modification known as "safety belts" . These defects can be eliminated by appropriate adhesion and appropriate quality control measures.


Tire bead failure explosions usually occur during the tire mounting process as a result of a latent design defect present in passenger and light truck tires. Most light truck and passenger tires employ a .037 inch weftless bead configuration which is subject to failure at pressures as low as 38 pounds per square inch. Low pressure explosions most often occur if the splice of the bead wire becomes impeded during inflation of the tire. This is commonly referred to as bead hang-up and has been documented in the patent literature, industry documents, and litigation since the mid 1950s.

When a bead failure explosion occurs in close proximity to a flat surface the resulting trajectory of the tire and rim can cause devastating injuries including amputation of limbs, crushing of facial bones and brain damage. The bead design hazard was substantially increased by the introduction of the unnecessary 16.5" rim size which will allow the mounting of a 16" tire but will always result in bead hang-up and potential low pressure explosions.


Multi-piece wheels (rims), often referred to as "widow-makers", have caused countless serious injuries and deaths to tire mounters since their introduction. There are various multi-piece wheel configurations, all of which are potentially dangerous. In almost all applications the multi-piece wheel can and should be replaced by a single-piece configuration wheel which has been available since the mid 1960s and which eliminates this hazard. OSHA has addressed the problem with guidelines that can somewhat reduce the hazard. However, one can still be injured or killed even if the OSHA guidelines are followed. For example, OSHA guidelines provide that multi-piece wheels should be inflated in safety cages. Tragically, accidents often occur after the tire and wheel are removed from the safety cage for mounting on the vehicle.


Sidewall zipper failures typically occur during the inflation process. There is almost no way to determine whether a tire is subject to zipper failure. The sidewall of a tire catastrophically fails, often injuring the inflator and/or bystanders. These failures are referred to as "zipper failures" because of the appearance of the sidewall after the explosion. Despite widespread documentation of the problem and numerous accidents and injuries, the only action taken by the tire industry to date has been to issue vague warnings of the hazard.


We have manufacturer information, trade association documentation, including smoking gun documents, depositions and trial testimony available upon request to ATLA members. If you are involved in a defective tire or rim case feel free to contact us for information.

Green, Kaster & Falvey, P.A. is available to answer your questions at no charge so as to determine if you have a case where we can help.

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