I was talking about the recent and quite horrible van crash the other day with Canadian racing star Ron Fellows.
He mentioned one thing about big passenger vans that was not - as far as we know - a contributing factor to THIS van crash, but has been implicated in others of a similar vein.
Fellows pointed out that bigger vans generally have true truck tires on them, which call for much higher inflation pressures than most people are used to - maybe 85 psi instead of 35.
This tends to make the ride choppy, especially when unladen.
So people figure, “Hey - 35 psi is good enough for my station wagon....”
The ride is smoother, everybody is happy.
But then when they DO put fifteen people in the van, the tires are seriously under-inflated, the carcass of the tire flexes much more than it was designed to do, it blows out, and the driver does the wrong thing in reaction.
What IS the wrong thing in this situation?
Doing just about anything is the wrong thing, actually. Don't just jump off the gas pedal, don't hammer on the brakes, and for cryin' out loud, don't over-correct at the steering wheel.
Stabilize the vehicle speed by keeping a constant throttle. As long as the vehicle is tracking straight, then you can gently lift to start slowing the vehicle down. Put on the four-way flashers, and start looking for a safe place to pull over.
Braking is likely to be dangerous because by definition you'll have half as much braking power on one side of one axle as on the other side, and a spin-out is a near-certainty.
This approach worked for me when I had the left front wheel on my massive Suburban part company with the vehicle at a buck-twenty on the 401. My first two clues were when I heard a big “BANG!” from the left front corner as the brake disc hit the pavement, and my wheel flew past my driver's side window.
I wish I had had the opportunity to practice this manoeuvre in advance, but - maybe more by good luck than by good management - I did get the vehicle stopped safely.
If I could do it, so can you.
Fortunately, my wheel didn't bounce into on-coming traffic. I had to walk some distance back to get it - it was leaning up aganst the concrete median barrier like it was waiting for a pit stop!
I rolled it back to the truck, and discovered that the wheel nuts had worked themselves loose and fallen off, followed shortly thereafter by the entire wheel.
I managed to get the truck jacked up, put the wheel back on what was left of the studs, borrowed one lug nut from each of the other three wheels, tightened them up and drove VERY slowly back home.
The next morning I had a sharply-worded conversation with the tire store which had put the new wheels and tires on a couple of days previously. They replaced them, put them on right, and I never had another problem.
Knowing what to do in a situation like this could save your life, and the lives of others.
Think about it...