What are Run Flat Tires?

As the name suggests, a run flat tire is a tire specially designed to be driven on typically for 50 to 100 miles with no air in it. If you have ever had a blowout or a flat in nasty weather or have had to pull over and fix a flat tire on a busy street you can certainly see how they can provide a greater degree of safety. If you have ever had to change a tire and thrown open the trunk only to find the spare flat too or your jack missing, you can understand how convenient they can potentially be. Even if you have never been in these situations, you can certainly understand why you would want to avoid finding yourself in them. Run flat tires can help you avoid danger and getting stuck in the middle of nowhere by enabling you to get home, to a service station, or to a tire shop like NTB without having to change out your damaged tire. While the concept sounds ideal and the technology is constantly improving, run flat tires are not without their shortcomings. In this article we will take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of run flat tires.

How Run Flat Tires Work

Run flat tires are made with heavily reinforced rubber in their sidewalls. As such, the sidewalls are significantly thicker and highly inflexible when compared to those of conventional tires. These stiff sidewalls are what allow vehicles to be driven even when a run flat tire is punctured or suffers a loss of air pressure. The distance they can be driven on is limited and varies from model to model, but most manufacturers suggest a maximum driving distance of 50 to 100 miles. Not far enough to allow you to ignore a tire problem for very long, but far enough so you are not totally stranded or forced to deal with the issue immediately under highly dangerous conditions.

Run Flat Tires Help You Avoid Getting Stranded

With Run Flat Tires a Flat Tire Won't Leave You Stranded

Run Flat Tires vs Regular Tires

The main difference between run flat tires and regular tires is obvious: with a run flat tire when you suffer a flat you can continue on your way without having to pull over and change the tire first. There are other differences as well. For most drivers, ride comfort will be noticeably different. Due to the fact that run flats have to be heavily reinforced in order to support the weight of your vehicle without air pressure, the ride is much stiffer as well. The added density means less flexibility so you will feel every pothole or bump in the road. If you have a history of driving high performance sports cars which generally run on stiffer tires you might not feel that much of a difference, but if you are used to a smooth, comfortable ride run flats may take some getting used to. Tire wear can also be an issue. One of the more common complaints about run flat tires is tread life. If you are looking for a 50,000 mile tread wear warranty, you are not likely to find it with a run flat tire.

Run Flat Tires - Pros and Cons

Keep in mind that any list of pros and cons is subjective, meaning that a feature one person considers a plus another might consider a negative. For example, many cars that come with run flat tires do not include a spare. Some car owners might see that as a pro since it frees up space and lowers the total weight of the vehicle, while others may prefer the peace of mind that always having a spare on board can provide. Have a look at this list of characteristics and decide for yourself whether the pros are mightier than the cons.

  • Ability to drive 50-100 miles with a flat tire. The main selling point of run flat tires and an obvious pro, unless you are convinced that 50 to 100 miles is not enough.
  • Safety. Not forced to pull over on a dangerous highway shoulder to change your tire. Improved stability and handling over regular tires if you suffer a blowout at highway speed.
  • Convenience. You don't have to deal with your flat right away. You can still make that important meeting or get where you need to go and deal with the flat later. Situational for sure, but could save your bacon.
  • Tread life. Run flat tires do not last as long as many regular tires. This is true for even the best run flat tires. If you are used to replacing your conventional tires at say 40,000 miles, you may find yourself replacing run flat tires significantly more often.
  • Costs. As soon as you start to research, run flat tires costs being higher may be the first thing that jumps out at you. Run flat tires cost more that conventional tires and cheap run flat tires are virtually nonexistent. Buying used run flat tires would not be very sensible from a financial or safety standpoint. Good deals can be had and you can sometimes find them on sale, but you will be paying a premium. More frequent replacement and not being able to repair run flat tires add to the total cost of ownership as well.
  • Repair. Can run flat tires be repaired? With regular tires, slow leaks and minor punctures can often be repaired instead of having the tire replaced. Run flat tire repair is technically possible, but many tire makers recommend against it. The structural integrity and the benefits can be lessened or compromised when repairing run flat tires. So a better question than can you repair run flat tires is would you really want to as it is highly unlikely that a repaired run flat tire will be good as new if you have driven on it after getting a flat.
  • Availability. It is not always easy to find run flat tires for sale as they are not as popular and cost more than regular tires. This can also be an issue when it comes time to replace them.
  • No spare. If you go with the run flat tire option when you purchase your vehicle, you most likely will not have a spare. That can mean more room and less tires ending up in landfills if you are environmentally conscious, but it can also mean less peace of mind. If you are taking a long car trip with your family through long, remote stretches of road would 50 or 100 miles be enough if you got a flat? Once you replace the damaged tire with a conventional spare, you won't be up against a 50 mile limit to get to your destination.

Should You Buy Run Flat Tires?

The answer is: it depends. If prices is a major concern, the higher cost of run flat tires, shorter tread life, and not being able to repair run flat tires may require spending more than you are willing to pay. If safety is your number one priority, you might decide that the benefits are far more important to you than any potential negatives. Consumer Reports, the highly respected non-profit organization that provides unbiased reviews of numerous products, evaluated run flat tires and came to the conclusion that the added safety outweighed the negatives. You may reach a different conclusion based on your driving habits, by comparing costs, or after trying run flat tires.