The Perils of Run-Flat Tires

Girl changing flat tire

What if you didn't have a spare?

When shopping for a car, sometimes the tires are an afterthought. You might glance down at a tire, give it a kick, note that some tread still exists and be satisfied.

Failure to really understand what kind of tires are on the car, though, can result in a major headache down the road. (Probably at 12:30 a.m. on a dark and deserted stretch of that road.)

I’m mostly referring to run-flat tires. While the technology saves a car from lugging around a spare tire, run-flats have some pretty detrimental downsides, too. That’s especially true if you buy a car without knowing it’s equipped with run-flats and don’t know that it doesn’t have a spare.

I became aware of this situation when my dad mentioned shopping for a 2004 Toyota Sienna AWD. He did some research and found a *ton* of consumer complaints regarding the vehicle’s run-flat tires. (A forum-full of nastiness can be seen here.)

Here’s the essence of the problem:

  • Cars that originally came equipped with run-flats don’t have spares. Should a tire suffer major damage, the car will be stuck until a tow truck can arrive.
  • Run-flats aren’t as easy to repair as regular tires. Once a run-flat is damaged, it’ll have to be replaced. Run-flats aren’t stocked in all tire stores and oftentimes need to be special ordered… a serious setback for a family stuck in Wyoming and trying to get home to California.
  • Run-flats are expensive, and when equipped on an AWD vehicle, the tire shop will recommend (rightly) that all four tires need replacing. Count on an easy thousand bucks going out the window.

Maybe tires should just go airless

Premature tire wear has also been a problem, with run-flats often needing replacement well before the 30,000-mile mark. That problem seems to have been addressed in the 2011 Sienna.

If you’re looking at a new or used car, make sure to find out if it is running run-flat tires before you buy. They come standard on Sienna AWD minivans, most newer BMW models and other used cars. (A list of some of them can be found here.)

Traditional tires can be mounted in place of run-flats, but if you go that route, be sure to also buy a spare tire or, at least, a plug kit, a small compressor and a roadside assistance membership.

Have you ever used, or would you consider, run-flat tires?

-tgriffith

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Used Toyota Sienna

5 Comments

  1. I have run flat tires on my BMW and love them. They are expensive, but I live in Germany and the roads are outstanding and I typically drive 100 MPH on the autobahn. I’ve owned my 545i for 7 years and have had two sets of tires.

    We recently were returning home from a trip and had a flat about 6km from our home. We slowed down and drove to the nearest gas station. The tire was shot.. unable to take air. The dealer was 0.9km away so we drove the car to the dealer and had a friend pick us up to finish our journey.

    If we hadn’t had the run flat tires, we would have been stuck on a Sunday with everything in Germany closed. The run flats saved us.

    Yes they are expensive, but it’s a lot less than spending money on hotels etc if you get stuck somewhere. Our BMW manual says you can drive up to 50 miles with a flat. I wouldn’t push it that far, but certainly 10 or 20 miles is no problem from my experience.

  2. A buddy had run flats and swears he won’t ever own them again because they just didn’t last. Put on a nice set of Pirellis for the same price.

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