Run-Flat Tires: How They Work & When Should You Use Them

No matter where you drive, one stray nail or screw can cause a flat tire and send you to the side of the road. Run-flat tires change all that. However, there are trade-offs. Here’s what you need to know about run-flat tires, why some manufacturers are using them instead of spare tires, and why you might or might not want them for your vehicle.

What Are Run-Flat Tires?

Also called zero-pressure tires, run-flat tires are designed with reinforced, thicker sidewalls. They’re about ¾" thick as compared to ⅛" thick on standard tires. This means the sidewalls of the tire should be able to support the weight of your vehicle even if you experience a sudden and complete loss of air pressure due to a puncture or tire failure.

Additionally, some run-flat tires allow you to travel for a short distance at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. In other words, they live up to their name and are built so you can skip the spare and drive on them even when they are technically flat.

How Long Can You Drive on a Run-Flat Tire

Run-flat technology is designed to help you remain in control even after losing all or most of the air pressure in your tires. If you get a flat, some run-flat tires allow you to drive for up to 50 miles at up to 50 miles per hour. That should be enough to get to your local Les Schwab for a repair or replacement.

How Do Run-Flat Tires Work?

Standard tires do not support the weight of your vehicle. The air pressure does that job. When a standard tire loses air pressure, the sidewalls on those tires fold and the tire becomes unsafe for driving. If you go too far, you can ruin the tire and maybe even the wheel.

Run-flat technology also uses air pressure to support the weight of your vehicle, but the sidewalls on run-flats are reinforced so that even if you experience a sudden and complete loss of air pressure, you can stay in control and drive for upwards of 50 miles to a nearby Les Schwab. As long as there is no damage to the sidewall or other parts of the tire, we may be able to repair your run-flat tire. However, the damage warranty, if there is one, might not cover the damage.

Standard vs Run-flat tire

How Run-Flats Compare to Standard Tires?

When purchased from us, both come with the Les Schwab Best Tire Value Promise for the life of the tire. Additionally, both technologies fit onto standard wheels or rims. See our article Can I Mix Run-Flat Tires with Standard Ones for some added insight.

The Benefits of Run-Flat Tires
  • Safety: More control in the event of a sudden loss of tire pressure.
  • Options: The ability to drive to your local repair shop after a flat.
  • Convenience: No need to carry a spare or change a tire on the side of the road.
The Disadvantages of Run-Flat Tire Technology
  • Comfort: There can be diminished ride quality with the stiffer sidewall.
  • Noise: Some run-flat tires create more road noise inside the vehicle.
  • Repairs: While run-flat tires might get you to a repair facility, the tire might not be repairable in most situations.
  • Cost: Most run-flat tires come at a premium price.
  • Availability: Some specific sizes and tread options may not be readily available.

When Should You Use Run-Flat Tires?

Roughly 15% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. come with run-flat tires, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In most cases, this means the vehicle does not have or was not equipped with a spare tire, reducing the weight of the vehicle and increasing cargo space. If you want to free up space in your trunk or under the vehicle, and want the added freedom of driving on a “flat” tire for up to 50 miles instead of stopping to change to a spare, you might consider choosing run-flat tires.

Why Were Run-Flat Tires Created?

If you’ve purchased a new car, you may have noticed that many manufacturers have removed the spare tire. This is done to reduce weight, improve fuel efficiency, and provide more cargo space. But what happens if you get a flat? You’ll find that those carmakers may have given you an emergency tire repair kit or equipped the vehicle with run-flat tires.

When it comes to convenience, run-flat tires are great. But the real reason they were invented was to improve the safety and steering response of high-end sports cars in case of tire failure. Over the decades since this technology was first introduced, run-flat tires have become more common on some high-end vehicles.

Ask Les Schwab About Run-Flat Tires for Your Vehicle

If your vehicle came standard with run-flat tires, you might consider it as a viable option — especially when your vehicle does not have a spare. If your vehicle did not come standard with run-flat tires, or if you’re unsure if you already have run-flat tires, stop by your local Les Schwab for advice. Depending on your vehicle and driving needs, our team can help you decide if run-flat technology is right for you.

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