Run-Flat Tires: How They Work & What Sets Them Apart

The space between your tires and the road can be a precarious place. Just 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, but there are trade-offs. Here’s what you need to know about run-flat tires, why some manufacturers are using them, and why you might or might not want to add them to your car or truck.

What are Run-Flat Tires?

First, let’s dispel the myth that run-flat tires never need air pressure. They do. The tires on your car or truck do not support the weight of your vehicle. The air pressure does that job. Run-flat technology works the same way with one big difference: the sidewalls on run-flats are reinforced (usually about ¾" thick as compared to 1/8" thick on standard tires) so that even if you experience a sudden and complete loss of air pressure, you’ll be able to drive on the tires for a short distance. Most run-flat tires can be driven on without air for up to 50 miles at up to 50 miles per hour.

Standard vs Run-flat tire

Why Were Run-Flat Tires Created

If you’ve purchased a new car in the last few years, 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.

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 are repairable within warranty standards, driving without air beyond recommendations can make many repairs impossible.
  • Cost: Most run-flat tires come at a premium price.
  • Availability: Some specific sizes and tread options may not be readily available.

How Run-Flats Compare to Standard Tires

Both typically come with mileage warranties that cover the overall life of the tires with proper maintenance and care, and both come in all-season and other tread options. 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.

Should You Install Run-Flat Tires?

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.