Deflating reality of run-flat tires

Deflating reality of run-flat tires

Consumer experience sheds dim light on this increasingly common technology

Published: July 29, 2015 09:00 AM
Bridgestone Driveguard
An aftermarket run-flat tire currently being tested.

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Run-flat tires promise to remove a key travel worry—being stranded roadside. However, the ownership experience can be both expensive and frustrating, as we have heard from owners.

A reader recently recounted a nightmarish run-flat tire tale that captures the potential downsides to this technology and mirrors other feedback we have received. (Even a staff member here has had his own run-flat adventures.)

This consumer wrote us about driving his dream car, a 2012 BMW 550i, on a long trip. When a tire-pressure warning light illuminated, he pulled off the highway, stopped, and discovered a flat tire. Ready to tackle this misfortune, he looked for a spare tire in the trunk, but there was none to be found.

Without the option to solve the dilemma on his own, he called BMW roadside assistance, only to be told there was no spare tire since the car comes with run-flats.

Because the flat was caused by a sidewall failure, the owner was told not to drive on it.

Late on a Sunday night, far from home, the driver spent two and a half hours waiting for a flat-bed tow to get the expensive car to safe ground, followed by an unexpected night in a hotel.  

The disappointed owner got his car back on the road the next day and was fairly satisfied knowing flats are a rare event. But he felt that he would have bought a different car with regular tires instead of the run-flats, had he known.

Check out our tire ratings, including models available in run-flat configurations.

Since the initial troublesome experience, the owner was stranded four more times, accumulating a total of eight road-hazard flats in less than 30,000 miles. Adding insult to injury, in the best of times, the owner found the run-flats to be stiff-riding and noisy. Plus, they cost a bundle to replace (claimed $500 apiece), and even at that, replacements are hard to find. (The Bridgestone Driveguard is an aftermarket run-flat tire currently in-test at Consumer Reports and is widely available, unlike some original equipment run-flats.)

Although eight failures is extreme for any car, the issues related to comfort and replacement are not unique to this individual. We’ve heard similar complaints from many others. In this case, a BMW dealer suggested he buy tire insurance for a mere $2,500—an astronomical sum that sounded ridiculous at the time. To be fair, the owner confided that a BMW dealer did make some concessions on the cost of some of the replacement tires, but he no longer has confidence in his beloved car.

The owner suggests that anyone buying a car with run-flats inquire about tire insurance and negotiate the price down to make the car deal happen. We estimate that about 15 percent of the cars sold last year came with run-flats, so be sure to ask the dealer what kind of tires are on the car before you buy it. Many cars today come with just a tire repair kit, rather than a spare tire. Be sure you are getting what you expect when you buy a car, and if it doesn’t include a spare, ask if one is available.

Have you experienced the benefits, or frustrations, with run-flat tires? Share your insights in the comments below.

Gene Petersen

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