Finally, the awful truth (revealed) about run flat tires

My clients are starting to send me a lot of questions about run flat tires – like this:

The vehicle that we want to buy comes with Run-Flat tires standard (they used the space meant for a spare tire to house the 3rd-row seats when folded down). Can I request they trade these out for regular tires prior to my lease? Do you think that will work? I’m concerned that run-flats are going to give us more problems than solutions…

My fast answer is:

I would NOT lease any car with run-flat tires…

Or:

If I was forced to get a car with run-flat tires, I would buy a new set of regular tires, swap out the run flats, then swap ’em back on the car at lease end.

Let’s get into the weeds about this tricky subject…

Run-flat tires – the ultimate conspiracy

Nearly every BMW vehicle comes standard with run-flat tires.

So does the Honda Odyssey. And so does the Toyota Sienna. The INFINITI Q50 does, too.

More and more cars are coming equipped with run-flat tires.

Because:

One of the biggest car-industry hustles going these days is run-flat tires.

Tire manufacturers and auto manufacturers are in cahoots to use planned obsolescence to make more profits.

The punchline is this: run-flat tires last not even half as long as regular tires. And they are super expensive, too. As a result, anyone in the tire-selling business will see their sales SKYROCKET.

Even worse, simple fixes (like a nail in the tire) cannot be repaired, but rather need to be replaced. And the worst part is run-flat tires must be replaced in pairs.

Run-flat tires do not age well, either – here is a picture of one I snapped:

run flat tires dated

Of course, we consumers get hosed. Because instead of leasing a car on just one set of tires, we will be forced to (at least) double the number of tires we buy during a standard 36-month lease.

How to see if our favorite car uses run flats

If run flats are so great, why are automakers so coy about whether their new cars use ’em?

Most times, the use of run flats are not even on the window sticker of a car. In fact, the only way we know for sure is to play detective…

I teach my clients to pop open the trunk after a test drive… looking for a spare tire. Usually, cars without spare tires rely on run-flat tires.

To know for sure, we can look for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) symbol imprinted on the tire itself. It looks sort of like a snail:

run flat tires snail

Or:

The sidewall will have the acronym “RFT” imprinted on the tire’s sidewall – like this:

run flat tires RFT imprint

Or, we can search the internet with this search syntax:

[make/model] run flats

For example:

Mini Cooper run flats

If there are discussions about it, odds are the car comes with run flat tires.

Car manufacturers know that run-flat tires have a bad reputation. So they never brag about their cars having run flats. I have never seen a single ad for it.

Fixing a phantom problem

The dictionary says snake oil is a product of little real worth or value that is promoted as the solution to a problem.

And run-flat tires are the new snake oil of the car industry.

Run-flats are touted as a solution to a largely rare problem – tire blowouts.

Tire blowouts do not even show up on this list of a personal injury attorney’s top 20 causes for car accidents…

Study after study shows alcohol, speed and distracted driving are the 3 top causes of car crashes. Car tire blowouts are at the bottom of the list.

Yet, the tire industry has successfully scared us into thinking that our car’s tires are ticking time bombs – ready to explode.

This is not the 1900s, when tires were colored white and not so reliable…

Today’s standard tires are remarkably resistant. They are manufactured to last more than ever. And simple tire maintenance significantly shrinks the likelihood of a tire blowout.

This is the REAL reason for tire blowouts

There are 3 common causes of tire blowouts:

Driving on under-inflated tires
Driving on chronically underinflated tires causes damage from heat generation and excessive flexing.

Driving on tires with bulges
When we hit a curb or pothole, pressure collides with the side of that tire. If the tire’s sidewall is weak, it will cause a bulge. And it is time to immediately replace this tire because it is a blowout waiting to happen.

Driving on old tires
Tire rubber degrades over time because of slow oxidation. High summer temperatures accelerate this process. Old tires lacking elastic resiliency can and do blowout.

Bottom line: the cheapest and easiest way to prevent tire blowouts is to maintain them properly.

Whenever I fill up my tank with gas, I walk around my car to check out my tires. It takes just 30 seconds. And since most car tires have electronic TPMS tire monitoring, we get alerted if our tires are running flat.

False sense of security

Run-flat tires is advertised as if bulletproof armor surrounded our car’s tires.

We are given the assurance that run flats will keep on driving after being damaged. The combination of steel and rubber combine to keep us rolling up to 50 miles to a repair center.

But the truth is in a catastrophic sidewall failure (a pothole or curb collision)… run-flat tires are not going to help us. Also, a lot of people report run-flat tires get “shredded”… making it impossible to drive. Some even report a shredded tired doing major damage to the wheel wells of their cars.

The “improved fuel-economy” myth

The other touted benefit of run flats is better gas mileage. Automakers claim there is less weight in our car, because there is no spare tire.
This is a whopper of a lie, because run-flat tires weigh a lot more in total than regular tires with a spare (due to the added sidewall reinforcement).

The most expensive screw ever

When a nail or screw punctures a regular tire, the air loss is slow. And the tire-pressure sensors in our car alert us when the tire’s pressure is below 80% of the recommended pressure. This gives us time to easily drive to a tire center for a patch.

But when run-flat tires run over a nail or screw, the tire is no longer “fit for driving.” Not only are we forced to buy a new tire, but run flats must be replaced in pairs. So one screw forces us to buy two new, replacement tires.

Survey says, “We hate ’em!”

According to the prestigious JD Powers:

“Customers with run-flat tires are less satisfied with their tires, and replace their tires more frequently in the first two years of ownership, than customers with non-run-flat tires.”

UPDATE: Looks like JD Powers was forced to delete their less-than-flattering article about run flats… here is an archived version.

Ride quality – meh

The first 5,000 miles on run flats are okay. No problems. But after 5,000 miles or so, run-flat tires get noisy. And the expected lifespan of run flats is less than 25,000 at the max. This means we (usually) have to buy another full set of tires before we turn in our lease – even with a 24-month lease.

At least with regular tires, there is a great chance the original tires will have enough tread left to turn in without needing to be replaced.

“I really want this car…”

So now what. How do we lease a new car that we REALLY want and deal with this thorny run-flat issue?

If you are a client of mine, log in and look for my post about run-flat tires. I have a nifty trick to swap out run-flat tires with regular tires (and make the leasing company happy at the same time).