Ask the Best and Brightest: Die Run-Flats, Die?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

I’ve never hid my contempt for run-flat tires. And for good reason. When testing a BMW 5-Series equipped with the technology, the driving experience was so bad I returned it to the dealer to try a car without the tough-as-nails (and then some), tram-lining donuts. Sure enough, the “normal” tires delivered infinitely superior, brand-faithful ride and handling. I also got caught-up in the Honda Odyssey – Michelin Pax class action debacle; I shelled-out huge money for two sets of tires so stiff they’d make French soufflé makers envious. Autoweek recently reported that run-flats are in retreat, accounting for less then one percent of the U.S. market. That’s one percent too many—and not just because of the expense or compromised driving dynamics. As this email from rspaight indicates:

I bought a 3-series recently, and it was equipped with a set of run-flats and nowhere to put a spare. BMW M cars have conventional tires, no spare, and a can of tire sealant. Same with Porsches. Corvettes? Run-flats. MINIs? Run-flats. As I leafed through the latest Car & Driver, I saw that both the Taurus SHO and new Cadillac SRX said “none” in the space next to “Spare Tire.” It seems that spare tires are becoming increasingly vestigial as car evolution progresses. Is it crazy to think this is over-optimistic? The attached photo shows the mayhem my friend’s Cavalier experienced in an Interstate construction zone a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think either run-flats or a can of sealant would have helped much in this case. My friend spent ten minutes putting on the donut and was safely on his way with his wife and kids. As it should be?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Stuki Stuki on Aug 10, 2009

    Yes! Kill! Kill! Kill! My 335 has them, and they suck. I test drove the Odyssey with them back in the day (If I remember correctly, you needed to get them to get a sunroof, or something. Talk about easy pickings for Toyota :) ) On the 335, they make the ride crashy, and the whole car feel slow witted. A bit like Mohammad Ali in ski boots. You can feel there is potential in the chassis, but the stiff, heavy footwear is holding it back. They are also fragile. Hit any sharp midcorner bump at any kind of speed, and the outside sidewalls go limp, bulge, and the tire needs replacement. And I'm not talking about driving like Baruth, either. As bad as this is on a sedan, exactly who decided these were a good choice for a supposed off roader, like the X5, is truly perplexing. I can just imagine letting some air out for a rough section, and then getting to a spot where most of that 6,000lb vehicle's weight rests on one a rock via of these sidewalls. An expensive ouch, for sure. Possibly to reduce the crashiness, suspension bushings seem to have been softened to the point where it affects the cars tracking ability in less than glass smooth sweepers, where the 335 feels like a 70's Cadillac compared to the M3. And all that to save someone the hassle of pushing the button one of those goo inflaters? Once every two years or so, on average? Or 90% of the time, even just calling AAA. Somebody needs to get their priorities in order.

  • Nicodemus Nicodemus on Aug 10, 2009

    I remember thinking when the Mini was the first car ever to have runflats what a great idea it was in principle, why should you carry around spare parts. I have blown more coolant hoses than tyres, but I don't carry them around. The execution seems a little poor in most cases, probably accentuated by how horrible the ride is on even a standardly shod BMW. But nevertheless basically the idea of a tyre that is impervious to going flat is sound.

  • Andy D Andy D on Aug 11, 2009

    I'm shocked to read that so many of the B and B cannot change a tire. As for roadside assistance, meh, I have AAA Gold, but can deal with a flat waaay faster than their response time. As for my fellow Bay Staters, AAA does not cover the Mass Pike. 2 towing outfits have exclusive rights.

  • Niky Niky on Aug 11, 2009

    Yes, we have cellphones, and fix-a-flat and 24 hour towing services, but a good spare is something you'll appreciate driving through the mountains in the middle of the night, stuck in a dead-zone, with the nearest town a hundred miles or more away. Granted, that only happened to me once... but it sucked. - Personally, runflats over fix-a-flat... but regular tires and a spare over either. I even bought an extra space saver, just in case, for those extra long trips. ;) And you should never let a tire shop overtorque your lugnuts. It's just not good for them.