Run-flat tires explained

Run-flat tires explained

March 22nd 2015 | Benjamin Yong

Almost as long as cars have had wheels, they’ve also had spare tires stashed somewhere onboard for the eventual inevitability of a flat tire. In some of today’s luxury vehicles, however, manufacturers like BMW and Infiniti have traded the donut spare for more cargo space by using run-flat tire technology. How does it work? Find out below.

Purpose

Run-flat tires allow you to do exactly that: continue running on them even after you’ve experienced a flat. But it’s not meant to be a permanent solution. The idea is that you get to a service shop or garage as soon as you can to have the tire repaired* if possible, or replaced entirely.

Once punctured, run-flats have limitations on how fast and how far you can continue to drive. Every model is different, and it’s best to consult your owner’s manual or the tire maker’s specifications. For example, on the BMW 3 Series sedan, drivers can continue on for up to another 150 kilometres.

Design

Not all run-flat tires are created equal —on the BMW 3 Series, the tires feature reinforced sidewalls. The thicker rubber provides the extra bit of support needed to allow you to get you safely to your destination. Click here to watch a short video.

Another type of common run-flat design utilizes what is called a support ring. Rather than thicker sidewalls, there is a ring comprised of a hard material underneath the tread capable of temporarily bearing the weight of the vehicle even in a reduced air pressure situation.

Regardless of the design, all run-flat setups require a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) in place, which are a series of sensors that communicate with the vehicle’s computer to alert the driver of a puncture. This is critical so that you don’t continue driving without realizing a flat tire has taken place.

* Repair of a punctured run-flat tire should only be undertaken after inspected thoroughly by a professional and deemed safe to do so. Generally, repair is only possible with a puncture of less than six millimetres in depth, and on support ring equipped models, if the ring hasn’t sustained excessive damage. 

About the Author

Benjamin Yong is a freelance journalist and communications professional living in Richmond, B.C. He is often found writing about cars and the auto industry, amongst other things, or driving around in his work-in-progress 1990 Mazda MX-5.

Twitter: @b_yong
Instagram: @popuplights