What do I need to know about run flat tyres?

 

Run flat TyreWhen purchasing your next vehicle, there are a number of options to consider when assessing which car will best suit your needs. Technology developments in recent years have led to an increase in the choice of options available for car buyers. One such option that’s becoming increasingly more common in the used car market is run flat tyres. We explore what run flat tyres are, their benefits and drawbacks, along with which popular makes and models feature the technology.

Run flat tyres are designed to work for a limited amount of time when there is no air pressure in the tyre. This means that if you’re driving and suffer a puncture, there isn’t the need to pull over and immediately change it or call out your breakdown service. This may be particularly useful for families as having to pull over on a busy road to change a tyre with small children can be a daunting prospect for many.

Most of them are usable for around 50 miles at speeds of up to 50mph once a puncture has occurred, giving drivers plenty of time to get home or to the nearest garage (unless voyaging through the Sahara). When buying a used car it’s important to be aware of the type of tyres fitted and other tyre options available, as it can affect your driving experience. If you’re planning on using your car for trips away, run flat tyres can be beneficial as should you be unlucky enough to incur a puncture, there isn’t the need to empty your boot in order to access your spare wheel. Again, this could be a big advantage for families.

The science behind run flat tyres

The technology behind run flat tyres has been around for over 30 years, with the first run flat tyre developed by Goodyear in 1978. Since then the technology has improved, with the Chevrolet Corvette being the first production model vehicle with run flat tyre options when it went on sale in 1994.

Run flat tyres have reinforced side walls. This means that unlike regular tyres, which lose air once punctured, run flat tyres have tough rubber inserts. If punctured, they maintain the shape of the tyre and support the vehicle temporarily, allowing it to be driven on safely for a limited time.

Reasons for switching to them

The main purpose for developing run flat tyres, and the advantage of looking for them when buying a used car, is that they remove the need for a spare tyre. Spare tyres take up space that could be better used for other purposes. For potential car buyers with green driving in mind, run flat tyres offer the advantage of weight saving so can offer a more economical drive.

They also provide the added safety of being able to drive (for a limited distance) after a puncture. This avoids being left stranded in the dark or middle of nowhere if you don’t have a spare. Plus the majority of run flat tyres are almost identical to conventional ones, so have similar strength, lifespan, grip and reliability.

Disadvantages

While a run flat tyre removes the need for a spare, once punctured it cannot be repaired, as being driven on may compromise its strength. This can make replacing a punctured run flat tyre more expensive than with other tyre options. If you’re buying a used car that comes with conventional tyres then it can be worth sticking with them, as they are cheaper to replace.

One of the main complaints many drivers of vehicles equipped with run flat tyres have is that they create a more uncomfortable ride. The reinforced side wall does not form as soft a cushion, and they are not found on many sports cars, which suggests some manufacturers are aware of this.

Considerations before changing to run flat tyres

When buying a used car you may discover it comes with run flat tyres already. The number of manufacturers equipping them has increased in recent years, with BMW and MINI leading the pack. The majority of BMW models from 2009 onwards are fitted with them after a deal to collaborate with Bridgestone was agreed that year.

Run flat tyres should not be fitted if you intend to tow a caravan or trailer, as the added weight can cause stress damage. If you’re looking for a used car to accommodate towing, we’d recommend considering a diesel 4-wheel drive or an estate with an engine size of at least two litres. When fitting run flat tyres to an older vehicle you must check it has a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS), as this alerts the driver to a puncture, so they are aware it needs changing. Plus you will need to inspect the vehicle’s suspension, as changes may need making due to their stiffer construction.

Alternative options

The main alternative tyre options are to stick with conventional tyres, or switch from a car equipped with run flat tyres to them. However, this could affect the handling of your car, so it’s important to contact the manufacturer and your garage before making such a change.

This also brings up the problem of not having room to store a spare tyre, as the car will not have been created with one in mind. Therefore be sure to place a 12V compressor or foot pump and can of tyre weld in the boot in case of a puncture. There are certainly advantages to considering a car with run flat tyres for your next vehicle. However it’s worth noting down the pros and cons and assessing your individual circumstances to see if these are the right choice for you.

Image courtesy of iStock.

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