What's the deal with run-flat tires?
July 25, 2013 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a new 2013 Mini Cooper S. I researched the car beforehand but didn't put much thought into the tires. Well, the financing guy told me that the tires are run-flats, adding that if I were to get a flat, I'd have to have the whole tire replaced as "they can't be fixed." He also told me they're $400 each. Now, he was trying to sell me an extended warranty at the time, so I let this go in one ear and out the other, but now I have some questions. (More below!)

I've Googled this like crazy, but I'm coming up with a wide variety of answers that conflict.

1) Is it true that run-flats can't be fixed?

2) Would it be possible to replace a ruined run-flat with a regular tire? Or would I have to replace all four at the same time if I did this? Or can a Mini Cooper S even use regular tires? (I read one isolated comment on an auto forum that said the entire wheel would have to be replaced, but that doesn't sound right to me.)

3) I saw an admittedly older article that said run-flats have half the life that regular tires do. Yikes! Is that true?

4) What else should I know about these tires? I don't really have a trusty mechanic I can turn to for these questions yet.
posted by Gee, June! to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm on my second mini cooper and hate the run flats. They're a firmer ride than normal tires and more expensive to replace.

Not sure if they can be fixed or not - never tried. I believe you'd have to replace at least both front or rear tires at once, if not all four. You can't just replace one tire. Using regular tires would make the ride a little smoother (less bumpy) but then you wouldn't have a spare if you got a flat tire.

Hope that helps.
posted by kdern at 3:24 PM on July 25, 2013

I found this article that might be helpful: MINI Cooper owner finds the solution for run-flat tire problem There's a pros and cons at the end.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 3:27 PM on July 25, 2013

This may be one of the places where using "tyre" in your search queries may broaden things out. Lots of people have switched out to non-runflats, though it's something you'd want to do as a full set.
posted by holgate at 3:32 PM on July 25, 2013

You may want to double-check the terms of any extended warranty that claims to cover damage to tires on a new car. Every new car I've bought has had separate warranty coverage from the tire manufacturer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:38 PM on July 25, 2013

Best answer: You can't replace a single run-flat with a regular tire. Run-flats are significantly heavier, thicker, and stiffer than regular tires, as you can see in this photo. (That's why they ride more firmly than regular ones.) You can definitely replace run-flats with regular tires without swapping wheels; my car came with RFTs stock, and when they wore out I switched to non-RFTs.

As far as mileage goes, there's a complicating factor: the compound of the tire. Since I got my car with the sport package, it came with high-performance summer tires, which even if they were non-RFT would wear more quickly than all-season tires. It's something to consider when you're looking at replacing the tires; you'll have more options if you decide to ditch the RFTs.
posted by asterix at 4:23 PM on July 25, 2013

Best answer: You can replace your run flats with non run flats but you have to do all four at the same time. A good set of tires from Pep Boys* will cost you about $400 for what you need (195/55/r16) and a decent set can be had for $300-350 but skimping on tires is never something I've really thought was a good idea.

*I'd go to a local shop personally but Pep Boys is currently running a buy 3 get 1 free special so it's a good deal if you don't already have a tire person.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:07 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, guys! I didn't get the extended warranty (I never do), and I'm pretty sure now that when these wear out, I'll just pay the price to replace them all with regular tires.
posted by Gee, June! at 9:08 PM on July 25, 2013

Bear in mind that driving with neither runflats nor a spare, getting a puncture means you will be stranded at least until you can get a towtruck to show up. Try to avoid relying on it for emergency hospital trips or transporting organs for donation or anything :)

My understanding is that runflats can be repaired, but it depends on the damage. A nail, the hole can be plugged, anything much larger (a rip, a large hole), no. The repair is supposedly more likely to be possible the less you have driven on the flat tire. If you drive on a punctured runflat for a hundred miles at freeway speeds, they won't repair it.

My suspicion is also that the $400 is mostly because they're high performance tires, less because they're runflats. Getting an equivalently high-performance regular tire might not save you all that much. If you were saving a lot of money on regular tires, I'm thinking you'd merely be getting inferior tires.
posted by anonymisc at 11:38 PM on July 25, 2013

Best answer: I'm on my second Mini and don't have your specific answer but there's lots of good discussion over at northamericanmotoring.com
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:27 AM on July 26, 2013

Best answer: Consumer Reports gave their take following a new (this spring) J.D. Power survey of owners on their experience with run-flats.

Basically, it's a trade-off.
posted by dhartung at 1:46 AM on July 26, 2013

Best answer: I had a similar experience with a different car - which in addition to having run flat tires has no spare and no room for a spare. The sales guy spent an enormous amount of time convincing me that the latest generation of run flat tires is great. They are cheaper, work better, can be serviced by most shops, etc.

Immediately following the finance guy told me how expensive they are, how there are several failure modes and generally how I was putting my family at risk not having an extended tire warranty...

I said no thanks for the warranty and told him he should get his story straight with the sales team...
posted by NoDef at 5:44 AM on July 26, 2013

I am on my third Mini and have had one of the run-flat tires repaired when it had a nail puncture. We got a separate wheel & tire insurance plan when we bought our last two Minis because we live in NYC and driving around NYC and New Jersey roads is... not kind to wheels & tires. That insurance has been more than worth it because it covered repairs to and replacement of the wheels when they got kissed by curbs, etc. The run-flats do make for a stiffer ride, but as others have said, it's a trade-off that we're willing to make.
posted by bedhead at 8:22 AM on July 26, 2013

Best answer: I have a BMW that has run-flats and I loathe them with the fire of a thousand suns. It's worse because the front and rear are different sizes, so they can't be rotated--and until recently there were only Summer-rated tires available, which meant not only did they cost a bomb, but they wore out at 25k or sooner. Luckily you can now get all-season run-flats in that size.

Also, we just bought a Mini, with run-flats, but I made sure to look into the cost and availability of that particular size (16"). We got the standard, not the S, though, so I think you have 17s.

One more tip: Never get your run-flats through the dealer. Get them from tirerack.com and have them shipped to a local installer. You will save lots o dough.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:55 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Based on my experience with my Mini, I'd strongly recommend you see if you can get that extended warranty. Mine paid for itself pretty quickly, but tires and other "consumables" weren't covered so make sure you check on that. The sales guy at my dealership tells me "they're coming out with a new kind of run-flat this year that'll be much cheaper" every time I go in for service and he tries to sell me another Mini, but that's been going on for a couple years now. On average I get abut 18K out of a set of tires, and that's with the last 3K getting progressively worse feathering until I'm finally fed up and go spring for a new set. After the first set I got pretty aggressive on getting the alignment checked/adjusted frequently.
posted by Runes at 11:10 AM on July 26, 2013

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