BMW Run Flat Tires Test
John Goreham's picture

We put BMW run-flat tires to the test and give them a thumbs-down

Run-Flat tires are standard on most BMWs. Why we think you should avoid them, and a selection of other opinions on the subject.

We recently had an unplanned opportunity to put run flat tires to the test. Our impromptu test vehicle was a 2013 BMW X3 xDrive 28i crossover. During a Sunday trip to a park we had a puncture that gave us the chance to see how a run flat preforms while driving deflated, as well as explore the repair/replacement options and see how they might compare to other road hazard management options like a full size spare or temporary spare. We learned quite a bit from the experience and hope you find this information helpful if you’re considering a vehicle with run-flat tires.

We first noticed the flat when we re-entered the vehicle because the car told us the front left tire was low via the information screen. A system like this is now government-mandated on all modern cars. Hoping it was just low, and not completely flat, we looked at it closely and could see it was definitely flat. Moving the car slowly with the window down resulted in the crunchy sound of a flat tire and the feeling was noticeably wiggly and sloppy. The sound was so much of a concern we opted to call BMW via the car’s SOS button. After reading, re-reading, and then re-reading the VIN about 6 times to the BMW representative after they already knew us from our name and model number, not to mention the account we called from (frustrating), the person at the other end told us to ignore the sounds and feelings and drive it under 50 miles, and under 50 miles per hour, to wherever we wanted to go. She said as long as we didn’t smell burning rubber not to worry. Off we went.

Run flat tires work by using a much more robust sidewall construction. The stiffer sidewall is able to support the uninflated tire temporarily. However, driving on the tire without air pressure destroys it. In their marketing, makers of run flats try to compare older tire technology to their new, lower-profile tires with the stiffened sidewalls, and claim some safety benefits. We are skeptical. Blow-outs and complete tire failures on new, lower-profile, modern tires (not run-flats) are extremely rare.

Update - Read What J.D. Power and Associates found out about Run Flat Customer Satisfaction and replacement frequency - Added March 27, 2015

My passenger input a Nav course home (14 miles) that did not use freeways. The excellent BMW Nav system made this pretty easy to do, although we did have to wait a few minutes while it would only display a warning message about the tire. As we drove, my passenger also called the BMW dealership the car is serviced at. To its credit the dealership did answer, but since it was Sunday, they could not help us in any way. Take note of that. Next, my passenger looked up the local tire place she services her Honda Fit. It was also closed. We looked for a third place along our route home, also closed. Our plan became, “let’s get it home and then deal with the issue Monday morning.”

Driving BMW On a Run-Flat Tire
The feel while driving the BMW X3 xDrive 28i crossover with the deflated run-flat was just what one might expect. Sloppy, pulling to the side of the flat, and pretty apparent something major was up. It would be very hard to ignore this even if the dash wasn’t constantly telling us about the issue. We looked in the owner’s manual, which is the size of three Korans, and in the section under flat tires, it had a note about the 50/50 miles driving, and that was pretty much it. I mainly wanted to know if I should try to re-inflate the tire. I figured that would help, but I wanted to also make sure it would not cause a rupture of the sidewall. I saw a gas station with an air hose and pulled in. I checked the pressure and it was “0.” I pumped it up to 45 psi. Driving off the car felt dramatically better, but still slightly odd. 4 miles later we were again flat. I found a second station with a lousy air hose and put in about 20 psi. Again it felt better than flat.

The sounds of the car on the flat were the most alarming. It sounds like rubber crunching and is pretty loud. I ignored it. Keeping our speed steady and slow (about the 30 to 35 MPH speed limit) we got the car home OK.

Dealing With the Run-Flat Repair
The BMW dealer was much farther away than the local tire chains, so a local place became our repair plan. Travelling to the BMW dealer would have taken us close to our limit of 50 miles and it was also out of the way for our Monday work plans. Calling around we found that a local Town Fair Tire chain only 6 miles away had the ability to replace our Pirelli Cinturato P7 245/50/18 run flat. Here is the first point we wish to make. This was a puncture from a nail in the middle of the tread. If we had a spare we could have easily put on the spare, driven home and then to a tire place to have the puncture repaired properly (inside patch/plug, tire-off method). That would have either been free, or done for a nominal fee of less than $50. Instead, we are now looking at replacing a tire.

Town Fair and also Tire Rack, which we looked at as a reference, had pretty much the same price for the rubber. The tire itself costs about $350. Let’s stop here for a moment. We compared a best seller, non-run-flat Michelin of the exact same size and specs, and it cost only $200. So the run flat, in addition to requiring a replacement instead of repair, is also dramatically more expensive. Remember too that the closest tire place we tried does not handle run-flats at all.

I used my portable pump to pump up the tire before setting out the 8 miles back to the tire store. The ride there was the same as my previous trip.

Comparison of Run-Flat to Other Options
My 2007 Highlander Sport could have been the car taken that day. It is exactly the same size as the X3, but with more interior room and more cargo room. That vehicle has a full-size matching spare on a matching rim. Had we been in that vehicle, my matching spare would have gone on, I could have thrown the flat tire in the back, or put it in the spare tire well under the rear of the car, and then had it repaired at my leisure for less than $50. Or I could have replaced it. I just bought tires for that car and they cost $130 each including tax. This run-flat scheme is supposed to be progress?

Another alternative would have been a temporary spare. This is the direction most manufacturers are now going with most models. At least with this option I would have probably saved the cost of the new tire. Also, had we ripped a side wall from hitting a road defect, the run-flat would not have been an option and we would have had to be towed twice. Once home, and then again to the tire place the next workday.

Why Do Manufacturers Use Run Flats?
Manufacturers claim that run-flats save both space and weight. Baloney. I checked the specs of the Pirelli run-flat. Its weight is 33 pounds. The non-flat Michelin with the same specs is 26 pounds. That means a temporary spare weighing around 28 pounds would have been a zero-weight added solution compared to the run-flats. Also, a car this size with its massive cargo area can afford the small wafer of a temporary spare, or even a full-size spare, as my Highlander proves.

Conclusion – Avoid Run-Flat Tires
Manufacturers are doing everything in their power to save money, increase their profits, and to do the best they possibly can on the EPA mileage estimation test. That is understandable. However, it is hard to justify this move away from customer convenience and customer value in terms of affordable tires and repair options. This author’s opinion is that run-flat tires, and models that use them exclusively, should be avoided by consumers. We are not alone. J.D. Power surveyed customers about tires and found that customers scored cars with run-flats significantly lower than those with conventional tires. Some customers who bought run-flat tires have even sued BMW in a successful class action suit.

Other Sources of Information:
Should I buy a wheel and tire warranty?
The free run-flat tire road hazard warranty your tire shop forgot to tell you about
Will BMW move from run-flat tires to Michelin airless tweels?
Autoguide – Why You Should or Should Not Buy Run-Flat Tires
Jalopnik – Everyone Hates Run Flat Tires
Consumer Reports - My luxurious BMW 750Li run-flat nightmare
BMW's Run-Flat page

Images by John Goreham

Subscribe to Torque News on YouTube.

Follow Torque News on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.


I think you are missing the point of run flats. Run flats are for maximum cornering performance. The side walls are stiff and do not flex making no delay when cornering hard, no waiting for the side wall to flex and then bite in the corner. Used for sports and performance cars.
I live in Australia. Many times I have been driving from Sydney to Adelaide and return by using Stuart Highway and the distance for each way is about 1450 klms. I drove 3 BMW cars already but all are 320i since 2005 just because of their good handling and not because of the run flat tires are just no good. Only small towns on the way and hard to get the run flat tires. Now I have changed the tires to the normal ones and put one spare tire at the back.
My X3 3.5i will need new tires soon. I priced up RF $477 each and Non RF $ 274 each. The tire man then warned me that I really should not mix RF & Non RF together OK I agree. He also said the car was made for RFs and I should think very seriously about not using Non RF ? What do you people think? Big diff in price.
We own a BMW X3 28d. Had to leave the highway after a tire pressure warning came up. Headed to nearest gas station with a compressor and attempted to inflate the flat tire without any luck. The air was leaving as fast as it was entering. We drove about 12 miles home and called a tow truck in the morning as this happened on a Sunday evening. Tow truck delivered me and the car to our nearest dealer and was advised by service that I hadn't maintained the air pressure...Thanks but not true.the tire was destroyed and to be replaced along with the other rear tire after only 26000miles of mostly Hwy miles. A few weeks ago the same thing happened to a fronte, same story tire destroyed heading to a tire shop about 20 miles away, This time I bit the bullet and had all four tires removed and replaced with radials for about the same cost as just replacing 2 front tires with run spare now but a lot more confident in my ride.added bonus, the fuel consumption improved by about 10%. Will never, never buy another BMW as long as they include run flat tires. They should follow the Audi method....deflated compact spare to save space and an onboard compressor.
Run-flats are a scam, you are complete fools for believing the hype. Stop for a moment and realize most cars do not have run-flats on them, how many of those do you see on the side of the road with flat tires? Not many. Run flats are a solution for a problem that doesn't exist, in fact they cause more issues than they solve. Allow a run-flat to run under inflated just a bit and because it's reinforced sidewalls don't expand to support the weight of the tire they generate far more internal heat. The generated heat damages the integrity of the fabric that hold the tire together so when it's properly inflated, it fails. A regular tire doesn't do this, run it underinflated and it just expands it's footprint to support the weight of the vehicle, no is done unless the tire completely un-inflates. So while a run-flat handles full deflation better than a conventional tire, they actually are more likely to "run-flat" than a regular tire and given the same absent minded care given a conventional tire (ie we always forget to air up our tires when cold temperatures arrive in the winter) the run-flat is more likely to pull money out of your pocket - which I am sure BMW knows well.
Run flats will be a deal breaker for any future car I own period! If you are going to ruin the tire by driving on it after it it is deflated, why not buy a can of tire sealant for a few bucks, pump it into the punctured tire and drive to the tire shop to buy a much less expensive, better handling, more comfortable tire. Run flat = $200.00 - $500.00 wasted if you drive on it with no air as intended. Conventional tire = $100.00 - $300.00 and almost any tire shop will repair it unless the damage is in the sidewall.
I had the run flat blow on my 2011 328i on the free way today 40 miles from home, no tow company could go through my insurance until the next morning and I obviously didn't have a spare. My very last option was drive home on the back roads regardless of how much I didn't want to, how skeptical I was. I only went 40 mph, all 40 miles and made it safely, I was mind blown when I looked at the tire after I got home and it literally looked the same as it did when started riding on the flat!
I bought a 750 IL and had it three months. I had a flat in Dallas Texas which is 330 miles from home. I could get no help from BMW or a tire company because it was Saturday night and everybody was "closed". Next tire to be found in Dallas. Left car parked, rented a car. Three days later they got a tire. Flew back to Dallas. So far......$1200 for a flat. Took the damn thing back with their run flat tires and no jack and traded for a Cadillac with a full sized spare. Those run flat tires are worthless to anybody that lives 100 miles from a dealer,,...or in this case.....10 miles from a dealer.
I was sort of knowing before hand that the BMW X3 is going to get stranded if a tyre is flat as the 2009 X3 only has a space saver spare and the 2015 has no spare. The way out of this is to get a tyre repairing kit from and a mobility kit from BMW. The repairing kit enable you to repair the tyre without taking the tyre off the car and the mobility kit enables you to inflate the tyre on the spot. I also add a pair of long nose pliers for pulling the nail out and a big handle round file to enlarge the nail hole so the repairing rubber plug can be inserted easily. I have repaired flat tyres more than 10 times without too much stress. I'd admit you do need to be a bit handy to do the job.
I just replaced all 4 tires on my Z4,because the run flats were making my Z drive and sound like an old Yugo on a dirt road! I purchased a tire repair kit and a 18 volt Ryobi air compressor and then replaced the tires (that still had at least 10M miles left on them)with Continental all seasons. The ride and handling has improved greatly! The greatest improvement is the run-flat noise is gone. Should have done this,long ago. This is the way a BMW Z4 is supposed to operate and sound.
Thanks for reply. Mine was a 750 IL and besides those blasted tires it had the worst ‘auto’ air since my 1981 Fleetwood. Went back to Mercedes and have been happy ever since. No comparison in my book especially massage seats and air. Appreciate feedback.
I call bs because I just now got home on a runflat driving at 45 mph also for over 100 miles. That is all.
I have a 2014 750 LI, which I bought new. My 3rd BMW and my last if they only have RF's. First time I had a flat it was a nightmare. Spent 3 days waiting on a tire. I ripped those pieces of junk off and bought a set of regular Continentals. My plan is to call Triple A and have a tow truck haul me off to the nearest tire shop if I get a flat.
I drive an 08 BMW 335i with run-flat tires. I feel like I should come to rft's defense just a bit. While they may have some cons, I became really glad for mine when I hit a major pot hole on interstate after dark on a rainy evening. Directly after the slam the screen came on saying I had a low tire. I kept on driving wondering if the sensor may have just been triggered rather than the tire actually being flat. I really couldn't feel much difference in the performance until I slowed down. I checked it out and here it had blown out the sidewall. Thanks to a rft I was able to drive the rest of the way home that night unlike the three cars on the beside the road that night.
Have a flat 200 miles from any assistance at 11pm. Those tires are worthless
I have had the 6th blow out over a period of 4/5 years with RUNFLAT tyres Included are 2 cracked alloy wheels which had to be replaced. My advice is to go nowhere near RUNFLAT tyres BMW do not wish to know Tyre manufacturers and local authorities ditto. Runflat tyres on any sunken drain cover and irregular surfaces as you go over them on badly maintained roadways in UK are so solid there is no absortion effect as on NORMAL tyres.FULL of AIR and very flexible I think BMW did not do there homework on runfalts properly. DO NO GO. THERE. BEWARE.
Had my first experience with a run flat puncture. Ran over a sharp piece of metal and put a 5 inch gash in the tread face of the left rear tire on my 2015 C300 . Never felt any ride compromise and the only thing that alerted me issue was a warning that the tire had "0" pressure. Was able to drive home at 45mph without feeling that I had lost any control. With no spare or jack I didn't feel incapacitated in any way. The tire did its job and I would not hesitate in continuing to use run flats. Price point on the Pirellis was comparable to any good quality all season tire. Next day new tire was on and back on the road. People say that the ride is too harsh. I beg to differ. My car's suspension is tuned to these types of tires. One thing to point out I stayed with the stock 17" tire which gave me a little more sidewall. I have had spinal surgery and ride comfort in my main priority. These tires were very comfortable and quiet with great handling in all weather conditions including light snow. All wheel drive just adds icing to the cake. I will continue to buy run flats because of this incident.
Well you should have been 100 miles from the nearest dealer, tire station, wrecker service or any other form or help and your experience would have been completely different. Not everybody lives within driving distance home. I hate the damn things and will never buy another car with them as long as I live.
I have a 530 and last night had my fourth blowout in 13 months, all from unseen potholes. Not having a spare or even a doughnut can put you in a dangerous position, not to mention the absurd cost of replacing these tires. I was going to call BMW but after seeing these other posts I won't even waste my time
Great article and advice. I have had three vehicles with run flat tires. With great fortune, never had a flat. But sadly any tire I replaced only lasted, nominally 30k miles. I plan to replace my BMW X3 with great regular tires. I agree, the math makes absolutely no sense to buy run flat tires, even if you don’t have a spare. Some of your options with regular tires and without a spare include, 1. Call a tow truck have car towed and tire repaired. Cost $200. I have towing free of charge with $2 premium on my insurance. You can add this anytime to your premium. 2. Carry a can of temporary flat repair and drive to garage to have flat fixed. Cost $60. 3. Drive with flat and with hazards on for a very short distance, destroy tire and replace. Be cautious doing this as it is dangerous and you may damage your rim. So do give great consideration to doing this. I would not do it unless it is only a simply puncture. Cost $250. Given these options, your cost will always be less then $300 to replace a run flat as they absolutely cannot be repaired no matter what anyone tells you. I choose option 2 and will carry two cans of best rated temporary flat repair.
Cans of tire sealant are useless if you put a large gash on the tread surface of the tire. The run flats on my 2015 Mercedes did what they are supposed to do. When my incident happened I was traveling about 50 mph when a warning from the TPMS sensor alerted me that my left rear tire had zero pressure. If I didn't see the warning I would have never known I had an issue. Drop another 10 miles home without any loss of control. I'm 75 and the thought that I could get safely home without any incident was not only reassuring but worth the price of these tires.
Run flats saved my ass in Manhattan on he FDR drive. Period.
Glad you are OK Jasper. Tell us more about how run flats helped you and why a conventional low profile tire would have caused you some problems.