When winter rolls around, every driver starts to think about how to best prepare their vehicle for snow, ice, and cold temperatures. One question that often comes up is whether run-flat tires are a good choice for winter driving conditions. As you probably know, run-flat tires are designed to resist deflation and enable you to continue driving even if the tire loses air pressure. But does this capability actually help in wintry weather?
Here’s a quick answer:
Run-flat tires enable continued driving if you get a flat, but the stiff sidewalls don’t grip well on snow and ice. The ride is also rougher. While convenient, run-flat tires sacrifice too much winter traction and handling to recommend them where snowfall is moderate to heavy. For these conditions, you’re better off with high-quality winter tires without run-flat features along with roadside assistance if a flat occurs.
How Run-Flat Tires Work
To understand if run-flats are good for winter, you first need to know what makes them different from regular tires. Run-flat tires have a reinforced sidewall that is strong enough to prevent the tire from completely collapsing when air pressure is lost. This allows you to drive up to 50 miles at speeds under 50 mph before needing to replace the tire.
Most run-flat tires also have support rings inside the wheel that help keep the tire’s shape. So if you get a flat, the tire avoids coming completely off the rim right away due to these supports. This gives you crucial time to pull off the road safely.
Pros of Run-Flats in Winter
At first glance, the ability to drive with a flat tire seems ideal for winter road hazards. After all, who wants to change a flat on the side of a snowy, icy highway? Run-flat tires allow you to drive slowly to a safe place for repairs. And the reinforced sidewalls provide extra puncture resistance against winter debris like nails or glass.
However, there are a few reasons why run-flat tires may not be the best choice for winter driving:
Cons of Run-Flats in Winter
- Reduced snow/ice traction – The stiffer sidewalls of run-flat tires don’t grip as well on snow and ice. This is because they lack flexibility to conform to the road surface. So you may experience more sliding.
- Rougher ride quality – To support weight without air pressure, run-flats have less give and flex. This leads to a bumpier, less comfortable ride. Harsh roads feel even worse in the cold.
- Can’t be retreaded – Once the tread wears down, you’ll have to purchase brand-new tires since run-flats can’t be retreaded like regular tires. This gets expensive, especially if you drive a lot annually.
- More expensive – Due to advanced materials and manufacturing, run-flat tires cost quite a bit more than comparable standard tires.
Key Factors to Consider
When deciding if you should use run-flat tires in winter conditions, keep these key factors in mind:
- Where you live – In areas with moderate winter weather, run-flats may perform decently well. But in regions with frequent snowstorms or icy conditions, the traction downsides often outweigh the benefits.
- Type of vehicle – Performance cars and vehicles with stiff suspensions already ride rougher. Combine that with rigid run-flat tires for an especially bumpy, teeth-rattling experience.
- Budget – The higher upfront cost plus inability to be retreaded makes run-flats expensive over the long run. Make sure you can afford new tires when needed.
- Tire tread – Make sure to choose winter-rated run-flat tires with an aggressive tread pattern. This improves snow/ice grip while retaining the run-flat capability.
While run-flat tires seem ideal to avoid wintertime flats, the realities of how they perform in cold weather and on icy roads leave a lot to be desired. The cons outweigh the pros for drivers in moderate to extreme winter climates. For these conditions, you’re better off using top-quality winter tires without run-flat features. Combine them with roadside assistance coverage, and safely change any flats from the comfort of your car or outside help. This way you get the winter traction and ride comfort you need without the high costs and handling downsides of run-flat tires.
Winter Tire Recommendations
Here are some top-rated winter tire models that offer excellent snow and ice traction without the need for run-flat capability:
|Great handling and braking on snow. Extremely quiet.
|Solid ice/snow performance. Comfortable ride.
|Ultra Grip Ice WRT
|Beefy traction lugs. Long-lasting tread.
|Balanced grip and handling.
|Winter Sottozero 3
|Responsive handling on slippery roads.
Keep in mind, equipping your car with proper winter tires is only half the battle. You also need to adjust your driving by slowing down, allowing longer stopping distance, and avoiding sudden acceleration/braking on snow and ice. Drive defensively and be prepared with emergency supplies in case you do get stuck. Follow these winter driving safety tips, and you’ll have peace of mind no matter what weather rolls in.
Do I still need a spare tire if I have run-flat tires?
Yes, you should still have a spare tire even with run-flat tires. The reinforced sidewalls only allow you to drive up to 50 miles before needing replacement. A spare ensures you can continue driving if you get a flat in a remote area.
How can I tell if my tires are run-flat?
Check the tire sidewalls. Run-flat tires are labeled as such, and you may see letters like “RSC” (Reinforced Sidewall Construction) or “ZS” (Zehntner System). The sidewalls often have a convex bulge as well from the support ring inside.
What’s the downside to using studded snow tires instead of run-flats in winter?
Studded tires provide the best ice grip but cause more road noise and wear faster on dry pavement. Swapping winter/non-winter tires seasonally can also get tiresome. Run-flat tires provide convenience but sacrifice winter traction.
Are there any downsides to driving long distances on a run-flat tire without air pressure?
Yes, the tire sidewall and supportive inner ring can overheat if driven too far or fast without air pressure. This can lead to irreversible damage. Always follow the tire’s stated drive-on limitations.
How can I improve run-flat traction in snow and ice?
Use winter run-flat tires with more aggressive tread designs. Maintain proper air pressure – under-inflation reduces the tire’s ability to grip snow. And avoid sudden acceleration/braking which can break traction easier with stiff run-flat tires. Slowing down helps as well.