Have you ever wondered if you could upgrade your regular ole family car with some hardcore bulletproof tires, like you see in the movies? The idea of cruising around town protected from random gunfire or sharp objects sounds pretty appealing. But is it actually possible to install bulletproof tires on a normal car? And even if you could, should you?
Let’s take a realistic look at what “bulletproof” tires actually are, the options available, the costs and tradeoffs, and whether bulletproof tires make sense for the average driver. I’ll help you separate fact from fiction when it comes to armor for your wheels.
Here’s a quick answer:
No, bulletproof tires are a myth – “run-flat” tires provide only puncture resistance and limited ability to drive short distances if damaged. Upgrading to run-flats costs $1000+ per set and reduces ride quality, fuel economy, and handling. Carefully weigh the pros and cons based on your budget and driving needs before deciding if run-flat tires are worth it for your regular car.
What Does “Bulletproof” Actually Mean?
Before we go any further, we need to get something straight – there are no tires on the consumer market that are literally bulletproof, at least not for civilian vehicles. Don’t let the exaggerated marketing claims fool you.
Instead, tires advertised as “bulletproof” are really just ultra-reinforced run-flat tires designed to better withstand punctures and continue rolling even when damaged. The two main types are:
Run-flat inserts – These are inserts made of dense foam you place inside a normal tire. They provide some internal support in case the tire gets punctured. You can then drive about 50 miles at 50 mph to get to safety.
Self-supporting run-flat tires – These have reinforced sidewalls that are strong enough to prevent the tire from collapsing even when totally deflated. So you can drive around 200 miles at 55 mph with a puncture.
So calling these tires “bulletproof” is a bit of stretch. “Bullet-resistant” is much more accurate. For the rest of this article, I’ll refer to them as “run-flat tires” to avoid any confusion.
Why Would I Want Run-Flat Tires?
Now that we know run-flat tires aren’t actually impervious to bullets, why would you ever want them? There are some legitimate advantages:
Peace of mind – Let’s be honest, a major reason to get run-flat tires is simply for the peace of mind. Even though you’ll likely never encounter gunfire or roadside bombs, knowing you have that extra protection can provide comfort.
Prevent accidents – If you do suffer a catastrophic tire failure at highway speeds, it can easily cause an accident. Run-flats allow you to maintain control so you can safely pull over.
No need to immediately change a flat – With normal tires, a puncture means you’re stopped in your tracks until the spare is installed. Run-flat tires let you keep driving to a safe place for repairs.
Added protection for rough conditions – If you regularly drive in areas with lots of construction, potholes, or debris, run-flat tires provide extra reassurance against punctures. You’ll minimize the chances of getting stranded with a flat.
So for some drivers, the benefits are well worth it. But there are some definite downsides too.
What Are the Drawbacks of Run-Flat Tires?
Run-flat tires don’t provide bulletproofing without tradeoffs. Here are the biggest disadvantages you’ll have to consider:
Higher cost – A set of run-flat tires will cost significantly more than comparable standard tires, often two times as much or more. And you’ll still need to pay for installation and wheel balancing.
Rougher ride – The stiffer reinforced sidewalls mean run-flat tires don’t absorb bumps and dips as well. Your ride will feel somewhat harsher and less smooth.
Reduced handling – Along with the stiffer ride, your car’s handling will be impacted. Run-flats won’t grip and respond as precisely during sharp turns and maneuvers.
Lower fuel economy – The increased weight and rolling resistance of run-flat tires reduce your car’s fuel efficiency by a few percent. Expect to pay a bit more at the pump.
Can’t repair punctures – While run-flat tires allow you to drive with a puncture, most can’t actually be repaired if the hole is in the sidewall. You’ll still need a costly replacement.
Limited availability – Run-flat tires aren’t made in all common sizes, so you may have a hard time finding them for your car. Special wheels are also required.
As you can see, the tradeoffs are definitely real. Only you can decide if the benefits outweigh the downsides for your needs.
How Much Does Bulletproofing Your Tires Cost?
So exactly how much is this run-flat tire “bulletproofing” going to set you back? Here are some ballpark figures:
- A set of run-flat inserts for a standard sedan will cost $200-$500 for parts. You’ll also need installation and balancing which can run $150 or more.
- A set of complete run-flat tire and wheel packages for a typical crossover SUV will run $1,000-$2,500 installed.
- High-performance sports cars like a Porsche 911 can require run-flat tires costing $500-$800 each!
As you can see, you’re looking at a significant expense to upgrade to run-flats. And that’s not counting the ongoing higher replacement costs when those tires wear out every few years.
All said, most standard passenger vehicles will cost $1,000-$2,000 for a full set of run-flat tires, not including installation. Be prepared to pay on the higher end for trucks, SUVs, and high-end cars.
Are Bulletproof Tires Street Legal?
Before you run out and order hardcore run-flat tires, you need to consider any legal issues. The good news is there are generally no laws specifically prohibiting run-flat tires for civilian vehicles.
However, you do need to ensure any run-flat tires you install meet all the normal regulations for your car including:
- Proper load rating – This indicates the weight your tires can safely carry. Don’t exceed the recommended rating.
- Correct speed rating – Choose tires rated for your car’s maximum speed, typically at least “H” for 130 mph.
- Overall diameter – Make sure replacement run-flats match the overall diameter of your original tires to avoid issues.
- Department of Transportation (DOT) approval – All tires must meet DOT safety standards – look for the DOT stamp on any you buy.
As long as any run-flat tires you choose meet those criteria, they should be street legal anywhere in the US. However, always check local laws just in case – some areas may have extra rules.
Is Upgrading to Run-Flat Tires Worth It For You?
We’ve explored the facts on run-flat tires. Now it’s time to decide – are they worth buying for your car?
Here are a few final considerations that can help you decide:
How much time do you spend driving in risky areas?
If you rarely venture beyond well-maintained local roads, upgrading probably isn’t worthwhile. But if you frequently drive across dangerous areas with debris and risk of tire damage, it may make sense. Assess your personal risk.
What’s your budget for extra peace of mind?
Run-flats have undeniable intangible benefits. Decide how much you value added peace of mind and convenience. For some, paying extra for that reassurance is worthwhile even if they’ll likely never need to use the run-flats.
How important is ride quality and fuel efficiency to you?
Remember the tradeoffs. If you enjoy spirited driving and value fuel economy, run-flats may not be the best choice since they compromise those factors.
How difficult would it be to change a flat tire on your car?
Modern low-profile tires on trucks and SUVs can be extremely difficult and time-consuming to change, especially for some drivers. That makes run-flats extra appealing.
Do you have access to tire repair and replacement easily?
If you drive in remote areas far from repair shops, run-flats provide critical backup. If you can easily replace a tire, they provide less utility.
By weighing all these factors against the significant costs, you can make the best decision for your needs. There’s no definitively right or wrong answer – it depends entirely on your specific circumstances.
Final Takeaways on Bulletproofing Your Ride
While it might seem cool to armor up your car for the apocalypse, the reality is run-flat tires provide limited bullet-resistance at best. For many drivers, the costs and tradeoffs likely aren’t worth it. But they can still provide peace of mind and convenience that’s meaningful for some.
My recommendation is to carefully consider your personal driving, needs, and budget. For most standard passenger vehicles driven primarily on well-maintained roads, traditional tires are still the best choice. But for drivers frequently at risk of punctures or who are simply willing to pay extra for confidence, run-flat tires can be a smart investment.
Just be sure you understand precisely what run-flat tires can and can’t do before making your decision. And stay reasonable – you probably don’t need to go full Mad Max! As with most things, moderation and balance is key. With the right information and expectations, you can make the tires choice that’s right for you.
1. Do I need special rims to install run-flat tires?
Yes, you will need special rims designed for use with run-flat tires. Standard rims are not reinforced enough to handle run-flats at low pressures. Make sure to get compatible rims fitted when you purchase run-flat tires.
2. How often do I need to replace run-flat tires?
Despite their reinforced construction, run-flat tires still wear out like regular tires. Expect to replace them every 3-5 years or after 25,000-30,000 miles, comparable to standard tires. Check the tread depth regularly.
3. Can I use run-flat tires on my lifted/lowered vehicle?
You need to be very careful with run-flat tire fitment on modified vehicles. Make sure to consult with a tire technician to ensure proper load ratings, diameter, wheel fitment, and clearance for your specific lift or lowering kit. Improper run-flat tires can be dangerous.
4. Do I still need a spare tire if I have run-flats?
Yes, you should still keep a full-size spare and the tools to change a tire. Run-flats are only meant to get you to a safe place for repairs. You’ll want a normal spare to actually complete the tire change after using run-flats.
5. How do I know when to replace a damaged run-flat?
If you drive any significant distance or speed on a run-flat tire that has lost pressure, it will likely need total replacement. The sidewalls and internal structure can become too damaged to safely re-inflate or repair. Consult a tire shop to inspect after use.