Since the late ‘70s, when run-flat tires have started to be included as optional equipment in some cars, a debate about whether they are better than tubeless tires is still going on.
So, let’s get down to which are better, in which situations, and for whom?
The main difference between run-flat and tubeless tires is that run-flats can be driven even when they lose air due to a puncture. While tubeless tires, in the case of such an accident, are not drivable and can be very dangerous if you decide to use them on the road.
While they both look the same on the outside, run-flat and tubeless tires have very different inner construction.
This contrast makes them behave on their own when punctured and in normal driving conditions.
Which in turn, can make one of these types an undesirable option for your vehicle.
What Are Tubeless Tires
Tubeless tires are one of the most common types of tires in today’s both passenger and commercial vehicles.
They were invented as a solution for many problems that have existed with tires that have an inner tube:
- The relatively short life span of inner tubes
- Friction between the inner tube and outer tire
- Pinch punctures
- Need for regular replacement, etc.
If you see a vehicle with tires, they are most likely of this type.
They are constructed with a steel wire bead inside the edge that touches the rim.
When a tire is inflated, this bead presses against the rim and creates a seal which is preventing any air leakage.
What Are Run-Flat Tires
Run-flat tires are an improvement on the concept of tubeless tires.
They try to solve the problem caused by flat tires and allow vehicles to be operated even when tires are deflated.
This is achieved by slightly changing the construction of the former type.
A deflated tire is not appropriate for driving because it collapses.
Run-flat tires are constructed with reinforced sidewalls, able to carry the vehicle’s weight.
While they are deforming slightly under the weight, they remain drivable when punctured.
Comparison of Run-Flat and Tubeless Tires
Run-flat and tubeless tires differ in just a small design tweak of their sidewalls, but it has a host of other significant consequences.
Before you go out and buy a new set of tires of any of these two types, you should be aware of some factors that can be a deciding factor for one or the other.
So here is a quick run-down of the important differences. I will cover all of them in detail.
Furthermore, I will be pointing out some key aspects that you should be looking out for if you decide to get one of these two types of tires.
What is a performance of a tire? It can grip the road surface, whether it is concrete, asphalt, gravel, snow, or something else.
Comparing run-flat and tubeless tires, you will not find any difference in performance with everything else being equal.
They all provide a certain level of grip and stability depending on many other factors, thread pattern, temperature, etc.
The difference in the design of the sidewalls is making absolutely no impact on the tire’s ability to perform its primary function.
Durability is primarily measured as the number of miles you can drive on a set of tires before a change is necessary.
It is dependent on the rate of decreasing dept of thread groves.
Consumer reports show that people replace run-flat tires around 6,000 miles sooner than tubeless types.
In other words, run-flat tires last, on average, 6,000 miles less.
People hypothesize differently what is the exact cause of this dissimilarity, but the fact is that it exists.
Feeling every bump and crack in the road is not a desirable thing. And that is something that is often happening when driving on run-flat tires.
Stiffer sidewalls are making this type of tire more rigid and are causing you to really “feel” the road surface.
Because of their more flexible sidewalls, Tubeless tires can deform on impacts slightly. This makes them a much smoother ride overall.
Some car manufacturers try to solve the problem of a harsher ride by having the suspension of their vehicles set softer than for tubeless tires.
But, this is then causing an increase in body roll when cornering.
Depending on the exact make and model of a tire, run-flat types are between 50% and 200% more expensive than their tubeless equivalents.
Even when the same tire maker manufactures them, they have a considerable markup.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Tubeless Tires
Tubeless tires are more durable and provide a more enjoyable ride quality due to their ability to absorb shocks from hitting cracks and bumps on the road.
They are also slightly lighter and provide lower rolling resistance, which shows lower fuel consumption in the long run.
But, they require that you have a spare tire occupying space in your trunk, which could be used in some better way.
And this increased weight slightly decreases the fuel economy. When they are flat, that’s it. Your vehicle is stuck in place.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Run-Flat Tires
Run-flat tires solve a flat tire problem by being drivable for a certain amount of miles when they lose all the air.
They are also saving boot space, as you won’t be needing a spare tire. Additionally, the fuel economy is slightly increased.
But that comes with some disadvantages.
You can drive on a flat tire safely at speeds up to 50mph and only for a certain number of miles.
They are heavier and stiffer, providing worse fuel economy and a harsher ride. You can expect to be replacing them more often and at a much higher price.
Run-flat tires are designed differently compared to tubeless tires. Their sidewalls are stiffer and able to carry the weight of a vehicle when they are flat.
This way, you will be able to drive your car for a while, at least to a shop to have it repaired.
But such an advantage comes with a price of decreased ride quality, lower durability, and a higher cost of replacement.
And all advantages of run-flat tires are disappearing in the case of the most common tire faults: damage to the sidewalls.