I may have mentioned once–or a least a hundred times–how much I love run flat tires.
That’s because winter is a tire killer. This winter left our roads filled with potholes, patches and cracks; add to that years of neglect, and they’re a mess.
And it is precisely because of these roads that run flats are so great: Even with a full blown hole in your tire, you can drive 100 miles on a run flat (that happened to me; keep reading).
THE QUICK READ: Run flat tires have evolved to be less expensive, more comfortable on the road and to fit all cars. They are safer than regular tires because they can drive up to 100 miles on a flat. The Continental Tires tested here are no exception: The ride was comfortable, pricing is better and the safety factor can’t be beaten.
But potholed roads are also why run flats get a bad rap: they are known for a rough ride, especially over potholes. While SUVs or sedans with regular air-dependent tires can glide across small potholes easily and bigger craters are simply a fun ride, run flat tires hit every pothole as if you’ve hit a huge metal object, jarring the car making you think you damaged the car even if you didn’t. So when I needed new tires, it was a hard choice: Run flats, or regular tires? Luckily, vast improvements in run flat tire technology made the decision and easy one.
Reason #1 to love run flat tires: A blow out is no big thing
Last fall, I had a tire blowout while driving 70MPH on a local freeway. I hit a pothole, and the tire pressure monitor light came on, so I knew something was wrong. When I got home I saw this: A huge hole in the side of my tire.
A blown tire is a big deal: the driver may lose control of the car, the car becomes extremely difficult to control, and driving on it can ruin the wheel rim. Very often, a blown tire leads to a traffic accident because the driver loses control. I didn’t experience any of those things. Just a light on the dashboard.
Safety at a price? Why run flat tires (used to be) known for a rough ride
Run flats have a reputation for giving a rough ride. They are typically installed on performance cars—cars with a sport suspension designed to be very responsive to the driver and the road. Also, run flats are made from more rubber, less air (they do require air, but much less than typical tires). Think of them like this: run flats are like leather-soled shoes, while regular tires are like rubber-soled sneakers: One is hard on your feet and the other is easy.
Like a good pair of leather shoes, run flat tires can be pricey. The Continental Tires I tested out are priced at about $250 each installed–at least that’s what I paid when I had to buy one last year, but I thought that was a bargain, because I paid $400 for a tire at the BMW dealer two years before. But I may have overpaid twice; Tire Rack has the same tire for about $220 each.
Tire blowout = new tires. Choosing run flats and hoping it’s the right choice
But of course, I needed a new tire. I needed four new tires really; it was time. I’d had a conversation with Continental Tire not long before I was offered a set of tires to review. To me, reviewing tires might be like reviewing oil or spark plugs: would I be able to tell the difference between old and new?
But I’d recently been schooled on some of the important aspects of tire performance and safety, so decided to give it a try. Continental sent me a set of tires.
I took the tires to my local Mavis Tire Discount center where I had them installed and balanced. Note: they installed them for about $100, but if I’d bought the tires there, installation would have been included in the purchase price. I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority of customers who actually bring their tires in to be installed, but if I’d ordered them online, this would have been my installation option since I can’t do it myself (I don’t change tires and you shouldn’t either).
Reason #2: Conquering a snowy road
It was time to test drive these new tires. But… it snowed. A lot. A whole lot. For months. And months. Test drives would have to wait a while because my rear-wheel drive car is impossible to drive in the snow.
Or is it? Maybe it was the tires on my car that made my car so hard to drive in the snow? So, I gave it a try. And, voila. Here is a photo of my car at the top of my driveway; you can see the tracks of the car on the driveway. My old tires were NEVER able to make it up the drive in the snow, even when they were new. So, chalk up another win for Continental, and also, a feeling of freedom in knowing that tires DO make a difference: with the right tires you’re not captive to a snowfall.
But still, my car isn’t great in the snow; it’s that rear wheel drive thing, which means you have very little control of the front end of the car and the rear wheels can spin and spin. Also, these tires are all weather tires, not winter tires, and what that means is I shouldn’t really drive in the snow with these tires if possible, so the car stayed parked in the garage most of the winter.
Reason #3: Spring’s bumper crop of potholes bring more bounce than ouch
But then, spring sprang! Or rather, pothole season sprang.
And here is where the test drive gets really good: a good, rough road test. If you’re behind me on the road you’ll know it because I’m the one zig-zagging around potholes and slowing to a crawl over them, except when I don’t see them and it’s too late.
And…. for the most part, driving on pothole-filled roads was fine. [Scratches head, puzzled. What?!?]
Yes. Even when I hit a pothole (or a few), the car bounced slightly, if at all. The Continental tires gave a much smoother, softer ride than my old tires, even a bit bouncy. And still, like run flat tires should, they grab the pavement around corners, at stop signs, in traffic and when driving serpentine around all those potholes, giving my car the ‘sporty’ drive feel it should have.
What to look for in a new set of tires
If you’re thinking of buying new tires, what would you like most from new tires? A softer ride? More control at the wheel? Shorter stopping distance? New tires can help with all of these. A good set of tires should provide (as these Continental tires do):
- Reasonable stopping distance: even if you slam the brakes you should be able to stop without hitting anything and without losing control of the car.
- Comfortable ride: a rough, jarring ride, the feeling that every bump or pebble might unhinge the car from its joints, and loud road noise can ruin the experience of a nice car or improve the ride of an older car.
- Safety, even with a blown tire: And to me, this is most important, even if I have to replace the tire. Because the safety of my family and the person behind the wheel matters more than anything else.
- Consider purchasing insurance. Yes, you can get tire insurance on some brands (Continental included), and it might be a good idea if you seem to have tire damage every year. If a tire is damaged, a road hazard warranty program will cover repair of the tire or a credit toward a new tire (which all depends on the circumstances and the amount of wear on the tire). The coverage is inexpensive–$10-$20 per tire, but usually limited to a year of coverage.
OK—when I said before I thought it would be hard to review tires, I was wrong; it was pretty easy. The key is to know the car well and to be able to tell the difference between how the car drives with the new tires versus how it drove with the old ones. And when you have a really good set of tires, you’ll be really, really glad.
Disclosure: Continental provided a set of run flat tires for my review; I was not compensated for this review and all opinions expressed here are my own.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story used the term ‘inner tube’ to describe a type of tire that holds air. While inner tube technology is still used in many types of tires, more commonly car tires use pneumatic inflation systems that trap air between the tire and the wheel rim. Run flats use this technology too, but require a lot less air, thus allowing tires to function safely when completely deflated.