Can You Drift On Run-Flat Tires?

Tires are a crucial part of drifting, whether you’re just starting or Vaughn Gittin Jr. From tire to tire, your entire drifting experience can change, from tire longevity to grip. One thing stays the same between every tire though: They’re all wear parts, that get thrown away and replaced frequently. Some tires will wear slightly slower than others, but what about those with different structures? Would a Run-Flat tire, with its reinforced sidewalls and sturdier base, allow you to drift for longer, cheaper?


Drifting on a Run-Flat tire provides many benefits, including a higher grip coefficient on average, a sturdier tire structure, much more smoke production, and the avoidance of grip loss in event of sudden pressure loss. However, these benefits come at the cost of a much higher price, quicker tire wear, and being much more difficult to mount than normal tires.


The short of it is that, just like with choosing any drift tire, there is no objectively “correct” decision. While your Falken Azenis may have good grip, they won’t last nearly as long as Federal 959s. While that’s true, the 959s won’t have as much grip as the Azenis, limiting your overall control of the car and response time. Each tire choice is a matter of give and take, sacrificing grip for longevity, sidewall strength for responsiveness, etc. Just like with these tires, the run-flat design has gives and takes as well.


(Featured image courtesy of Flickr)


Why You SHOULD Drift Run-Flat Tires


Run-flat tires are becoming more and more mainstream, as many modern cars are beginning to come factory with run-flats equipped. These tires have the very helpful property of staying somewhat rigid after a loss of pressure. This is accomplished via two means, depending on which tire you get.


A self-supporting run-flat tire uses reinforced tire sidewalls to help maintain tire structure. In the event of tire pressure loss in a normal tire, the sidewall of the tire is forced to flex and change shape under the weight of the car. This continues to happen every revolution of the car’s wheel, and with each flex, the tire heats up. With enough heat and enough stress, the tire’s sidewall gives way, generally separating itself from the tread of the tire, causing catastrophic tire failure.


A self-sealing run-flat tire, on the other hand, has a layer of sealant on the inside of the tire. Using this sealant, when a puncture occurs in the tire (we’ll use a nail for this example), the sealant rushes to the point of puncture. Then, the sealant hardens, re-creating that airtight seal, holding pressure in the tire. If the sealant fails to create an airtight seal, at least the rate of pressure loss will be drastically slowed. That way, your TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) can inform you of the puncture, and you can safely pull over before an accident occurs.


For this article, we will be talking about the self-supporting run-flat design. The self-sealing design simply doesn’t have any merit in drifting as compared to the self-supporting design, or even a regular tire. 


Popped Tires? Things Of The Past!


What a run-flat does differently, however, is supports the sidewalls. This prevents a majority of the flexing under the car’s weight, and as a result, drastically reduces the stress and heat the tire is subject to. What does that mean for drifting, though?


Drifting can result in pressure loss as well, especially under extreme stress. Spinning up the tires, provides both the heat and the stress that induces tire failure in normal tires much quicker. With a run-flat, the tire is much more rigid, enduring more of said stress.


Not only that, but once your tire has popped, be it from a puncture or from stress, the run-flat’s intended purpose will keep it rigid. With a normal tire, in the event of a blowout or pop, the rapid deflation will drastically change the handling dynamics of your car.


Generally, this causes a loss of control, and worst-case scenario, a crash. A run-flat, on the other hand, will maintain most of its handling characteristics, allowing you to control the car to a safe stop.


In many cases, you won’t even notice your tire has been popped, and you can continue to drift on it. Simply put, centrifugal forces keep the tire exerting force outwards, which combined with the rigidity of the sidewalls, gives a rebound force similar to that of an inflated tire.


Grip and Smoke? Check and Check!


Depending on your car’s power level, you may run a softer compound or a harder one. On average, the structural rigidity of the tire is counteracted by it being a very grippy compound. This helps prevent the ride from being too rough in commuter cars.


While drifting, however, this provides for a very responsive tire. In tandem drifting, grip is essential in order to keep control of your car and match the lead’s movements.


Another benefit of a grippy tire, though purely aesthetic, is the smoke. Generally, since more grip is a result of a compound that burns quicker, more material is being “smoked off” at a time. This can make for very showy drifts and burnouts, without the use of bleach.



Why Most People Don’t Drift Run-Flat Tires


Run-flats, while gaining traction (pun intended), are still a relatively new concept. Most people haven’t ever driven on them, and wouldn’t know where to get them either. With obscurity comes a level of rarity, which increases the price.


These Cost Much More Than Regular Tires


Alongside their rarity, run-flat tires are also more expensive to make. Between the extra material and the new tire molds being used, along with the extra weight when shipping, these extra charges start to add up. Then, you still have mounting costs, which leads to my next point…


These Are Incredibly Difficult Tires To Mount


Between the extra material inside the tire, and the reinforced, rigid sidewalls, these tires become very difficult to mount. Now, it’s not impossible to do, but don’t expect to be able to do this yourself, or have it done at a shop for cheap. Your best bet is to head by an open bay door of a tire shop, and ask someone who doesn’t look busy to mount them. While it may be a hassle, generally if you’re cool with the person you’re talking to, they’ll do it for fairly cheap.


They’re Also Fairly Heavy


For the same reasons the tire is hard to mount (extra material and reinforced sidewalls), these tires are much heavier than your regular tire. This shouldn’t dramatically change your car’s drifting mechanics (at least not as much as the compound/size), however, it is a factor nevertheless. Your drivetrain will have more rotational inertia, meaning it’ll be harder to get going, and harder to stop. That’s the issue from a mechanical standpoint, but from a practical standpoint, they’re a pain to lift and carry.


Only Certain Sizes Are Made


Going back to the idea of run-flat tires being a fairly new design, that means not many people are making them, and subsequently, not many sizes of run-flat are made. Even if you do happen to find a tire in your size, it may be drastically more expensive than a common-sized tire. While this is true with regular tires as well, your size won’t be nearly as out-of-supply with a regular tire as it would be with a run-flat.



Should You Drift On Run-Flat Tires?


While that question is still a matter of your opinion, now you have the knowledge to make an educated decision. Run-flats smoke better, can run while popped, and have tons of compound-based grip. On the other hand, they’re also more expensive, more rare, harder to mount, and heavier.


If you’re just getting into drifting, and don’t have the extra money to be paying for specialty tires, then I would not recommend you drift on run-flat tires. The increase in performance won’t last long enough for you to get the same value from these. You would get much more seat time with a set of Federal 959s. The increased grip and smoke just isn’t worth sacrificing seat time for.


However, if you’re an experienced drifter with a means of affording more expensive tires, then I’d recommend at least trying a set of run-flats. While they will feel much different, and probably require suspension tuning, they may perform much better. You’ll also reduce the number of crashes you’re involved in due to your tire popping. Less repair costs, better tire performance, and more smoke? That’s a trade-off I’d take! Depending on your car and your skill level, the reduction in repair costs may pay for the tires in the long-run.


If you aren’t sure about drifting, let alone expensive tires, don’t worry! Check out our analysis on whether Drifting is worth it for you!


As a drift enthusiast, if I've owned the car, you can bet it's been sideways! Honda S2000, Chrysler Crossfire, 1987 Porsche (only once, *never again*), and my babies, my 1995 Notch-top SR 240SX and 1991 Red-top SR 240SX. I've had a ton of fun, and I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences, tips, and recommendations with you all!

Recent Posts