$2,400 for a new set of run-flat tires and rims... might Mike be getting royally ripped-off?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 2005 Honda Odyssey that needs new tires after only 32,000 miles, and a neighbor has the same issue. They are run-flat tires. My tire dealer says I cannot just buy new run-flat tires; I have to also replace the rims, and only the dealer can do it. The dealer agrees with the requirement of replacing the rims with the run-flats at a cost of $580 per tire/wheel combination. He says it's possible to just replace the tires, but he can't do it, and says I'd have to go to another dealer for that. Is this for real -- almost $2,400 for new tires? Can I just mount regular tires on my current run-flat rims, and tell the run-flat industry to run away? -- Mike

TOM: Doesn't that frost your Fruit of the Looms, Mike? Actually, 32,000 miles is pretty good for a set of run-flats.

RAY: We're seeing a lot of run-flat sticker shock these days. When folks go in for their first set of replacement tires and find out that the tires themselves cost three times as much and last only half as long as conventional tires, they panic.

TOM: And do crazy things ... like write to us!

RAY: The high-end Touring edition of the Odyssey came with run-flat tires. And run-flats are expensive. They have additional supports in the sidewall that allow them to hold up the weight of the car, even when there's no air in them.

TOM: The rims (aka wheels) that hold the run-flat tires are specially designed, too. They have large lips. Like my Aunt Brunhilda.

RAY: The lip, or "land," is the outside edge of the wheel, what the bead of the tire presses out against. The larger lip makes mounting any tire on that rim -- even the run-flats -- a challenge.

TOM: Some dealers can't even mount run-flats because they don't have the proper machine. Your dealer sounds like one of them. If you don't have the right equipment, you can cause the installer bodily injury and ruin the tire-pressure monitor that's built into the valve stem. That's why your Honda dealer is sending you elsewhere.

RAY: And you'd be well-advised to go elsewhere. The run-flat tires for your Odyssey sell for about $240 each. The extra labor involved in mounting them adds about $100 to the cost. But still, that's $340 a tire instead of $580.

TOM: I suppose if you were really determined to get rid of the run-flats, you could buy a whole new set of regular wheels, and put a regular set of tires on them. But that would get pretty expensive, too. Plus you'd have to buy a spare tire, and you'd lose your car's tire-pressure monitoring system, since it's designed for the run-flat rims.

RAY: So I'd say the best of the bad options is to find a dealer who can sell you just the new run-flat tires, and suck it up, Mike. You're paying double what you'd normally pay for tires in exchange for the peace of mind of never having to change a tire by the side of a busy expressway. In the rain. Finding out that the lug nuts are too tight. And your spare is flat. We're trying to help you look on the bright side, Mike. Work with us here!

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