It always happens when you aren’t expecting it. You’re cruising along in your automobile, listening to the radio and making wonderful time. Then, all of a sudden, the steering feels odd — there is an overabundance of vibration and the car keeps pulling to one side.
You’ve got a flat tire.
Annoying to be sure. Fortunately, this isn’t your first rodeo and you pull off to swap the punctured rubber with a spare. However, if you own a brand new car, you might be disappointed to learn there’s decent chance it doesn’t even have one. According to a recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association, 28 percent of 2017 model year vehicles aren’t equipped with spare tires — leaving you breaking out the compressed air and sealant or calling for a tow truck.
In 2016, AAA said it was called by more than 450,000 motorists who were stranded without a spare. The reason for the missing rubber was attributed to manufacturers wanting to save weight and bolster government-mandated fuel efficiency. Those weight savings have to come from somewhere and, since spare tires go unused 85 percent of the time, it’s a tempting item to pull from a model without anyone noticing. That is, until it’s needed.
While fix-a-flat solutions abound, they’re not always applicable. I once handed over the keys of my Crown Victoria to a friend while on a road trip and he immediately made contact with road debris so gnarly that it left a nasty gash in the wheel. No amount of green goop and bottled air could remedy that particular issue, so we replaced the ruined tire with a full-sized spare. However, that opportunity to bond over lug nuts could have been a long and uncomfortable wait for the tow truck — followed by an overnight interlude before the vehicle could be serviced — under different circumstances.
“Having a flat tire can be a nuisance for drivers, but not having a spare could put them in an even more aggravating situation,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair. “This can turn the relatively routine process of changing a tire at the roadside into an inconvenient and costly situation that requires a tow to a repair facility.”
“With low-profile tires and the elimination of a spare tire, many newer vehicles are especially vulnerable to roadside tire trouble,” Nielsen continued. “AAA urges drivers to make it a priority to check their vehicle’s equipment and know what to do if faced with a flat tire.”
We’d go one step further and recommend purchasing a model that comes equipped with a fifth wheel if possible. Of course, if you’re fine with waiting it out on the side of the road, you don’t have to own a spare. But, given the option, why wouldn’t you?
AAA has a comprehensive list of vehicles from the current model year that details spare tire status, if you’re in the market for a new ride. While the majority of autos still offer backup rubber as an option, spares tend to be missing on electric vehicles and are a rarity on certain brands — BMW and Mercedes-Benz being the most noticeable.
Many might make the claim that spares are unnecessary, as the average driver doesn’t even know how to change a tire anymore. This isn’t actually the case. According to a secondary study, AAA estimates 80 percent of drivers are hip to the motions required to swap out bum rubber. However, even if those metrics seem a little high, it doesn’t change the fact that having a spare is more useful than not having one.