Are You Sure You Have A Spare Tire?

Are You Sure You Have A Spare Tire?

A caller last Saturday told us the story of his 83-year old Mother buying a new car, and he found out it did not have a spare tire or jack.  He had no idea this could happen, but the reality is in cars, odds are higher there will not be a spare tire. 

It is December and many of you will be buying new vehicles.  Don’t assume the car of your dreams has a spare tire. 

In fact, if you have purchased a new car or crossover SUV in the past few years and assumed it had a spare tire and wheel, you could be in for a surprise. Unfortunately, you may not know for sure until you are on the side of the road somewhere. Those who find out they have no spare tire in an emergency situation are, shall we say, less than pleased.

A news/talk radio station in Indianapolis interviewed me a couple of years ago, and the morning host was incensed about how many vehicles did not come with spare tires. Of course, he wanted to know why this was becoming such a common occurrence with new cars, and he wanted to know “what else is missing we don’t know about?”. I don’t know of any other items that have magically disappeared, but a lack of spare, even a donut spare, is becoming extremely common. Two of the last three cars I have bought myself had no spare.

If I were on the debate team in school still, I could make a compelling argument for and against spare tires. It is easy to see both sides.

From the automaker’s side, they are trying everything to reach the very strict rules of CAFÉ that the U.S. Government has established. CAFÉ stands for corporate average fuel economy, which is the average of an automaker’s cars, SUVs, and light trucks (under ¾ ton). Automakers have until 2025 to get their average to 54.5 miles per gallon-not an easy feat since last year the average was just over 25 miles per gallon. Not lugging around a 35-50 pound spare and jack puts them a little closer.

2020 Honda Civic SI TRK
2020 Honda Civic Si  Tire Repair Kit (TRK) is an example of what some automakers offer in lieu of a spare.

From the consumer side, those not told there was no spare tire and did not ask usually find out after the purchase of their vehicle and are angry they were not told. Most full-sized pickups and large SUVs are still equipped with a spare.  Caution:  The spares on trucks and SUVS are often smaller and on a regular steel wheel that doesn’t match the pretty wheels on the vehicle.

Automakers contend most people never use their spares because tires have gotten much better. They are also quick to point out that every new vehicle today comes with complimentary roadside assistance for five years. However, what about those who have a flat in a remote area? It could take hours for roadside assistance to get to you, and what if you have no cell coverage? Those are real worries.

The lack of a spare saves weight and increases fuel economy, there is no denying that. Is it a way for automakers to save money too? The short answer is yes. On many common cars, the dealers can order it with a spare from the factory and it will show on the window sticker as an option, usually at a cost of $200 or so. If the dealer doesn’t order the optional spare, you get a can of fix-a-flat and a small air compressor. Next problem: this does no good if you have a blowout or sidewall damage.

On many of the luxury cars, and some vans, they come with run-flat tires, and do not come with a spare. A run-flat tire is supposed to seal itself if there is a puncture (not a blow out or side puncture). Many consumers report the run-flat tires life is not as long, and they diminish ride quality of their vehicle. Replacement costs are greater too.

Bottom line: As a consumer, you need to inquire about the tires on the car you are looking at, and what your options are if it has no spare. A salesperson’s job is to point out a car’s features and benefits, not to point out what a car does not have. Be sure you understand the tires on the car you are considering, and know if it has a spare or not.

If you don’t have the phone number of your automaker’s roadside assistance hotline, you can get it here and you should program it in your cell phone.