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The Spare Tire Is Disappearing

More and more cars don’t come with a flat tire backup plan. But does it matter? Most people don’t know how to change it anyway.

The Spare Tire Is Disappearing
[Top Photo: Lily81 via Shutterstock]

Can you change a car tire? If you own a fairly modern car, chances are it doesn’t matter, because you don’t have a spare anyway. Car makers are ditching the spare in order to save weight, to more easily comply with emissions laws. Weight that will most likely be spent on additional cup holders.

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Instead of a spare, you get a tire inflation kit, which only works in specific situations, or expires, leaving you stuck by the side of the road with no choice but to call a mechanic.

If anyone knows about marooned drivers and spare tires, it’s the AAA. For a new report, it tested tire-inflator kits to determine their effectiveness. The AAA says that in the last 10 model years, tire inflator kits have replaced spare wheels in 29 million cars. About 36% of cars sold in the U.S. this year will come without a spare, and yet flats are still the second most likely reason for an AAA call. “Flat tires are not a disappearing problem, but spare tires are,” says John Nielsen, AAA managing director of automotive engineering and repair. Despite advances in vehicle technology, we have not seen a decline in tire-related calls over the last five years.”

AAA

Still, you might enjoy better gas mileage in a car without a spare. That wheel weighs 30 pounds, whereas a tire-repair kit weighs just four pounds. In reality, it will make little difference–you probably make up most of the 24-pound gain with the fast food wrappers festering in your rear footwell. And using those kits is pricey, says the AAA, costing around $300 thanks to kit replacement costs plus the difficulty of repairing a tire gunked up by the kit. That’s a whole lot more than limping to a garage on a spare and getting the puncture repaired.

“The cost to repair after using a tire-inflator kit can be as much as 10 times greater than using a spare tire due to the replacement cost of the kit and the tire pressure monitoring sensor,” says the AAA.

The kits don’t even work most of the time. They work by coating the inside of the tire with a sealant gunk that forms a kind of makeshift inner-tube. This seals small punctures, as long as the puncturing object remains lodged in the tread. If the sharp fragment has gone, or the hole isn’t in the tread but in the sidewall, or if you got a blowout, your only option is to call for help.

Hadrian via Shutterstock

This situation should be viewed as unsustainable. Not only are rescue trucks burning gas every time they have to come save you from your flat, but kits are single-use, and they expire after four to eight years.

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But putting spares back in cars might not help, because youngsters don’t know how to change a tire anyway. Twenty-two percent of millennials don’t know how to change a tire, whereas nearly 90% of drivers ages 35‐54 claim to know how to change a tire.

Those figures, reported to the AAA in a survey, are likely inflated. Many folks think they know how to change a tire, but the reality out on the roadside is usually a lot different to the theory. Do they know they need to use the tire iron as the jack handle? Or how to budge a tight wheel nut?

Further evidence that the figures may be the result of pride rather than truth comes in the following statistic from the AAA survey. “97% of men say they know how to change a tire versus 68% of women.” As those millennials might say. “Yeah, right.”

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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