More than a third of new cars sold today don't contain one, and the lack of spares is leaving motorists in a lurch, says AAA. On Tuesday, the nation's largest motoring organization called on automakers to halt the elimination of spare tires to better protect stranded motorists.
"Flat tires are not a disappearing problem, but spare tires are," said John Nielsen, AAA's managing director of automotive engineering and repair. He said the organization responds to more than 4 million calls for flat-tire assistance every year. "... Advances in automotive engineering allow for weight to be reduced in ways that don't leave motorists stranded at the roadside."
The decline in spare tires has been striking. A decade ago, five percent of cars sold lacked a spare tire. Today, AAA says 36 percent don't contain a spare. That number is only expected to rise as carmakers chase Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandates of 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025, and reducing weight is one of the key ways to reach the target.
In many cases, carmakers still offer a spare as optional equipment. When that's not chosen, manufacturers have replaced spares with tire-inflator kits. Each four-pound kit eliminates about 30 pounds of weight. But these kits aren't a comparable substitute, says AAA, which says they can cost up to 10 times more than a tire repair and have a shelf life of only four to eight years. Most importantly, they only are effective for a limited number of problems.
AAA evaluated the most common inflator kits on the market and found they work well in some scenarios. If an object that caused a puncture is no longer in the tire, a sidewall is damaged or a blowout occurs, a tire-inflator kit couldn't fix those problems.
"Consumers may mistakenly believe that inflator kits are a one-size-fits-all alternative to installing a spare tire," Nielsen said. "The reality is these kits can accommodate specific types of tire damage, but having the option to install a spare tire can save stranded drivers time and money."
With spare tires vanishing, fewer new motorists are learning how to change a tire. Nearly 90 percent of all drivers ages 35 to 54 know how to change a tire – or at least claim such knowledge. But that falls to 78 percent for millennial drivers, those ages 18 to 34, according to an AAA survey. Gender differences also exist. Ninety-seven percent of men claim to know how to change a tire; 68 percent of women claim the same ability.