Spare Tires Soon To Disappear From Family Sedans? Maybe, If Trend Continues

June 23, 2011

Bridgestone RE05A run-flat tire

Bridgestone RE05A run-flat tire

If thoughts of changing that flat tire on the family car in the pouring rain or dangerously close to the side of the road are the stuff of bad dreams, the fact that some automakers are ditching spare tires in some models may give you pause.

The trend, it seems, is spreading. While so-called “run-flat” tires have been common for several years on high-priced sports cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette, they haven’t generally been the province of the family sedan. Edmunds says that run-flat tires are standard on only 7.2 percent of new cars, although this has increased 50 percent over the past five years.

Another recent change is including a tire repair kit instead of a spare as part of the new-car purchase. According to Edmunds, which has been tracking the use of repair kits since 2009, there are 30 models that use them as a substitute for a spare tire. Tire repair kits, says Edmunds, are standard in 14 percent of current models.

Why drop the spare tire at all? According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, automakers save a bundle when they ditch the spare tire. Not only does losing the spare cut their costs, it also trims weight from the vehicle and contributes to improved gas mileage for the consumer. It also increases trunk space, another consumer benefit.

No spare tire

No spare tire

Maybe you haven’t noticed – until you needed to go in the trunk and search for the spare tire after you experienced a blow-out on the highway. Where did the spare go? Beyond that, what are you supposed to do now? If you have roadside assistance – standard in many new vehicles for a certain period – you’re in luck, but some vehicle owners don’t.

Better get educated on run-flat tires or how to work the tire repair kit. The run-flat tire is proven technology, so it will only take getting up-to-speed on what it means for your vehicle. As for using the tire repair kit, it isn’t as tough as you might think – but it’s only a temporary solution. And that may be troubling to you.

You also might not know – but now you do – that federal regulations don’t require a spare tire, since they’re not considered a safety feature.

The Los Angeles Times article quotes Alan Batey, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president of sales and service on the situation: “All manufacturers are looking at this. This is one opportunity to get weight out of vehicles and make them more fuel efficient…It will take some time for people to understand this technology.”

Cars with no spare tires

Here’s a brief – and random – run-down on some of the new cars that are now sold (or soon will be) without a spare tire in the trunk.

  • Chevrolet Corvette (equipped with run-flat Goodyear or Michelin ZP tires)
  • Chevrolet Cruze (tire sealant and inflator kit standard, optional compact spare tire and spare wheel available on all but Cruze Eco)
  • Chevrolet Malibu (tire sealant and inflator kit standard, optional compact spare tire and spare wheel available on all models)
  • 2011 Hyundai Elantra (as reported in the Los Angeles Times)
  • 2012 Buick Regal GS (and upcoming e-Assist hybrid versions of Regal and LaCrosse); note the 2011 Buick CXL and CXL Turbo come with standard 16-inch and 17-inch compact spare tire, respectively
  • 2012 Kia Optima (some versions, according to the Los Angeles Times)
  • BMW (run-flat tires standard on nearly every model, according to Edmunds)

What are your choices?

If you don’t like the idea of buying a car without a spare tire and/or don’t feel comfortable with just a tire-repair kit, what are your options? Without oversimplifying things, it seems like you have several choices: buy an optional spare tire (if it’s available and if you have room in the trunk and don’t mind giving up precious storage space), buy a different model from the same or another manufacturer that still has a spare tire, get used to the idea of no spare and learn about the technology.

After all, in the drive to reduce weight and increase fuel economy – in part, due to higher fuel economy standards going into effect and proposed – automakers have to eke out whatever improvements they can without compromising safety.

Maybe we can learn to live without a spare tire after all.

[Los Angeles Times, Edmunds]

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