Disappearing spare tires, keyless systems cause spike in roadside assistance calls

August 2, 2016

In America, the average car on the road is over 11 years old. You might think that all those "senior" vehicles would cause a spike in roadside assistance calls, but you'd only be half right.

AAA says that it has, in fact, seen a sharp increase in the number of roadside assistance requests it receives. Last year, the company coordinated service for some 32 million drivers across the country.

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However, it's not the older vehicles causing headaches for motorists, but the newer ones. Why?

No spare tires: Nearly every automaker doing business in the U.S. is trying to make vehicles lighter to improve fuel economy. In the process, one of the first things car companies have jettisoned has been the spare tire. Instead, many new cars now come with inflator kits, which work well enough in some situations, but in others--for example, when the sidewall of a tire has been damaged--they're of little use.

No keys: With every passing year, more vehicles move to keyless ignition systems. On the upside, that means fewer problems like the "Switchgate" incidents that caused 124 deaths in the U.S. and 275 injuries. On the downside, when keys are stored too close to a vehicle, they can drain the battery, occasionally locking a driver out of the car while it's running. 

Over-reliance on fuel tech: Once upon a time, we all had analog fuel gauges. When the needle dipped below a quarter of a tank or so, you started looking for a gas station where you could fill up. Now, many gauges are digital, and quite a few go the extra step of estimating how much further cars can travel until they run out of gas. Unfortunately, drivers take those estimates as gospel, pushing their cars' limits, and eventually find themselves stranded on the side of the road. 

All told, AAA says that newer vehicles--specifically, those less than five years old--are significantly more likely to experience tire, key, and fuel-related issues than older vehicles. What's worse, because fixing those cars is often a complex process, 20 percent of newer vehicles can't be repaired on the side of the road and have to be towed to a garage. 

Now, during the height of the summer travel season, AAA encourages motorists to be prepared for any emergency. For starters, know whether you have a true spare tire; if you do, ensure that it's in good condition and that you know how to use it. And apart from regular vehicle maintenance--including oil changes, tire-pressure checks, and battery checks--keep an emergency kit onboard, with emergency flares, jumper cables, first aid supplies, a flashlight, water, and snacks for yourself, kids, and pets.

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