Spare Tire Is History
By Igor Holas
Quietly, and without fanfare, a trend started in the automotive industry – the elimination of spare tires. It is not a new trend – cars without standard spare tires have existed for some years now, but until now they were exotic sports cars, or high-end luxury cars. Unfortunately, that is about to change with this trend going mainstream.
Up to this point the most extreme case of the lack-of-a-tire syndrome were the GM roadster twins – they did not even offer a spare as an option – the trunk on both cars is simply is not big enough. The GM twins, however just followed the trend in many luxury models that either came with run-flat tires or “tire inflation kit” (read: bottle of fix-a-flat). After all, will Mr. Millionaire in a Porsche and $5,000 suit get dirty and sweaty replacing a tire, or will he just call AAA and have the car towed to a shop where someone in overalls will do it for him?
This fall, however, two new vehicles will bring this trend mainstream – a spare tire will be a $60 option on the 2008 Ford Focus, and a $250 option on the 2008 CTS. If these two models cannot make this trend truly mainstream, Saturn has its back – Saturn retailers were recently told that all 2008 and 2009 model years will gradually have their spares eliminated and replaced with inflation kits. I am perfectly positive that many other automakers will follow suit shortly.
Why would they do this, you ask? Simple: the spare tire and jack are bulky, heavy and very rarely used these days. The space and weight savings can be put into good use towards better fuel economy, and bigger trunks. The rarity of someone actually using a spare tire makes elimination of this packaging nuisance that much easier. Moreover, getting back on the road with an inflation kit is significantly easier than changing your tire – you pull out the can, connect it to the valve and spray its contents inside the tire. The chemical in the can will seal the hole and inflate the tire putting you back on the road in no time.
If we are to analyze the demise of the spare tire, we need to point out its true origin: the invention of the “temporary spare.” The ubiquitous doughnut single-handedly rendered the spare tire useless. With a full-size, full-use spare, a flat-tire was a minor annoyance: you pulled over, changed the tire and went on as if nothing happened regardless whether you have 2 miles left to your destination or 500. With a doughnut, you had to truly interrupt your trip, and slowly find the nearest tire shop to fix the “real tire.” All of sudden, simply calling AAA or the insurance company and having the car towed to the aforementioned tire shop became much more attractive – and spare tire truly became a last resort, emergency feature. The elimination of the doughnut is just a next logical step in this downward spiral.
The only downside of this final step is the potential failure of the sealant – if the rupture is big enough or in the sidewall, your fix-a-flat is all but useless. This will not be an issue in most cases – towing will be the #1 option in vast majority of cases – however in the extreme cases of bad luck, remote location, lack of cell phone signal, or late hour, the elimination of the doughnut might leave some motorists stranded.
I am not certain whether I would trust to own a car without a spare – doughnut or not; I just like having the last-resort option. I am thus also uncertain whether I can objectively evaluate the reasoning we are given by the automakers; it all sounds sensible, but it leaves me a little uneasy. Unless this trend stops, or my attitude changes, I might just be left with no option, but to buy a Volkswagen – one of the last automakers to still stubbornly offer full-size spare tires standard on all models.
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