No spare tire could spell trouble

AAA is warning motorists who might not have a spare tire in their cars during winter weather.

Automakers’ decision to eliminate the spare tire could leave more than 30 million drivers vulnerable at the roadside, according to new research from AAA.

Tire inflator kits, a high-cost alternative, have replaced the spare tire in millions of vehicles over the last 10 model years and, due to their limited functionality, cannot provide even a temporary fix for many common tire-related problems.

AAA calls on automakers to put consumer interests first and halt the elimination of the spare tire.

“Flat tires are not a disappearing problem, but spare tires are,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “AAA responds to more than four million calls for flat tire assistance annually and, despite advances in vehicle technology, we have not seen a decline in tire-related calls over the last five years.”

Along with run-flat tires, tire inflator kits have replaced spare tires on 29 million vehicles in the last 10 model years, steadily increasing from five percent of 2006 model year vehicles to more than one-in-three 2015 model year vehicles (36 percent) sold.

“Each four-pound kit eliminates about 30 pounds of weight, resulting in a small amount of savings in fuel consumption,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “But the replacement cost is high.

“Some kits cost up to $300 per use, so you can see where a tire inflator kit can cost up to 10 times more than a simple tire repair – and has a shelf life of only four to eight years.”

AAA says automakers are facing increasingly-stringent fuel economy standards and the spare tire has become a casualty in an effort to reduce weight and boost miles-per-gallon.

The auto club believes advances in automotive engineering allow for weight to be reduced in ways that don’t leave motorists stranded at the roadside.

AAA tested the most common tire inflator kits in today’s vehicles and found that the units worked well in some scenarios, but they are not a substitute for a spare tire.

For an inflator kit to work effectively, a tire must be punctured in the tread surface and the object must remain in the tire. Used correctly, the kit then coats the inner wall of the tire with a sealant and a compressor re-inflates the tire.

If the puncture-causing object is no longer in the tire, if a sidewall is damaged or if a blowout occurs, a tire inflator kit cannot fix the flat and the vehicle have to be towed.

Knowing how to change a tire is a skill that is now less prevalent among younger age groups.

More than one-in-five millennial drivers (ages 18-34) do not know how to change a tire, compared to the nearly 90 percent of drivers aged 35-54 who say they can change a flat.

Gender differences also exist: while nearly all men (97 percent) claim to know how to change a tire, only 68 percent of women boast the same ability.

“Consumers may mistakenly believe that inflator kits are a one-size-fits-all alternative to installing a spare tire,” said Mai. “The reality is these kits can only accommodate specific types of tire damage. Carrying a good old-fashioned spare tire can save stranded drivers time and money.”