Doing the Math: Over a Quarter of New Cars Do Not Come With a Spare Tire

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

It always happens when you aren’t expecting it. You’re cruising along in your automobile, listening to the radio and making wonderful time. Then, all of a sudden, the steering feels odd — there is an overabundance of vibration and the car keeps pulling to one side. You’ve got a flat tire.

Annoying, to be sure. Fortunately, this isn’t your first rodeo and you pull off to swap the punctured rubber with a spare. However, if you own a brand new car, you might be disappointed to learn there’s decent chance it doesn’t even have one. According to a recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association, 28 percent of 2017 model-year vehicles aren’t equipped with spare tires — leaving you breaking out the compressed air and sealant or calling for a tow truck.

In 2016, AAA said it was called by more than 450,000 motorists who were stranded without a spare. The reason for the missing rubber was attributed to manufacturers wanting to save weight and bolster government-mandated fuel efficiency. Those weight savings have to come from somewhere and, since spare tires go unused 85 percent of the time, it’s a tempting item to pull from a model without anyone noticing. That is, until it’s needed.

While fix-a-flat solutions abound, they’re not always applicable. I once handed over the keys of my Crown Victoria to a friend while on a road trip and he immediately made contact with road debris so gnarly that it left a nasty gash in the wheel. No amount of green goop and bottled air could remedy that particular issue, so we replaced the ruined tire with a full-sized spare. However, that opportunity to bond over lug nuts could have been a long and uncomfortable wait for the tow truck — followed by an overnight interlude before the vehicle could be serviced — under different circumstances.

“Having a flat tire can be a nuisance for drivers, but not having a spare could put them in an even more aggravating situation,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair. “This can turn the relatively routine process of changing a tire at the roadside into an inconvenient and costly situation that requires a tow to a repair facility.”

“With low-profile tires and the elimination of a spare tire, many newer vehicles are especially vulnerable to roadside tire trouble,” Nielsen continued. “AAA urges drivers to make it a priority to check their vehicle’s equipment and know what to do if faced with a flat tire.”

We’d go one step further and recommend purchasing a model that comes equipped with a fifth wheel if possible. Of course, if you’re fine with waiting it out on the side of the road, you don’t have to own a spare. But, given the option, why wouldn’t you?

AAA has a comprehensive list of vehicles from the current model year that details spare tire status, if you’re in the market for a new ride. While the majority of autos still offer backup rubber as an option, spares tend to be missing on electric vehicles and are a rarity on certain brands — BMW and Mercedes-Benz being the most noticeable.

Many might make the claim that spares are unnecessary, as the average driver doesn’t even know how to change a tire anymore. This isn’t actually the case. According to a secondary study, AAA estimates 80 percent of drivers are hip to the motions required to swap out bum rubber. However, even if those metrics seem a little high, it doesn’t change the fact that having a spare is more useful than not having one.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Oct 20, 2017

    I've come back today to make the blanket statement "I'll never let my wife buy a vehicle without a spare tire." She's had her Terrain for less than 20,000 miles and had the spare on it twice. Once for running over a nail/screw on the road and then called me last night (I had to head out of town for business after hitting a curb so hard she popped the bead! s/ I can't wait to get home tonight and see what's waiting for me. (eye roll)

  • MOSullivan MOSullivan on Oct 20, 2017

    I've had 3 flats in the last 6 or 7 years. One was a tire failure just after I'd exited a freeway. The spare wheel got me out of two of the situations. Tire gloop and air didn't work. It worked in the other situation long enough to get to a tire shop a few kilometers away. A runflat would not have helped in one of the situations and I am pretty sure it wouldn't have helped in another one. Suppose I got a flat somewhere out of the city. I call CAA and wait for who knows how long. When it turns up it will install my own spare if I have one or tow me to the nearest approved garage if I don't have one. How long is this going to take? What if it's night time or a holiday and garages are closed? What if the tire can't be plugged and has to be replaced? What if there's no cell reception where it happens? Don't laugh -- there are rural areas in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with none, like sections of Fundy National Park. I can change a wheel in 15 or 20 minutes. I will give up half a day or more if I have to call roadside assistance. This is ridiculous.

  • Freddie Another reason not to buy a Tesla.
  • Bd2 Tesla is the most important company in the world, responsible for mass enlightenment and empowerment of the educated affluent masses. This lawsuit will only impede the progress of the human race.
  • Aja8888 Good! Hope the owners' win the case, but it will probably be a long time before Tesla releases repair particulars to 3rd party shops. There is a Tesla service center near me I see every day that is absolutely loaded with service-waiting vehicles (parked for weeks) and I'm sure those owners are not thrilled.
  • SCE to AUX I've seen several Fisker Oceans, but not a single 400 Z.
  • Luke42 With Elon Musk just randomly firing the Supercharger team, Tesla has demonstrated that it isn’t a reliable business partner over the long-term.Being able to get 3rd-party repairs just got a lot more important.I’ve also been upping my Tesla-DIY game.That said, I just put 5000 miles on my Model Y in a month (family-obligations) using the Supercharger Network, and my EV is an incredibly capable vehicle when viewed through an engineering lens. As a car guy, driving my EV through the Appalachian mountains where I learned to drive was truly an experience of holding a tiger by the tail and guiding it where I want to go. But, when looking at my Tesla with Elon in charge of sales & service, I do have some serious concerns about the long-term stability of Tesla as a business.My current plan is to trade my Model Y and my GMC Sierra in on a Silverado EV or GMC Sierra EV once the price/availability/finance picture looks favorable. Elon’s unhinged behavior and the Toyota/Honda’s refusal to innovate are making GM look like a good long-term bet to me.I’ll put up with all of this in order to continue driving an EV, though. Even the best gasoline and diesel vehicles are slow buzzy buckets of bolts that smell bad, compared to my EV — so I’m not going back to a 20th century vehicle voluntarily.