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

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
doing the math over a quarter of new cars do not come with a spare tire

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.

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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.

  • MrIcky I would like to compare the answers here against the answers in the recent civil forfeiture article- but I won't because research is hard. It's true though that currently a ticket has no punitive value on those with means and maybe an outsized punitive value on those without. That's not communism, that's just the way it is. Speeding tickets are too arbitrary anyway though: officer discretion, speed trap towns, excessively low speed zones in areas to increase ticket revenue instead of safety, etc. I could clearly see a case where expensive cars are selectively enforced over cheap cars because you only have so much time in a day to up the revenue. It's a gray rainy crap morning and I'm sure the government will do it wrong.
  • 28-Cars-Later Feels a bit high but then again... forget it Jake, its Clown World.In 2021 someone in Sewickley had an MY01 soft top in a manual with 54K otc which I am fairly certain was a 996 and not a Boxster - $20K. I already had my C70 at the shop being reborn and could have done the $20K but it would have been tight and just didn't make sense. Still...
  • SCE to AUX Q: Should Speeding Fines Be Based on Income?A: Yes. Rich people (the guy with $1 more than you) should pay less, because giving his income to the government means he has to lay off a worker at his business.Laws are for poor people./s
  • SCE to AUX "Volvo has suggested it’s capable of yielding 275 miles of range"Every non-US car's range estimate is based on WLTP - worth mentioning.EPA range never 'backs up' WLTP; it's always about 15% lower - so figure maybe 234 miles. Not great, except as a commuter.As for the interior - it's obviously a Model 3 clone, but the screen is substantially smaller. Incidentally, I suspect Tesla made the Model 3/Y interior so minimalist to save money - not just to be different. When you're trying to become profitable on EVs, every dollar counts.
  • SCE to AUX "there haven’t been a lot of good examples hitting the market recently. Most models are aimed at the affluent, resulting in 9,000-pound behemoths with six-figure price tags"I hope you were joking, because that is blatantly false.