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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Hey Dude, Where’s My Spare Tire?


By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy Pixabay

If you’ve been driving for more than a few decades, you’ll remember when every car on the road came with a full-sized spare tire.  Then the auto industry decided to short-sheet every driver by including only a compact spare tire, more commonly referred to by drivers as ‘The Donut.”  While it was better than nothing, every compact spare came with a warning that it shouldn’t be driven at speeds in excess of 50 MPH or for distances greater than 50 miles.  Well, now the automakers are taking the spare tire away altogether in many late-model vehicles.  This means if a tire goes flat, you’ll have only two options: hope that can of Fix-a-Flat will reinflate the tire or call the auto club for a tow.

  1. The trend isn’t new.  Since 2006, automakers started equipping some economy cars with tire sealant and inflation kits.   Back then, this affected less than 6% of vehicles manufactured in the US.  By 2011, the figure was more like 11%.   Ten years later, nearly half of all new cars and light trucks come without a spare tire of any kind. 
  2. Some luxury models come with what are termed “Run-Flat Tires” that have thicker sidewalls designed to allow a car to be driven in the event of a puncture.  However, just like the compact spare tire, run-flats are only meant to be driven at speeds of less than 50 MPH for no more than 50 miles.
  3. The reason given for eliminating the spare tire?  Manufacturers claim that in their effort to improve fuel efficiency, every little bit of weight counts.  How much weight does removing a spare tire save?  Less than 20 lbs. for a donut and as much as 48 lbs. for a light truck or SUV tire.  How much does less than 50 lbs. save on gas?  Who knows?  But it certainly inconveniences drivers whose tires go flat.
  4. Can you purchase a spare tire for your vehicle?  Sure, you can. But the cost is rather steep.  A full-sized spare tire for economy cars starts at around $200-$250 and those on luxury cars can cost double the price.  Even if you want to purchase a compact spare tire for your vehicle, expect to pay $150-$300 or more. 
  5. Some equipment packages on new cars allow drivers to opt for a spare tire or run-flats when they purchase the vehicle.  If you’re considering the purchase of a new or used vehicle, make sure you ask the dealer or owner if the vehicle comes with a spare tire.
  6. Does seal and pump technology work?  Not all the time.  As anyone who has ever bought a can of aftermarket tire sealant knows, it only works with small punctures.  Run over a nail and chances are the leak will be sealed and the tire reinflated.  That’s because the active ingredients in most tire sealants are latex emulsion foam and compressed air.  Once you connect the nozzle to the tire valve and hit the button atop the can, you’ll hear a hiss and see a milky white liquid being transferred from the can to your tire.  Inside the tire, the liquid turns into latex foam that fills the tire.  If you look at the site of the puncture, you’ll no doubt see a bit of foam oozing out of the hole. You should also see your tire rise off the ground as soon as the puncture is sealed.  While the tire may seem roadworthy, you should be aware that like the donut, the sealant is meant as a quick fix that’s only meant to get you to a repair shop.  Once there, you’ll have to either have the puncture plugged, or you’ll have to replace the tire altogether.
  7. How do you use the tire inflator and sealant kits included with your vehicle?  There’s a video for that.  For instance, if you watch the video for a Ford Mustang inflator kit, you’ll find that the kit itself can be found either in the wheel well where the spare used to be or under the driver or front passenger seat.  The Ford kit has a retro, steampunk look, with knobs, gauges, a charger jack, and an air hose sprouting from it.  While the appearance of kits from various manufacturers vary, their purpose does not.  After moving your car to the shoulder of the road and turning on the vehicle’s hazard lights, retrieve the sealant kit from the vehicle.  Unlike a traditional spare tire, you aren’t required to jack the car up, not that you could if you wanted to.  You don’t even want to turn the engine off since the included air compressor could drain your vehicle’s battery.  You also may need to roll the vehicle forward until you can find the puncture, remembering that if the hole is larger than ¼ inch or is in the sidewall, you’ll need to call roadside assistance.  Most manufacturer’s tire inflator kits come with directions printed atop the unit.  But I still recommend you go to YouTube to view a video just to be on the safe side.
  8. How long is the shelf life of a typical tire sealant?  Only 4-5 years or less depending on climate conditions.  Since tire sealant stays in the trunk, if you live in areas that experience hotter than normal summers or colder than normal winters, the shelf life can be much less than average.  Wait much longer and you’ll need to either get the unit recharged or resort to aftermarket tire sealants.
  9. Don’t forget that tires repaired with sealant aren’t meant to be driven at speeds in excess of 50 MPH or for distances greater than 50 miles.  Should you exceed either of these limits only to wind up in an accident, your claim could be denied. 
  10. Never use a manufacturer’s tire sealant kit in an enclosed space like a garage, since you’re required to keep the engine running while the compressor is being operated.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. I for one would much rather have the safety of a spare over the paltry fuel savings that eliminating it provides.

  2. Getting a flat is always a bummer. Even using a fix a flat can doesn't end the problem because tire repair center often wont repair the tire once its inflated with the fix a flat. They want you to buy a tire!!!!


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