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AAA Issues Plea to Automakers: Spare the Spare

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CARS.COM — As automakers increasingly ditch the doughnut in favor of run-flat tires and emergency tire inflator kits, AAA is making a plea to spare the spare. The roadside assistance provider says it has seen no decline the past five years in the more than 4 million flat tire assistance calls it receives annually, and despite newfangled alternatives, there’s no substitute for a trusty ol’ spare tire in the trunk.

Related: Getting the Right Tire

“Tire inflator kits, a high-cost alternative for consumers, 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 stated. AAA’s testing of common inflator kits revealed that they were effective only on a tire with a puncture in the tread surface  — with the object still stuck in the tire. A kit is not useful for a flat tire caused by sidewall damage or a blowout. AAA estimated that 30 million drivers could be left stranded at the side of the road as a result. 

The Downside of Run-Flats and Inflator Kits

Despite what AAA calls “minimal savings in fuel consumption” due to weight reduction, vehicles without spare tires have expanded from just 5 percent of vehicles to more than a third between 2006 and 2015 — and at a cost. Kits can cost as much as 10 times more than a tire patch, and your tire inflation kit may need replacement in as little as four years, AAA said.

“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,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair, in a statement. “Advances in automotive engineering allow for weight to be reduced in ways that don’t leave motorists stranded at the roadside.”

BMW is well-known for its use of run-flat tires, which come on most of the automaker’s new car offerings — with some exceptions. All M-badged BMW cars come with standard tires and an inflator kit except for the X5 M and X6 M, which come with a space-saver spare tire; M performance models such as the M235i and X4 M40i can get run-flat tires as a no-cost option. A space-saver spare is also available as an option on the X1, X5 and X6 SUVs, as well as on the 7 Series sedan. The lone BMW model that allows customers to get standard non-run-flat tires and a spare in place of run-flats as a no-cost option is the X1.

Hector Arellano-Belloc, a spokesman for BMW, said the automaker’s customers “enjoy the advantages” of run-flats. One such perk, of course, is not having to get out of the car and change a flat at the roadside, instead being able to drive to the nearest convenient tire shop.

“However, we give the choice to our customers that still prefer to get the standard tire,” Arellano-Belloc told Cars.com.

Changing a Tire: A Vanishing Skill?

An unintended consequence of the proliferation of the gradual disappearance of the conventional spare tire has been to make it the eight-track tape deck of emergency automotive equipment. According to AAA figures, compared with drivers ages 35 to 58 — 90 percent of whom know how to change a tire — less than 20 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds possess this once-basic skill.

These AAA statistics may be face-palm-inducing for old-school tire changers who still value this skill. However, a quick test in the Cars.com office revealed that it took all of about 10 seconds to say, “Siri, how do you change a tire on a car?” into an Apple iPhone and get a step-by-step guide for doing so.

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