How to prepare for driving without a spare tire

Consumer Reports News: April 12, 2012 12:08 PM

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As automakers strive to cut production costs and reduce vehicle weight to aid fuel economy, many are tossing out the seldom-used spare tire. It may seem a reasonable way to shed pounds, right until that rare moment when you have a flat tire. We share some tips on how to prepare for such a roadside emergency.

When buying a car, determine what tires it comes with. Run-flats can sound convenient, but they can be costly and prove difficult to find replacements. Also, find out if the car has a spare tire. If not, it may be available as an option. For those who travel to remote locations, where help could not be readily summoned, it may be worth the investment to buy a spare tire. (See our tire buying advice and Ratings.)

If a car does not come with a spare tire, it will typically be equipped with a can of tire sealant and a DC-powered air compressor (or it may have run-flat tires). Minor punctures through the tread can be addressed with this gear. But if the puncture is large or is in the sidewall, help will be needed. (Read: Early warning signs of tire failure.) Keep in mind that successfully sealing the tire is only a temporary repair. Have the tire properly repaired or replaced as soon as possible.

Spare tire or not, plan on setting aside a half hour with all the people who drive the car (especially as newer and teenage drivers) and read through the owners manual to learn how to follow each step for changing a flat tire. The familiarity will make it much easier to address a roadside emergency, especially under less-ideal conditions, such as foul weather or alongside heavy traffic. In doing so, you may identify ways to better prepare, such as supplementing the included lug-nut wrench with a longer torque wrench that may be easier to use.

To help with such emergencies, it is wise to keep a basic safety kit in the trunk. Reflective hazard triangles and road flares can warn other motorists, and they are especially helpful at night. Likewise, a flashlight or two can prove vital after dark. Be sure to change the flashlight batteries once a year to ensure they'll be ready. (See our recommendations for a complete car emergency kit.)

Even the simplest jobs can get your hands dirty. Mechanics-style gloves, hand cleaner, and/or clean rags can prove handy, as can a towel or small blanket for kneeling without ruining your clothes.

Ultimately, the most important tools to have on hand may be a cell phone and auto-club card or roadside-assistance number. If you must summon help, you need to know who to call and have a means to do so, as was the case when I had a flat last year in a test car.

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Jeff Bartlett

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