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Your next car may not have a spare tire

Sealant and inflator kits being used to save weight and fuel

Published: August 16, 2014 09:00 AM

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Most car buyers aren’t in the habit of checking for a spare while they’re kicking tires. But if you’re in the market for a new car, it might be worth a peek in the trunk.

Nearly all car companies are eliminating spare tires from their models. Some upscale and performance cars are instead coming with run-flat tires—tires specially designed to operate for a limited distance after losing air from a typical puncture.  But if you’re looking at something more mainstream, the chances are all you’re going to get is a small air compressor and sealant kit for minor punctures. (See our tire inflation kit evaluations.)

Carmakers say the reason to skip the spare is due to increased pressure to squeeze more miles out of every gallon of fuel. And ditching a 40- or 50-pound tire and jack helps to increase mpg. A reason they don’t mention as often, though, is cost.

The argument could be made that dropping the spare makes sense, given that tire changing is a skill that has largely gone away, much like operating a manual transmission. Increasingly, people just don’t know how to do it, and they would rather call a roadside assistance service. Plus, modern tires are pretty durable, with industry statistics indicating that most drivers average around seven years between flats.

The problem is that an inflator kit won’t help if a tire gets a slice in the sidewall or suffers other more-serious damage than a basic tread puncture. (Read "My luxurious BMW 750iL run-flat nightmare.")

Some aftermarket suppliers and car dealers offer spare tire kits, including the tire, a jack, and a lug wrench costing anywhere from $150 to $300.

Whether you prefer to change your own tires or call for a tow truck is entirely up to you. But as always, the best advice is to know how your car is equipped before you take delivery. Don’t rely on the sales staff to tell you the new car has no spare. Of course, the best time to find out is in the showroom, not roadside, right after you’ve had a flat. This is especially good advice for first-time car buyers/owners.

Here’s a list of cars we’ve tested that came with an inflator kit instead of a spare tire.

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