Where the heck is my spare tire?

Spares are becoming increasingly rare in new cars

Published: October 01, 2014 08:00 AM
Photo: Paul Sahre

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It wasn’t until Bob Kronberg of Carolina Shores, N.C., drove his new Kia Optima home from the dealership that he got an unpleasant surprise. Instead of finding a spare tire in the trunk, he saw a tire-inflator kit, with a small air compressor and a can of sealant to use in case of a flat.

When he called Kia USA, a representative told him that the spare had been eliminated to save weight and, therefore, gas. The rep added that he could purchase a temporary spare-tire kit from his dealer’s parts department for about $200 to $250.

Toyota Prius inflation kit

“Had I known that, I would have at least had the spare-tire kit included in negotiations,” he says.

Kronberg is not alone; many carmakers have eliminated spare tires to improve fuel economy. Some, like Kia (and Toyota, seen left), provide an inflator kit, and others have switched to run-flat tires, which can be driven for limited distances after a puncture. But run-flat tires tend to be more expensive to replace and often deliver a stiffer ride.

Because modern tires are generally reliable and flats aren’t as common as they used to be, ditching a 45-pound spare might seem like a reasonable gamble for carmakers to take to save gas. But as Kronberg points out, an inflator kit helps only if you have a small puncture in the tread. It can’t fix a tire with a sidewall puncture or more significant damage. For that, you’ll have to call a tow truck—and hope that a matching replacement tire is readily available.

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Kronberg told Consumer Reports that he didn’t remember the sales representative mentioning the lack of a spare and that it never occurred to him to ask. When we looked at the Optima info on Kia’s website, we couldn’t find any mention of it, either. It seems that Kia wants to keep that potentially unpopular fact hidden from buyers. Consumer Reports urges Kia and all automakers, as well as their dealers, to be up front about the availability of spare tires.

Bottom line. It’s up to you to make sure you know how the car you’re buying is equipped. Don’t rely on the sales staff. Read the window sticker carefully. And if you have a car with no spare, call your dealership and ask whether a temporary or full-sized spare-tire kit is available for your model.

—Jim Travers

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the November 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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