Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Ao asks: With the large number of vehicles that now come with a compact spare that has limited range or perhaps no spare, at all, in the case of vehicles with run flat tires, I wondered about the advisability of carrying a spare tire (perhaps mounted on a alloy wheel) loose in the trunk.
Is it dangerous for passengers in the front or rear seat in the event of someone rear-ending the vehicle? A compact spare may only be enough to get to a very small town with no major tire dealer. Since run flat tires only protect against punctures – not cuts or blowouts -I’m not very comfortable with no backup plan on those either.
I’m aware of road service plans, but even if they come promptly, the possibility of not having a tire available to fit my car would cause me to have to have the car towed in and perhaps have a long delay (without a vehicle to drive) in a small town waiting for a tire to arrive. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I long for the “old days” when they put full-sized spares on alloy wheels in vehicles! Thank you for your great articles, as well as for any help with my question.
My reply: All of your points regarding “space saver” tires are spot on. Other issues include mismatch – the space saver tire is often much smaller (width) than the three remaining good tires. This creates weird handling/braking characteristics. It is arguably a legitimate saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety issue but of course it’s not discussed because that would run counter to the reason why new/late-model cars almost never have a full-size spare: The government’s fuel efficiency fatwas. But that’s a subject for a longer rant!
I think it is a very sound idea to obtain and carry a real (full-size) spare for all the reasons you’ve listed. In the event of a flat, you will not be stuck nor will you have to stop – until it’s convenient for you to do so. The car can be driven normally – as long as you like. Not limped at low speed to the nearest tire store – which may be nowhere near where you happen to be and very inconvenient.
There is a downside, though. Not safety – the spare tire (and wheel) impacting passengers in the event of a crash. Assuming we are not talking a crossover SUV, the trunk is physically separated from the passenger compartment, often by a metal-braced barrier – and that will prevent the wheel/tire from being hurled into the passenger compartment. And even in a wagon or crossover with “connected” cargo area/passenger area, a spare tire is heavy enough that it’s not going to go flying.
The main detraction is loss of trunk/cargo space.
In the first place, most newer cars (coupes/sedans) have very small trunks – about 13-15 cubic feet is typical. And in the second, almost all new/recent-vintage cars come from the factory with big wheels (and tires to match). Most have at least 16-17 inch wheels and many have 18, 19 and even 20-inch (and larger) “rims.”
A full-size spare will eat up a considerable portion of the limited space there is, limiting what you can use the trunk for as far as carrying other things. If you have a wagon, crossover, SUV or truck this will be much less of an issue, of course.
If you decide to get a full-size spare, be sure the wheel is of the same type (diameter and width and backspacing) as the factory wheels. I’d get one exactly like the others and then get a tire of the same size/type and have that mounted.
The wheel will be expensive if you buy a new one over the counter – unless you happen to have one of the few cars still made with steel wheels. But you can usually find a factory wheel at used parts lots; just make sure it’s not damaged (cracked, chipped, out of round) which you can establish by close visual inspection and by a tire shop. Ask for a return guarantee on the used rim if it turns out to be damaged.
Check the air in the spare every couple of months, too! And write down the date you bought it so you know when it’s time to replace it. Generally, that’s after 8-10 years, even if it never touches pavement. Tires get brittle over time.
Look for a longer rant on this business soon!
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