Reader Question: Inflator Kits and Self-Checkout Kiosks

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Michelle asks: Our Mini doesn’t have a spare tire. Instead, it comes with an inflator/repair kit. I am not happy about this because I know these kits are only useful if you have a small puncture in the tread. If the tire’s sidewall is damaged, you’re stuck! Do you think it would be a good idea to get a real spare tire for just in case?

My reply: We’ve been gypped – again – by the government/corporate nexus.

The reason many new cars no longer come even with space-saver “temporary use” tires is because of the now-frantic need to shave weight wherever feasible and no matter how little – for the sake of achieving even a fractional increase in gas mileage, in order to “comply” with federal mandatory minimum MPG fatwas.

So, spare tires got chucked in favor of these repair kits, which weigh almost nothing. And cost almost nothing. Well, they cost the car companies almost nothing – like the self-checkout kiosks taking the place of cashiers and baggers – which cost the stores nothing but cost us a lot.

What you get is a small bottle of goo – to repair the puncture – and either a small C02 canister to fill the fixed tire or a small air pump to do the same.

The upside is it’s easy – and isn’t dirty. Jacking up a car and pulling a flat tire in street clothes usually ruins the street clothes.

But, you’re not stuck.

Which you will be, if the flat tire isn’t fixable. That happens probably a third to half the time, and more so today because of  today’s short-sidewall tires, which are more prone to sidewall damage because they flex less. One good pothole or curb strike and that’s enough, often enough.

Sure, you can call roadside assistance – but that can take hours. And if you’re in a not-safe place, that can be dangerous.

So, yes, I think getting a real spare is smart. Even if it’s only a mini-spare (one of those “temporary use only” spares). Much better than nothing.

Just make sure you get one designed to fit your vehicle and that you also get a small jack and lug wrench, without which you won’t be able to change the tire! I also advise stowing some old clothes – and a pair of gloves – you can slip on to perform the change without ruining the street clothes you were wearing when the tire went kaput! 

. . .

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Years ago I noticed, especially in the summer, there seemed to be people every few miles on the interstate with ruined tires. I didn’t have to wonder why having already seen 4WD pickups with really small sidewall tires from the factory.

  2. Out where we live a spare is absolutely necessary. Actually, a SPARE spare is really handy to have around the place sometimes, so you can actually have a spare when you drive to town to get the flat fixed. Else you need to take the flat in with a different vehicle.

    Last summer coming back from town, we gave a lady a ride who had her second flat in as many days so her spare wasn’t fixed yet. It was in the mid-nineties as I recall, just the thing for a five mile walk out in the sun. We picked her up about halfway and she was getting pretty hot and tired.

    I bought another wheel/tire for our little car, so it has a full size spare plus the wheelbarrow tire spare. It’s a bit of a pain though since it takes over half the width of the cargo area, although if you put the outside down then you can put small stuff inside the dish of the wheel.

    • Some do, and some don’t. MoPar in general does not provide spares any more, for example. YMMV.

      I can vouch for the efficacy of a real spare tire in one of these new cars with no spare. Relative has had 3 flats not fixable by the inflator thingy in a recent Jeep. Sidewall rips, things like that. All three have required a tow, and a wait at a tire place. One also required special effort to remove the dealer-installed wheel lock on the offending wheel. The dealer-provided wrench key failed catastrophically, so they had to drill the lock out.

      Moral of story, I recommend when someone buys a car without a spare, get one IMMEDIATELY, and replace all the wheel locks with regular lug nuts. If you REALLY need to lock down your wheels, be aware just about every aftermarket lock will eventually have its key wrench fail, so have a spare key wrench or two in the car.

      • A friend had a flat with a locking nut on each wheel. He had no wrench/key. He was so pissed he used a pair of Vice Grips and spun that lock off. Seems like he threw the lock as far as he could. It was hot as hell and he was in hell…..on Mopac.

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