As the car evolves and customer needs change, it’s inevitable some traditional features deemed non-essential on the car will come under pressure.
20 years ago, most vehicles would have featured a spare fifth wheel tucked away in or under the boot for an emergency.
That’s not the case anymore.
Increasingly, vehicles are being fitted with either super-stiff sidewall ‘run-flat’ rubber that can sustain speeds up to 50mph with no air pressure at all, a can of expanding tyre foam, or an air compressor powered by your car’s 12-volt power supply.
While these items more than stand up to the test legally, does the omission of a full-on spare put your safety at risk? It could be argued that yes, they do.
Repairing a flat tyre using the latter two methods is just as dangerous as changing a tyre at the roadside – as you’re exposed to the same risk for a similar length of time. And once you’re back on your way, neither quick fix (they aren’t full repairs) is as safe as a space saver.
Blowing up a punctured tyre is a temporary patch. In the worst circumstances, as it continues to deflate, your car’s rubber can be overly stressed, whereas run-flats can be a lot more expensive to replace.
I recently felt the unpleasant outcome of not having a proper spare wheel. Driving down the motorway I experienced a rapid deflation of a tyre caused by a clean puncture from a nail.
Although I’d packed a can of tyre foam, the fact I’d replaced the car’s run-flat tyres to those sporting a conventionally constructed carcass meant I couldn’t blow up the tyre with the foam, as I had no jack to remove the wheel (you need to if it’s not a run-flat).
I had to wait just metres from traffic travelling at 70mph until the RAC turned up to temporarily plug the whole. Thankfully, they prioritised my case as I was in an unsafe location. With a spare wheel, though, I’d have solved the problem in five minutes flat – no pun intended – and would have been safely on my way.
This situation is not the fault of the car manufacturers, though. Collectively, customer demand for increasing wheel sizes, and carmakers being forced to improve efficiency by government, has put pressure on the traditional spare due to its weight and size.
Most new cars are actually still available with an optional fifth wheel too, meaning it’s arguably policy makers that are in the wrong – many consider a spare to be a safety item and should be standard-fit. You wouldn’t expect anti-lock brakes or airbags to be optional in this day and age.
The bottom line is it’s important to understand your ‘spare tyre’ provisions and consider your best options. It’ll undoubtedly reduce your risk at the roadside if and when you’re placed in that vulnerable situation.
For further information on Tyre Safety, read our editorial piece: Tyre Safety - all you need to know.