/ Motoring

Got a puncture? Spare wheels need to make a comeback

Getting a puncture has to be one of the most frustrating and irritating aspects of driving. But is the situation made worse when you lift the boot to only find tyre sealant and a pump, rather than a spare wheel?

It wasn’t that long ago when every new car came fitted with a full-size spare wheel. Yes, that did mean carrying extra weight on every single journey, but when you needed one, they were little hassle to fit and would instantly remedy the issue, allowing you to continue driving as normal.

But now, with the introduction of space saver wheels, run-flat tyres and puncture repair kits, the days of full-size spare wheels are almost over.

The alternatives aren’t up to scratch

As you might have guessed, a space saver wheel isn’t quite as wide as your car’s full-size wheel and tyre, which allows for more boot space. However, you can only drive on it at certain speeds. Run-flat tyres have stronger side walls, meaning you can still drive on them when they’re deflated. However, these tend to give you a harsh ride, even when you don’t have a puncture.

But as much as I have my gripes with those two, it’s the tyre goo and pump kits that I dislike most. Not only are they fiddly to use, they don’t fill you with too much confidence that the rest of your journey’s going to be a safe one.

At best, these repair kits should only be a short-term fix for your flat tyre.

Bring back spare wheels

That’s why finding out whether a car has a full-size spare wheel in the boot is important to me when I’m shopping for a new car. Despite the weight-saving advantages and improved boot space offered by repair kits, I’m not willing to compromise on the practicality and safety provided by a spare wheel.

So, it’s a massive disappointment that the full-size spare wheel is edging closer to extinction. But does it matter to you?

Are you happy for your future punctures to be rectified by goo and a pump? Or would you like to see spare wheels making a comeback, even if they limit the space in your car boot?

Fill in our new Which? car spare wheels survey and tell us what you think.

What should carmakers offer as a remedy for a punctured tyre?

A spare wheel should come as standard with all cars (79%, 1,053 Votes)

A space-saver wheel or run-flat tyre should come as standard (15%, 203 Votes)

A spare wheel should be an optional extra (2%, 32 Votes)

I don’t mind what carmakers offer (2%, 23 Votes)

A puncture repair kit is fine (1%, 16 Votes)

A space-saver wheel or run-flat tyre should be an optional extra (1%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,343

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This is rather timely since I had to change a wheel yesterday due to a puncture and have just had a new tyre fitted.

My last car had a space saver wheel. The first time I used it I discovered that it was not only narrower but the tyre had a smaller diameter. I don’t know why they are permitted on safety grounds. One of the essentials when I bought my present car was to buy a model with a full-size spare wheel.

When I replace my car I will be looking for a new one with a full-size spare. If it is necessary to walk out of a dealer’s showroom I will explain the reason.

The only time I used tyre sealant, the tyre fitter advised me not to do it again.

My car has a space saver wheel, which I’ve never used and have rarely thought about.

I just know that when I come to use it, I’ll be flipping through the owners manual in the dark, trying to find out how fast I’m allowed to go on the thing. No point in finding out now, cos I’ll forget!

Bring back the regular spare wheel I say, it will make life much easier.

….why don’t they make cars with that size wheel / tyre as standard on each corner. Then your space saver will be the same as the rest.

depends if you have a sports car or not, weight is everything, run flats are fine if the suspension is stiff anyway

I discovered” goo and pump kits” when carrying out a routine check on what’s on offer at the local showrooms.They are clearly a complete fudge and would never cope with much more than a small hole in a tyre.I believe the AA insist on members carrying a spare tyre.AlsoI don’t fancy being on a long journey with a space saver which restricts speed to 50mph. The motor industry should always give an option for a proper full size spare wheel with a new car except perhaps for electic cars that only go short distances for which a space saver would do.

Phil says:
3 April 2012

They’re not space savers they’re money savers. The car makers work on the principle that if they can cut £1 from the cost of each car then if they make 1 million of that model they’ve made an extra £1 million profit.

You spend say £15k on a new car, only to find they’ve got a space saver in the boot. Makes the car makers come across as really cheap. So what else have they tried to save money on that we can’t see. Anyone know why all cars just don’t come with run flats these days?

Rob – Can’t agree that “Having run flat tyres fitted to any car will have an impact on the ride quality”. Or at least not a significant impact, not on some of the latest cars. Don’t you read Which? car tests? Take a look at the review of the current 5-Series “Ride comfort 5-star – Overall the 5 Series is very comfortable indeed”. Even on my previous-generation 5-Series, I feel any ride harshness is more than compensated by the benefits.

You only have to have one puncture when you’re stuck for time, the weather’s filthy or you’re in a dangerous place, to want run-flats on all your future cars. And that’s without considering the safety aspect when it comes to blow-outs. I acknowledge that they’re expensive and you can only drive for a limited distance at a limited speed, once one is punctured, but the fact that you don’t have to deal with the puncture at the roadside is what’s most important to me.

I had a BMW with run-flat tyres and the ride was terrible – crashing and banging over any ridges, bumps and pot-holes (of which there are many). I switched to ‘normal’ winter tyres for the last few months and what a transformation – smoother, quieter, altogether more pleasant ride. Eventually, though, I changed the car and went for one with normal tyres and a traditional spare wheel. I couldn’t relax with the thought of having no spare and taking a chance on the very limited range offered by run-flats. They say you could drive maybe 50 miles on a deflated run-flat but what use is that on any journey longer than 50 miles. If you’re more than 50 miles from home and get a puncture you need to buy a replacement run-flat more or less immediately, that is assuming it’s daytime and you can find a tyre dealer, and they have your size and tyre type in stock and you haven’t wrecked your alloy wheel getting there . . .
Run-flats? No thanks.

You’re right, alan, but safety comes first, for me.

Have you ever had to change an offside wheel on the hard shoulder of a motorway in appalling weather and very poor visibility? Did you have to empty the boot first in the pouring rain? Were you able to release the wheel nuts? Of course, if you had a blow-out you might be at the centre of a serious accident instead of just having to change a wheel.

I’d rather be able to keep going slowly for 50 miles, get off the motorway and buy a new tyre. If there’s nowhere to buy one, call out the emergency services or pay for a night’s accommodation rather than risking your life.

I’ve just changed my 225/45R17 summers for 195/65R15 winters (same rolling radius) and the ride has improved hugely, not to mention grip on everything except warm, dry tarmac (not much about this summer!). Winters tend to have a smoother ride than summers anyway (sipes make tread blocks more responsive to irregularities?), but sacrificing absorbance of high-frequency suspension input for the illusion of bigger wheels doesn’t add up to me.

Back on topic, have runflats (available with a decent winter tread?) and carry a spare.

I can’t remember the last time I had to change a wheel or had a puncture. I’m glad I’ve not been carting around a heavy spare wheel all this time for no reason, especially if it’s only purpose it to make life easier for the AA.

Manufacturers of compact cameras decided to withdraw viewfinders and matt screens disappeared from most laptop computers, much to the disgust of prospective purchasers. Let’s keep the spare and praise the manufacturers that have had the sense to include a full-size spare wheel as standard equipment.

par ailleurs says:
3 April 2012

I don’t know about other manufacturers but my Skoda came with a repair kit instead of even a basic space-saver wheel. I wasn’t impressed. But having said that, I opted for a spare steel wheel which added £45 to the cost of the new car. And I’d already got a superb deal on it anyway. In the greater scheme of things it’s not that bad. Now I’ve got peace of mind if I actually do have a puncture and over the life of the car that extra won’t have much impact and will probably impress anyone who buys it as a used car later on.

I was thinking about this recently – my Fiesta has the electric pump and goo kit, but after reading the instructions for its use decided that maybe I should be getting a proper spare wheel instead.
Presumably you need to buy the manufacturer’s jack as well, or will any third-party jack do?
And a wheelbrace too – it all starts to add up, doesn’t it.

par ailleurs says:
3 April 2012

I can’t speak for Ford but the Skoda came with wheel and a jack kit. After all it wouldn’t be too much use without!

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 April 2012

My work has chosen cars for its fleet on the basis that they are more “environmentally friendly” because they have no spare wheels, therefore carry less weight, therefore use less fuel. One of the biggest cop out/divert-your-attention-away-from-what’s-really-happening (cutting corners to cut costs) claims on the part of car manufacturers yet, I think. Stop the nonsense, forget the space saving wheels (how much space is really saved?) and let’s have the proper spare wheels please. Safety has to come first, always.

Phil says:
3 April 2012

My company have gone one step further and removed the spare wheels on health and safety grounds. Staff are not allowed to change wheels themselves, they have to summon the AA.

No wonder it costs so much to join the AA if people call them out to change a wheel, other than on a motorway of course.

What a crazy world we live in.

>>> My company have gone one step further and removed the spare wheels on health and safety grounds. <<<

Filling the fuel tank can be more dangerous – have they removed that too?

Phil says:
3 April 2012

“At best, these repair kits should only be a short-term fix for your flat tyre.”

They are. It’s made plain on the can but how short is short term? In some circumstances you could be many miles from a proper repair.

My new car is a “eco” version so no spare tyre supplied or even an option as the weight reduction is necessary to keep the car in Band C ( <120 gCO2/km).
I would susoect that this weight saving is quite important in keeping many models in the lower tax bands.
However the dealer just ordered the parts instead and installed the spare tyre.

There does seem to be controversy about whether the use of the sealant gunk makes the tyre unrepairable – something Which might like to look into. Obviously tyre suppliers prefer to sell a new tyre rather than spend time cleaning the gunk out.

>>> However, you can only drive on [a space saver tyre] at certain speeds. Run-flat tyres have stronger side walls, meaning you can still drive on them when they’re deflated. <<<

I wouldn't like anyone to get the impression a deflated run-flat performs as normal. Firstly, it's speed limited to 50mph, just like a space saver. Secondly, the range is only about 30 miles if you have a fully-loaded car, before you will damage the side walls beyond repair. The idea is to enable you to continue on to a safe place, rather than have to stop, say, at the side of a busy motorway or on a dark, deserted road.

You can't have run-flats an after fitment on a car without the necessary deflation detector – otherwise how would you know something's gone wrong?

I have run-flats on my BMW and I've been very happy with them over 80,000 miles. The ride on a standard profile tyre is not that compromised (compared with a Mercedes C-Class before the BMW) and they don't cost more that 10% over an equivalent premium tyre. Of course, there are no options if you want to fit cheap tyres.

Have I had a run-flat go flat? Yes, on a motorway. Could I keep going? Yes.

I try to minimise my driving but sometimes drive long distances. I can see the advantage of being able to continue driving on a run-flat tyre but being limited to 30 miles and having no spare tyre seems like daft car design to me.

@Rob – Sure, I just felt the article could be misunderstood and a little clarification on the limitations of run-flats might help.

@wavechange – I think 30 miles is more than enough; the horses need changing by then!

I had no idea that spare wheels had effectively disappeared – So the first thing I will look for is a spare wheel in my next new car, My present car has one and I’ve used it twice in ten years – both times it was a “life’ saver.

Bruce says:
4 April 2012

I drive 22k miles a year and would like to throw in my tuppenceworth.
1. I’ve have had to resort to my space saver several times. The one good thing about it is that it forces you to get the puncture fixed quickly – with a full size spare there’s always the temptation to get the tyre fixed at a familiar garage (which could be a long way off) instead of one close by.
2. I share the concern about tyre sealant. It takes pretty much the same time to fix a puncture as to fit a new tyre. If the tyre fitter is to be forced to scrape out sealant before fixing the puncture, simple economic pressure will result in a lot of perfectly repairable tyres being scrapped in favour of fitting new ones (it’s also feasible that these “scrapped” tyres will be kept aside, cleaned out during quiet times then repaired and sold on as part-worn – tidy extra revenue).

Has there been any analysis of the extra fuel consumed per year or per 1000 miles when carrying a full size spare v tyre sealant?
3. Recently, I’ve twice had punctures that resulted in sidewall damage, rendering tyre sealant useless. Without the space saver I would have need a tow – possibly taking away the recovery vehicle from someone who had a serious problem.

Andy says:
4 April 2012

In my opinion (and experience), tyre sealant kits are next to useless. On two occasions I have had punctures (on a company car) caused by debris on the road that made either a hole in the side wall or a hole too big for the sealant to cope with. Both occasions meant a time-consuming wait (overnight in the first case) for recovery to a tyre fitters.

When, last year, I had a slow puncture and I was able to drive the car to a fittera without needing to use the kit the first thing that the fitter asked was if I had used the kit since, had I used it, then they would have to replace the tyre rather than deal with cleaning out the sealant. Apparently it was the firm’s policy.

Having recently bought my own car earlier this year I didn’t consider any cars where there was no spare wheel, or where the dealer did not agree to provide a spare wheel at no extra cost.

Steven says:
4 April 2012

My current and previous cars have had runflats since 2003 and I have to say they have been great. They are expensive to replace but have been great when I have had punctures, simply drive to the local garage and they sort everything. Carrying a full-size alloy and tyre (at an additional cost of £250-£350) is no longer a great idea due to the weight (approx 18Kg/40lb).
…and how many people know where the safe jacking points are on their car, how to use the jack and are strong enough to remove the wheel bolts?
I would have a car with traditional tyres, but only to improve the handling. I can easily and safely change a tyre, but they’re not for everyone.
As normal, people need to be provided with the choice, and be presented with the benefits and downfalls of each option.

It is just a case of being prepared. All you need to do is to get out the handbook and jack when you buy a car, learn where the jacking points are and how to change a wheel. Put a little grease on the threads as I have suggested above and that should ensure that it is possible to remove the bolts without too much problem.

Inspecting tyres for nails etc and checking tyre pressures weekly and before any long journey can avoid problems on the road. In over 40 years driving I have had many punctures or been able to remove nails before they have caused a problem, but only twice have I had to change a tyre during a journey.

Neal Prendergrast says:
4 April 2012

I had a puncture when on my way to a day trip. Car full I put on my spare wheel. It was one that you keep your speed down. I used my satnav to find the nearest garage rang them and satnav took me direct. This all happened in south wales on the back roads. We live in a modern day with technology giving us a helping hand in many ways. So the small spare tyre works for me.