/ 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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Why are we having a polarized debate about run-flats as an alternative to a full-sized spare. Why not both?

Run-flats have undoubted safety benefits in the event of a sudden loss of air pressure, plus the ability to continue driving on to find a safe refuge. Whether you think your alleged ride comfort is more important than safety and not impeding other road users has little to do with this debate. But there is no reason why manufacturers cannot supply a spare full-sized run-flat, just as with any other type of tyre.

With the increase in long term motorway roadworks and closed hard shoulders, I don’t want to be holding up the traffic waiting to be recovered with a punctured tyre, so I would like run-flats, please. But I would also like the option to carry a spare full-sized run-flat, to be fitted at the earliest convenient opportunity.

Price is a factor. I have read that run-flat tyres cost about twice as much as conventional tyres and a quick check for my car suggests that this may be true.

Catastrophic tyre failure is usually a result of under-inflation, and a lot of problems could be avoided if drivers would inspect their tyres for nails etc and check the pressures. I do mine once a week and before any long journey. Having tyre pressure sensors is no substitute.

The closure of hard shoulders is a hazard that needs to be dealt with before it becomes known as a cause of motorway pile-ups.

I did that, sort of. I was able to order a space-saver spare with jack and brace for £67.50 with my 5-Series. That way, there’s no danger of blow-outs and I can drive to my destination, stopping in a safe place to change the wheel, if necessary. I’ve no idea whether a spare is an option on current BMWs.

Of course, I’m still limited in speed and the total distance I can cover after collecting a puncture. I bought a full-size spare, brand new, cheaply on eBay, but it doesn’t fit in the well, so is only of value if I carry it in the boot or can make it home before fitting it.

I do miss the space in the boot that’s now occupied by the spare and really am undecided as to the best compromise.

Eccles says:
6 April 2012

Yes, price is a factor, but not much of one to the car manufacturers to whom tyre manufacturers heavily discount tyres in the hope of repeat business through the replacement market. This is particularly true of wide, low profile tyres. Of course should car maufacturers not fit such big, heavy tyres and wheels in the first place the weight of a full size spare would not be so great………………..

Space savers are so called because originally they were introduced to save space in favour of boot space and/or designer freedom. Much later when weight saving began to be driven by environmental imperatives they were embraced for that reason and a bit of misplaced lateral thinking led to the even lighter can of shaving foam.

It has been rightly said the fuel saving/emissions reduction is minimal, but a many small savings aggregate to a worthwhile overall saving. Its a matter for debate whether every minimal saving is justifiable on environmental grounds alone and other valid considerations such as convenience & safety are sidelined.

The driver for all this is EU environmental legislation and the fines that can be imposed on car manufacturers failing to meet EU emissions limits.

robsmith says:
6 April 2012

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of flat 3 times since my co. car (Vauxhall) has only been fitted with the dreaded gunk & compressor – each time the damage was too severe for this to work and as my employer deems us not important enough to have a mobile tyre repair supplier out of hours. I’ve had to call the AA out each time (who are also getting fed up with this situation & according to one mechanic are considering providing their own tyre repair/replacement service).
I’ve recently purchased a new car of our own (Vauxhall Mariva )and specifically asked for a proper spare/jack etc which cost me an extra £100 but was a price well worth paying – it fits in the wheel well in the boot – the Rep told me that they’re not included as standard for cost reasons but also as they add weight and can bump the model up a class in the emission ratings – so we had to buy the spare etc as a separate purchase after paying for the car!

Bring back full sized spare wheels!!

I also bought a Meriva and specified a spare wheel & jack, I am old enough to have driven in the days when everyone carried a full spare wheel, jack & puncture repair outfit ( Austin Seven!!) and had to use them many times, along with a starting handle!!
I would not dream of not having a spare, even if it is a ” Space-Saver”
Bring back the full sized spare wheel !!

PJ says:
6 April 2012

I have just ordered a new car- No spare and Goo in boot. On the options list is a Tyre pressure monitor and also the option of a mini spare.

I suspect that not that many tyre deflations are instantaneous (blow outs) so the tyre pressure monitor is a good idea. My current car has one and it does provide a degree of reassurance.

Bring back the full size spare wheels!

John says:
6 April 2012

Car manufacturers will tell you that deletion of the spare wheel is a weight saver and increases MPG. I am sure it helps with the mileage tests and subsequent advertising but actual increased MPG would be so tiny that in normal use you could not quantify it.

The real reason is to save on production costs and currently provide at least a space saver at extra cost. Manufacturers then enter the win-win position of selling you the spare that you should have had in the first place! At least this is what Jaguar do on a £75,000.00+ car.

The next stage seems to be complete deletion of the spare and provision of gel wherever possible.

The statistics concerning the rarity of punctures are no doubt correct but that does not help you if you are unfortunate and have one.(or more!).

I can only comment from personal experience and say that I have had two major punctures in the last 7/8 years. One on a UK Motorway and one in France. In both cases there was damage to the tread and side wall and gel would have been of no use whatsoever. It would have been better to have a full size wheel however on both occasions the space saver meant that we could at least get off the Motorway quickly and safely,complete UK journey and find a hotel in France.

Run flats are very good but cannot cope with all situations and I think it is absolutely vital to have at least a space saver.

I will never buy a car without provision for at least a spacer saver and have told Jaguar.

I hope sites such as this together with press articles along the lines of Jeremy Clarkson’s Telegraph report on a Porsche of a few weeks ago will persuade manufacturers to stop designing out the spare wheel. (He reduced his 5 star review to no star when due to a puncture he could not use the vehicle half way through the test).

Perhaps with some pressure we will see road tests in the weekly and monthly magazines comment on the spare wheel provision or lack of it.

Keep the Spare!

golfer99 says:
6 April 2012

Minimum requirement should be a space saver wheel.
Only puncture on my current Nissan Primera was on the rear tyre and by the time I realised I had a puncture tyre was shredded on inside wall although outside looked fine!!
Would NEVER buy a car without a spare wheel and consider it should be a legal requirement.

Keith Fisher says:
6 April 2012

I have had 2 Hondas and both were sold minus the mini spare but came with the gue and a jack. After having my first Honda a few weeks I got a puncture in a tyre and tried to repair it with the gue kit but it would not seal so I had to call out the AA. The repair man said the tyre could not be repaired as the puncture was near the side wall and was too big to repair anyway. He told me that a new tyre was the only answer and that if the tyre could be repaired the repair was only temporary, as i was told later by several tyre repairers. So what happens if you are out in the middle of nowhere and you cannot contact any body. a spare tyre is the only answer every time.
As for saving fuel accomodating the weight of a spare, you can do this by not filling your tank to the top all the time to save weight.
Needless to say after the first puncture I went out and bought a spare wheel for my car and have done since when buying a new car giving me the confidence that if I have a puncture any where I can get on my way again without the gamble of using the gue kit and if things do get desparate and you get two punctures there is a chance you can get on your way using the gue kit but realising that the repaired tyre has only a temporary repair and will have to be replaced asap..

Leaving the tank part-empty is unlikely to save you fuel because you have to refuel more often. Driving onto the forecourt, stopping the engine and restarting will probably burn as much fuel as you save, especially if you have to go out of your way to get to the filling station or queue when you get there. You’ll spend more of your life in filling stations and gain nothing in fuel saving.

Aitch is probably right on this one. The Ricardo study estimated that fuel economy for a typical European car will reduce by about 0.33% for a 1.0% reduction in gross vehicle weight.

If you fill a 50 litre tank and refill on empty, the average fuel load is around 20kg. Half fill, and the average fuel load is 10kg, a net saving of 10kg. Applying the above factor, you will make a saving of about 0.33% fuel consumption on a 1,000 kg car.

Assuming a half tank has a range of 300 miles, a 0.33% fuel saving gives you an extra mile. Basically, you can’t go out of your way by more than one mile to fill up more often, and even then you would make no saving on fuel.

What the study did show is that if the car’s design weight could be reduced (by leaving out the spare tyre, for instance) a more substantial fuel saving of around 0.6% per 1.0% weight reduction was possible by down-sizing the engine, with no loss of performance.

Fair enough, Em, but by far the biggest factors in fuel economy are the choice of car and the way that it is driven.

I agree totally, wavechange. In fact I was trying to illustrate that minor weight savings in isolation (like leaving out the spare tyre or not filling the tank) are quite insignificant in terms of fuel saving. Design of the vehicle and the way it is driven are far more important than anything else the consumer can do.

As regards the choice of car, another reason for manufacturers to leave out the spare is to maintain or improve the car’s on-paper performance. A 0.1 second difference in 0-60 acceleration time could all be down to the weight of that spare tyre you no longer have.

Perhaps the Top Gear: “You did it in 1 minute 40 … ” viewers are the real cause of this trend.

Agree, and you always make your points clearly Em. I was only trying to put this in perspective.

Anyone who is keen on car performance should be on the racetrack and not on public roads. Hopefully the rise in fuel prices will result in more interest in the fuel economy performance of cars. 🙂

Ernest Mann says:
6 April 2012

Just purchased a new car & had a spare wheel fitted as an extra. Glad I had a spare when I last had a flat & wouldn’t want to be caught out

Em – Interesting figures…thank you…but of course it isn’t just the distance you drive out of your way that matters, it’s also the considerable amount of fuel burned by stopping, restarting your engine and driving away from rest. You may also have to queue, wasting more fuel – I certainly do at the cheapest stations around me. I usually wait until my tank is near-empty and then brim it, which saves me time as well as fuel.

And yes, wavechange, clearly you’re right, but this point isn’t about how to achieve best fuel economy, it’s about whether or not to fill a tank fully.

I agree – I just couldn’t quantify all those other factors. Taking those into account – plus the fact that I’ve been fairly generous in assuming a range of 300 miles from half an tank of fuel – this really is a poor strategy.

I am careful not to brim the tank any more. Unbeknown to me, I had a split fuel breather pipe, the MOT picked up a Diesel leak and I picked up a £600 repair bill. I subsequently found out it’s a common problem with BMW E90 series.

It would be good to set up a poll so that we can indicate our preferences for tyre sealant, space-saver tyres, run-flat tyres and conventional spares. Any chance of this, Rob?

This is definitely going to be a factor in choosing my next car.

We did plan to add a poll Wavechange, however as time went on it started to feel a little bit late! But if you don’t think we’ve missed the boat and you’d like to see a poll I can add one after my Easter egg shopping. Thanks.

Ah, but any poll shouldn’t be as simple as that. As has been discussed above, a combination of two more of those options may be best. Goo has its merits, as long as a spare is available as well, e.g., with a simple hole through the tread, you might just want to go a few miles to a safe place or home or the nearest tyre fitter. Run-flats plus a spare would be better for those willing to accept the higher cost (and slight degradation of ride in some cars) of run-flats. And so on.

Rather than waiting for spare tyres to disappear (like viewfinders on compact cameras and matt(e) screens on computers) it is time that manufacturers should get to know what their customers want. Some choice might not be a bad idea.

Have a good Easter.

OK then everyone, how would you want the poll to look? Possible questions and answers please and we’ll see what we can do 🙂

There seems to be some anecdotal evidence that tyre sealant doesn’t work effectively, because an unknown percentage of punctures involve damage to sidewalls, splits, etc. I’m wondering (and is there any way to know?), if it is usually the damage that leads to loss of pressure, or if loss of pressure leads to the damage?

Assume you have a slow leak from a nail or faulty valve, or just lack of maintenance, that eventually causes the tyre to deflate due to the bead separating from the rim. This could have been prevented by regular tyre checks, but now it’s happened. How far do you have to drive on a conventional tyre to cause an unrepairable split? Not very far I would guess and probably, at motorway speeds, less than the distance it would take to pull over.

Maybe all cars that do not have a spare tyre should, by law, have to have a tyre pressure monitor fitted, as I believe they are in the US. Early warning of loss of pressure, plus a pump or can of compressed air, might be a better approach than relying on a can of sealant after the fact.

holedriller says:
8 April 2012

After a couple of shredded tyres in dark inhospitable places I refuse to have a car without a spare. Same applies to any car in the extended family. No spare, no purchase. Simple. It is sometimes necessary to get a jack, and even the frame to hold the spare.
An extra advantage is that it enables you to swap the five tyres around to equalise wear.

Swapping wheels around seems to be frowned on nowadays, but I do this to try and ensure that tyre changes are done before winter weather sets in. If more people swapped their wheels they would be more confident about doing the job when they have a puncture.

>>> Swapping wheels around seems to be frowned on nowadays … <<<

It depends what method you use. Swapping wheels with a car you don't own is by far the most effective, but is definitely frowned upon by the courts!

If you are going to try this on your car at home, watch out for the asymetical tyre patterns on some specialist (e.g. winter) tyres, and I recommend you get a proper trolley jack and axle stands to hold up each side of the vehicle in turn. There’s no point in taking risks with a flimsy scissor jack when it’s not an emergency; you will probably have to give alloy wheels a good thwack with a rubber mallet to unfreeze the corroded hubs.

One thing I forgot to mention … . If your car does come without a spare tyre and other accoutrements, it is not at all evident these days where the safe jacking points are, and the handbook isn’t going to tell you. Get advice from your dealer or a knowledgeable tyre specialist – you don’t want to ruin your suspension or crack your engine sump – expensive!

I think you might be exaggerating the problem, Em. I have never seen a car handbook that does not give clear instructions. Used carefully, car manufacturers’ jacks are fine to raise a car sufficiently to change a tyre if used with care. The problem of sticking alloy wheels can be prevented. If a car is properly serviced this should be attended to, but you will not find many garages that take the trouble to do this.

What really annoys me is that some hire companies remove handbooks from their vehicles. That should be illegal.

I bought a Jaguar Xf two years ago and spent the next two years praying I would not get a puncture.
When the car was ordered, without a spare as I never realised it was an extra, the cost of a runflat with jack and brace was £120 but if bought later the price increased to £450.
I have just taken delivery of a new XF( fantastic car) but this time I pre-ordered a spare.
happy motoring

Ian Hazell says:
9 April 2012

When I bought my Ibiza ST the brochure stated it came with a space saver tyre but it was delivered with the dreaded can of goo. The dealer was so embarrassed that they swapped the goo for a space saver wheel & tyre . Top marks to Nidd Vale in Harrogate, but it should not be left up to the dealers to sort out this blatant piece of profiteering by the manufacturers. I wonder how much money they are now making out of supplying aftermarket spares? There must be a good number for an alternative aftermarket supplier out there?

A couple of people have commented that they would not buy a new car unless it had a space-saver wheel. Having used one of these things on my previous car, I cannot recommend them. Not only are the tyres thinner but the diameter is smaller. I cannot see how they are allowed because these differences would constitute an MOT failure and definitely affect handling of the car. I cannot understand why car manufacturers seem obsessed with safety features but send their cars out with space-saver wheels.

I would prefer to take my chances with tyre sealant.

barry b says:
10 April 2012

My Fiesta has a spare supplied.But although its slightly smaller,Its mage of steel making it heavier than the standard alloys that are normally on the road.Maybe carbon fibre would have been better?So much for saving fuel.

This spare is only designed for emergency use, otherwise you would be driving a car that would fail the MOT. Fuel saving is not relevant because the correct wheel should be replaced as soon as possible.

Phil says:
12 April 2012

I’ve just taken delivery of a new Volkswagen Jetta. I specifically chose it because they are supplied with a full sized spare wheel. I looked at them at three Volkswagen dealers and each one I saw had the full sized spare wheel in the boot. As I wanted some factory fitted options I had to order the car specially. The salesman assured me there would be a full sized spare as I had made it very clear to him the no spare meant no deal. When the car was delivered there was no spare wheel, only a can of goo and a very flimsy looking compressor. The dealer then checked the order with Volksawagen which showed a tyre moblity kit as a no cost option. Fortunately the dealer swapped my tyre repair kit for the full sized spare from one of his demonstrators.
I have now gone through the brochure and price list with a fine tooth comb. In very small print is says that if you order a factory fitted sunroof on a Bluemotion model a tyre mobility kit is provided in lieu of the spare wheel. So beware, adding one option may result in something else being deleted. Sorry Volkswagen, this is not good enough.

Space saver wheel, more like money another saving option at the expense of the consumer
car prices have not fallen, so why has the specification decreased.
I will not by any car unless it is fitted with a full sized spare wheel. If I want to be able to drive on tyres after a puncture there are products available to pre treat the tyres, so if they are punctured you can drive safely to a safe place to change your wheel for the spare.
Can you imagine driving through the highlands in winter, no mobile signal, getting a puncture and then trying to get back on a dinnerplate sized wheel?
And if you crash because of this wheel who is liable?
Space saver wheels are unsafe and should be banned, they are another con trick

And can you imagine sliding off the snow-covered road because of your puncture and then trying to change a wheel? Run-flats for me, but preferably with the backup of a full-size spare to change to when in a safe place.

Thats why I pre-treat my tyres so I can drive Saltley on them if i have a puncture, cost about £45 to treat all 4


Please read safely instead of saltley…..Damned Freud 🙂

Claymore says:
17 April 2012

I bought the new Honda Civic in 2007 and the salesman kept rabbiting on about the extra boot space available when there is no spare wheel, so I got the impression that he had been having trouble with selling the idea of no spare.
I insisted on a spare thrown in for free, but he wouldn’t budge, so I ended up paying £100 for the space saver spare wheel kit complete with foam support pads and tie-down straps.
The space saver is hardly ideal, but on a wet winters night, it beats a can of possibly solidified goo and a pump. My current car is a VW Jetta and it came with a full size spare.

Why didn’t you just say ‘no thanks’ and walk away…
Once dealers start losing sales because of this, they will pressure the manufacturers, who actually listen to them, ma lot more than they do us.

Kas says:
18 April 2012

A lightweight spare tyre seems the best solution to me – as per my old Ford Focus. I bought a Honda Jazz two years ago and the salesman kindly told me about the repair kit and said I would need to call roadside assistance to get it to work. Whether this was because he saw me as a helpless female I am not sure. But I would much prefer to change a tyre than wait at the roadside for assistance. A kit is not a suitable solution. This seems part of the general move to make all minor problems e.g. changing light bulbs, so difficult that only mechanics with the right tools can solve them.

There is not really a gender issue determining whether women are capable of changing a car wheel. Nowadays, I doubt that most men could cope.

Anyone who is not sure should try it out at home – if they have a spare wheel. Learning how to do a simple job could save a long wait at the side of the road.

BARRIE says:
18 April 2012

No spare wheel is another ploy by the manufacturers to make more profit at our expence, supplying goo and a foot pump is rubbish. Also it can be used only once !
The only way car makers will listen is , if customers refuse to accept a car with no spare and walk out the showroom, I drive VW who supply a spare, if they stopped I would go look for a model that did