/ Motoring

Car spare wheels: why they’re a dying breed

Almost 23,500 of AA’s callouts each year relate to its members using tyre repair kits, with most phoning because they’re not confident using them. That’s why we want spare wheels to at least be a no-cost option on cars.

My last Conversation about spare wheels resonated with many of you. More than 400 comments were made, and the vast majority were fighting the corner of the spare wheel. So I think now is a good time for an update.

We’ve now launched a Spare wheels survey so you can let us know about your experiences and opinions on the matter.

And since the previous Convo was published in April, we’ve been in talks with the AA and carmakers about puncture repair kits and (the lack of) spare wheels.

What the AA says

When we approached the AA to talk about how their members deal with tyre repair kits and spare wheels, it told us:

‘In most cases, the member is not happy about using the sealant and would rather ask a patrol for help. When the patrol arrives, the driver has not even attempted to use it, as most expect there to be a spare in the boot.

‘We understand why some manufacturers don’t supply spare wheels as standard, but it can make things quite difficult for drivers and our patrols. We can get members back on the road much faster if the car has a suitable spare.’

What car manufacturers say

Of the mainstream car brands available in the UK, just Hyundai, Mercedes, Ssangyong, Toyota and VW offer spare wheels in 90% or more of their entire current model range. At the opposite end of the spectrum, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Mini, Skoda and Subaru all don’t offer a spare at all, instead opting for a puncture repair kit.

Here are just a few responses we got from manufacturers when we questioned them about these numbers:

BMW: ‘Most BMWs now come with run-flat tyres as standard. This, in theory, makes the spare wheel redundant as the ‘flat’ tyre can be driven on safely until it can be changed.’

Skoda: ‘We use this puncture repair kit in our overall strive for environmentally friendly car operation to decrease weight and improve efficiency.’

VW: ‘Our customers expect a Volkswagen to have a spare wheel, not a repair kit. It also helps to keep consumers happier in the event of a puncture if they have a spare wheel.’

Check for a spare wheel before you buy

Many of you asked if we could give information about whether a model is available with a spare wheel in our reviews. Well, we already do.

If you’re a Which? member, once you’re in a car review, click on the ‘Model finder’ tab, select the spec you’re looking for and scroll down to the section on ‘Standard equipment’. When you select ‘Wheels’ this will tell you if the car comes with a spare wheel as standard or not.

And if you’re buying used, make sure you check under the boot floor or the underside of the car for a spare wheel. If there is one, make sure there’s plenty of tread on the tyre and all the equipment to change the wheel over – including the jack – is present.

We think spare wheels should come as standard (and for free), or at least as a no-cost option. What do you expect carmakers to offer when it comes to a remedy for a punctured tyre?

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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I will not buy a car unless there is a viable spare wheel supplied – Though have to say have not had a puncture for over 50 years of driving – I have always replaced worn tyres before they are badly worn (I have a depth gauge to test regularly).

My mini has run-flats. I agree that they can be driven with next to no pressure in as was demonstrated when Elms BMW handed it back to me with 4 flat tyres after a recent “service”

They are utterly horrible to drive with on the UK’s broken roads, tramlining and crashing over every conceivable hole, crack and drain. Really not a nice experience and something that has put me off ever buying a Mini or BMW (aside from the poor quality)

I had a space saver in my V70 AWD which I bought second hand and replaced it with a “proper” wheel almost immediately.

Lawrence A. says:
10 September 2012

The manufacturers seem to be arguing that car components are becoming more reliable, so we no longer need to carry spare fanbelts, spare spark plugs, starting handles, red flags, etc.
Tyres however are subjected to abnormal influences beyond the control of the manufacturer or the maintainer. No matter how good the tyre is, if you run over a nail, a pot-hole or something which has fallen out of a skip, the tyre will suffer damage, no matter how well it is made. When this happens, there is no guarantee that you will be able to locate a replacement within the range of your run-flat, space-saver, or can of sticky goo. For the sake of 10-20Kg and a fraction of a mile per gallon penalty, (bearing in mind that the current Ford Mondeo weighs 300Kg more than the Sierra it replaced, so weight can’t really be the issue,) we still need to carry a real, full size spare wheel. Now, and long into the future.

Lawrence A. says:
10 September 2012

Quote taken from main article:
Skoda: ‘We use this puncture repair kit in our overall strive for environmentally friendly car operation to decrease weight and improve efficiency.’
Rubbish. Comparing kerb weights from their own figures, the current Octavia RS (without a spare wheel) is 60Kg heavier than the 2005 Octavia vRS (which had a full size spare wheel).
If they are that interested in weight and efficiency, why are their cars getting heavier?

Robert foulger says:
10 September 2012

Im a professional driver,and the number of idiots who run on these “space savers” or improvised spare wheels….run around for days on them….these should be outlawed and a proper size wheel reinterduced…
I have a inflater kit in mine…and well never told by the saleman that there was no spare…..now besides having a new car ….. i am forced again to spend more getting one!!

Steamdrivenandy says:
11 September 2012

There’s a parallel here with TVs.
Very few people actually need 3cm deep TVs (and getting even thinner), but manufacturers keep making them thinner and thinner, just because they can.
That means compromising one of the two basic facilities of a TV, the sound (the other is vision). I bet 90% of people would be happy with a TV up to 10cm deep with decent sound.
So again it’s manufacturers not giving customers something they want. They don’t lose sales because they all act in concert and there are no deeper TVs available in their yearly releases. Car makers hide the lack of a spare by not being open about it.
When you’ve seen a tyre blow at 80mph on a motorway and the resulting mess of rubber you really question the sense of runflats and gunk.

Mr Mark Thorpe says:
11 September 2012

My Citroen c4 Grand Picasso doesn’t come with a spare wheel,when i bought the car i asked the dealer. About this,there is no space for it as the two rear seats fold flat,i hired a newer model when on holiday in Spain this year,they have a space saver wheel underneath,i went and bought a full size wheel,although i now lose some bootspace i now have peace of mind though in the event of a puncture or blowout

John Morris says:
11 September 2012

I have a year old VW Touran, and do not have a spare wheel, jack or wheel spanner only a bottle of goop and an inflator. I’ve already had to replace one tyre due to a nail. Sometimes tyre dealer run out of specific makes / sizes of tyre.

Is there any benefit in carrying a spare tyre WITHOUT the wheel rim??

Ian Hart says:
14 September 2012

In the last fifteen years I have had only one flat tyre, that car came with a ‘space saver wheel;’ & one nail in another tyre, where I was able to drive to the depot to get it repaired, as I was just about five hundred metres away at the time; & the tyre had not fully deflated.
My new car, a Nissan Qashqai, came with a socking great polystyrene block, filling the spare wheel well; & into it was inserted a bottle of sealant fluid & a mini electric air pump. I only discovered this ‘oversight,’ when I decided to check whether I had a full sized spare, or a space saver? Not a happy bunny, as I can foresee many conditions where a bottle of sealant would not be enough: & as it’s always on a dark night, chucking down with all kinds of weather, & with no mobile signal, that you seem to find yourself up a creek – or at least on some deserted road – without a paddle or a spare tyre, the bare minimum has to be run flats fitted as standard (or an inflatable Smart Car, as a spare, in the boot)?

We’ve had two punctures on our Skoda Yeti caused by screws on the road . The first was repairable, although our local tyre dealer did comment that most tyre depots would not wash out the gunk that was used to plus to hole and would insist we purchased a new tyre. The second time the hole was too close to the edge and did require a new tyre (at £150). It took half a day for them to get the tyre so thank goodness the damage occured locally and they were ale to run me home and deliver car when done. It doesn’t bear thinking about what would have been the scenario if we had been away from home, on holiday overseas for example. We have now ordered a spare (a ‘wider than normal’ space saver) and fitting kit – false boot floor and jack at a cost of nearly £300. We will will lose a sizable part of the boot in so doing so we’ll only carry it when traveling long distance.

A couple of other additional comments. My first car, a Renault 5 had both spare wheel, jack and wheel brace mounted beside the engine – perfect! Before the Yeti we had a Citroen Picasso which had the spare mounted below the boot. That was until it was stolen necessitating a new wheel, tyre and locking bolt!

Although I agree that punctures are rare, they still happen and the repair kits are inadequate. I had a puncture one night on my Honda Civic which is not supplied with a spare wheel and the repair kit did not work. I called the RAC but discovered that my membership had lapsed. In the end I had to leave the car had to get a taxi home and a taxi back the next day. I had to call out a tyre repair company who replaced the tyre. A very expensive and time-consuming exercise. I contacted my car supplier to enquire into purchasing a spare tyre and was appalled to find that the cost of a new tyre and Jack (yes, you have to purchase the Jack as well) was over £200

When a friend asked if I would like a short breal to the south coast, going in his new Skoda Yeti, I said ‘yes’. Some days later, looking at his new car, I asked where the spare wheel was. He said he hadn’t been told by sales that there was only ghoo and a flimsy pump. I refused to go with him until he bought a new wheel and tyre. The Dealership sold him this for £120, and I was pleased then to go with him. When he got back he complained to the Dealership that he had not been told about the missing equipment at the point of sale. The Boss of the outfit said the head salesman at the branch would be in touch to explain things. He never did.

Roger K says:
14 September 2012

Until about 5 years ago I had had a few punctures cause by nails etc. and probably a sealant kit would have got me to a garage in most cases. But then I had two major blow-outs within about a month. One was in a small car, an old tyre (but with good tread) which exploded on a motorway at about 70mph. There was not much traffic around (unusual on the M3!) and I could coast safely to a stop on the hard shoulder. The next was in Namibia, on a nearly new 4WD. Again the type exploded quite dramatically, on a quiet hardtop road at 60-70mph. I guess the tyre was either faulty or had been damaged in some fairly strenuous off-road driving. In both cases the tyres were totally wrecked, far beyond any repair, by the time I pulled over and stopped. Two such incidents in almost 50 years of driving – and hopefully that’s my full ration. I was glad to have proper spare wheels in both cases. When I bought my current VW two years ago I checked the specification to be sure there was a proper spare. If I were a mostly urban driver I may accept space-saving alternatives, but not for long-distance travel.

There are quite a few cars around now that have different sized front & rear tyres, my Mercedes C320 Estate being a case in point, (front: 225/45 R17 & rear: 245/40 R17). This car has a spacesaver spare plus I purchased a can of puncture repair. What full sized spare would I select, one for the front, or one for the rear?

Roger K says:
14 September 2012

cb47 Good question. I assume they are all 17″ wheels and that the real ones are wider. My 4 running wheels are all the same, with (semi?) low profile tyres which were an option (one I would not have taken but it saved waiting ages for the spec I wanted). I later noticed that the spare is a standard tyre on a basic steel rim, i/e/ not a match for the others. I queried this with the supplier and they said it was intended as a get-you-home solution and not intended for speed etc. I trust it is the same diameter but can’t check now as I abroad. I assume the handling would be a bit odd and perhaps heavy breaking would be interesting. I assume this is all legal but it is rather odd. Anyway my spare is somewhat wrong whichever wheel it replaces. At least in your case you could have a 50% chance of a correct match, and in the other case it looks like the diameter would still be correct. But I am no expert on these issues.

Next time I buy I will be looking for 5 tyres of the same spec.

Out of curiosity I found a photo of the tyre which burst on me in Africa. One sidewall is ripped open for nearly 25% of the circumference, and there is a gaping hole about 3 inches across. Not much left to repair. It’s hard to imagine what caused it. I hope no-one was shooting at us!

Roger K says:
14 September 2012

Sorry, for “real ones” please read “rear ones”. And there other typos; why can’t I see them until AFTER clicking the Submit button…?!

P.S. I agree with Roger K’s comment that certain punctures, or tyre failures, simply cannot be made roadworthy with a can of sealant; no good if the tyre’s sidewall has suffered damage. The only compromise I can see is a spacesaver spare wheel & that is only a very temporary solution. If I was embarking on a very long journey that would likely take me into remote areas I’d buy a full-size spare.

A Beveridge says:
14 September 2012

Run Flats are horrible. I had them on my BMW 520DSE Touring. Ride is awfull, replacement costs are very high and if you have a puncture, throw it away & spend up to £280 (YES) on the replacement. Fortunately my 520DSE is the previous model so has a floor well for a skinny spare. I bought the optional skinny from BMW (remarkably good value & comes with Jack etc), switched front to rear after half worn at the rear (drive) wheels, thus wore out all 4 together & boiught 4 new Mitchelins ….much lower cost than 4 new run flats, & ride has improved hugely. And a puncture can usually be repaired (so no £300 replacement) . Simples. But it does mean that I will not rpelace my BMW with a new one (no well for a skinny) so AUDi or MERCEDES, here I come….soon

I’ve experienced punctures with
* full-size spare
* space-saver spare
* run-flat tyres
Run-flats were the best user experience. The car has a deflation alert on the dashboard. I didn’t even get out of the car.

No need to get dirty.
No need for training members of my family in how to replace a wheel.
No need for the danger of being outside the car on a busy road in poor visibility.
No need to skin your knuckles and fiddle about with inadequate car-jack and wheelnut remover.
No need to unload all your personal belongings out of the boot onto the wet ground in the wind.
No need for AA, RAC or any road-side assistance.

Of all the options, run-flats require the least user involvement. Please support run-flats as a solution.

You will need to carry a spare wheel if you have run-flat tyres because – like space-saver tyres – they are not suitable for driving long distances. Run-flat tyres also cost a lot more.

Lawrence A. says:
17 September 2012

I agree with wavechange, run-flats are not a substitute for a spare wheel, but they can buy you enough time to get out of immediate danger. Bear in mind also that run-flats are only effective for a puncture in the treaded area of the tyre. If the side-wall is damaged they can still blow out like a conventional tyre and leave you needing a roadside wheel change.

A frequent cause of blowouts is under-inflated tyres, so it makes sense to check pressures weekly and before any long journey. It could save a lot of time and even a life.

Francis says:
16 September 2012

The last time I had a puncture, about four years ago, I was diving at speed and by the time I was able to stop in a safe place the tyre was shredded. A fat lot of use a punture repair kit would have been. Fortunately I did have a spare with that car, but I do not with my present car and I dread the thought of having another punture.