/ 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 have felt obliged to buy proper spare wheels and tyres for my last two cars (Micra and Colt) even though they don’t fit well and raise the boot floor. This is because I worry about how long it would take to get moving again after a puncture on a motorway at four in the morning with no service facilities open, 200 miles still to go, and a maximum 50 miles at 50mph on a spacesaver. Also because the Micra didn’t feel right on bends when I had to fit the spacesaver following a puncture.

MarkyMarkyMark says:
16 September 2012

4 years ago, we started towing a caravan for our family holidays, and read about our space-saver spare, not being suitable for towing a caravan etc. So, I bought a full size steel rim, and a new tyre (total£100 ish), and it fits in the rear spare wheel well, after removing the plastic moulding which had been used to make the space saver spare appear to “fill” the well.
In 4 years, I’ve had 2 punctures. Thankfully, neither whilst towing, but at least I start every journey knowing that the vehicle is prepared for the road.

Bob Taylor says:
17 September 2012

My wife recently received a car through the Motability Scheme and she chose a top of the range Vauxhall Astra Elite. Unfortunately It has the repair kit as standard and as I am the driver I would find it difficult to use the kit. I believe some of the more basic Astras come with either a Space Saver or a Spare wheel.
I would have thought that the more expensive model would have had a spare wheel as standard, Find this strange!

Central Auto Centre says:
21 September 2012

I run a small independent garage and we are getting an increasing number of customers calling with punctures and no spare wheel.

Another big problem is that as the cars with run-flat tyres are getting old and the owners of these cars are replacing the run-flat tyres with standard tyres to save money again causing more and more issues when they get a puncture.

Jim Simpson says:
22 September 2012

Can’t believe the manufacturers are being allowed to get away with this. Any time you’re away from a city (especially at night or weekends) you might be faced with a delay of days and considerable expense as compared with using a spare, or at least a space-saver to get you home. It’s infuriating that magazines such as Which or What Car don’t even show in their road tests what is provided. I’m in the process of selecting a new car for next year and few brochures now show what’s available. It’s incredible that some EU countries demand that any car has a spare wheel yet here in the UK we don’t have that protection for consumers. The only way to fix this is to let the companies know why you aren’t considering their cars>

Lawrence A. says:
23 September 2012

Jim Simpson highlights a worrying point here. The assumption being made with puncture repair kits is that you will be within easy reach of a tyre shop which is open whenever you get a puncture. As Mr Simpson says, what happens when you have a 70 mile trip on Christmas Eve to visit relatives? You don’t know where the garages are away from your home, and although the AA or RAC will relay your car to your destination, they don’t carry a stock of replacement tyres. Space savers and puncture repair kits (if they work) are only designed to get you a limited distance. At night or at weekend they could leave you stranded.

I know one person who used a space-saver wheel for months. They used to park their Fiat in a car park at work.

Tyre sealant is only supposed to be a temporary repair, but the thought of having to buy a new tyre when the punctured one cannot be repaired but still has plenty of tread is likely to encourage owners not to take any action. Whether the risk is trivial or serious will depend on the nature of the puncture.

It used to be very easy to change a failed bulb at the roadside and anyone with any sense would carry a set of spare bulbs. Manufacturers have made it very difficult to replace bulbs in many models. OK, cars have an ever increasing number of airbags and millions of pounds are spent on making sure that they achieve high NCAP scores, but there are some serious omissions. If I had my way it would be illegal to sell a car in the UK unless it has a full-size spare wheel and blown bulbs can be replaced easily.

If it was one manufacturer to blame we could name and shame but I don’t think there is a single major manufacturer that is blameless.

Mike Weeks says:
22 September 2012

A proper spare wheel should be standard. I have heard that a puncture repaired tyre now cannot be repaired, a NEW tyre is needed. A very false economy. How wise is it to tow a caravan when a
“Dolls Pram” compact spare is one of the drive wheels? I paid about £130 for a collapsing spare for my
Audi Q5 Not quite trusting the squirt repair.

Jim Simpson wrote:
>”…some EU countries demand that any car has a spare wheel…”

You’re not the only person to say that. But I think it’s an urban legend. For example, the UK foreign office website says a spare wheel is compulsory in Spain. The AA contradicts them, as do Spanish websites. BMW sells new cars in Spain with run-flats. It’d be fairly easy to check for any other EU country.

I think the applicable EU regulation from 2009 was 661/2009. It’s just been updated to 523/2012. It transposes worldwide UNECE Regulation No. 64 (Temporary use spare unit, run flat tyres, run flatsystem and tyre pressure monitoring system).

The poll might as well be closed because it it quite clear that we want spare wheels and most of us want proper spare wheels, not something that looks as if it would suit a Morris Minor.

Is there any chance whatsoever of convincing the car manufacturers who have decided what we should be given?

Bit suprised re the VW comments – our new VW up! certainly does not have a spare wheel.

The road tax bands in the UK encourage manufacturers to configure their models to just fall into as low as band as possible ie a CO2 figure of 119 rather than 120 to get into tax band C.
Saving weight can help significantly.
So for example the Skoda Yeti Greenline ( band C) does not allow the option of a spare wheel although other models do and the parts can easily be bought and fitted, does not allow heated windscreen option which requires a larger alternator or a 6 speed gearbox which is heavier than the 5 speed fitted.
In other countries the options etc are different to fit in with the relevant road tax arrangements.
With more and more models becoming available in VED bands A,B,C we are likely to see this weight saving becoming the norm as low CO2 emissions and VED bands are a major selling feature

That seems a reasonable explanation, rarrar, but some of us would rather have the spare wheel and pay the higher VED.

Lawrence A. says:
27 September 2012

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Skodas are getting heavier despite having lost the spare wheel.
It’s not just Skodas. Nearly all cars gradually put on weight as the manufacturers try to make them appeal to a wider demographic. Example: In 1962 Ford introduced their “compact car,” the Mk1 Cortina. The Cortina gradually grew, so Ford brought out the Escort to fill the niche for a compact car. As the Escort grew, Ford introduced the Fiesta to fill the gap in their range for a compact car. As the Fiesta grew bigger, Ford brought out the Ka to serve as their compact car. The Ka has also been on the pie and chips diet since it was introduced.
Ford Cortina Mk1 kerb weight: 787 Kg.
Ford Ka2 kerb weight: 870Kg.
And the Mk1 Cortina included a spare wheel.
OK, I’ll admit that the Ka has far more safety features than the ’62 Cortina. Plus BlueTooth connectivity, MP3 docks, cup holders, and a host of other 21st century garnish, none of which will help when you’re stuck on the hard shoulder of the M62 with a shredded tyre.
A full size spare only accounts for a couple of percent of the weight of even the smallest car, and weight only accounts for about 25% of the efficiency equation. If the manufacturers need to squeeze a car into a certain CO2 band, they could just turn down the turbo by 2 or 3 HP. A can of sticky gunge is not the answer. Leave the spare wheel alone, it’s there for a reason!

Unfortunately, spare wheels do not sell cars (except perhaps to the likes of us), but the 21st century garnish, as you call it, certainly does. Increasing weight increases the inertia and hence the potential to cause damage.

Cars must have certain features to be sold legally in the UK. It’s time that a full-size spare wheel is one of these requirements.

Stranded Geoff says:
15 October 2012

Hello All,

I’m driving my wife’s ’56 Zafira as she was fortunate enough to pick up a puncture close to home the night before last. As it was dark, the road narrow and busy (we have only on-street parking) and I wasn’t feeling that good anyway, I elected to lend her my car whilst i sorted it out next morning.

Now, I’ve not had a puncture for years although I’ve done a few associated wheel changes in my time but was vaguely aware that this car comes with the bottle of gloop but hadn’t had much time to think about it as we have a couple of young kids and work long hours. The upshot was that it didn’t involve getting as messy as a wheel change – only a few black fingers and this pleasant disparity must increase when when it is raining. I followed the instructions in the manual, from popping off the panel covering the bits and bobs, taking out the hose, fixing the bottle of gloop to its base so that it wouldn’t fall over, connecting the hose between the compressor in the back of the car and the bottle and then the bottle, via it’s own short hose, to the problem tyre and, finally, plugged the compressor into the conveniently-placed cigarette-lighter type socket adjacent to it. The light on the dial of the compressor lit up nicely and it was all systems go!

Except it wasn’t. The compressor didn’t work (and, having been to the garage today, doesn’t). The net result was that I had to have a mobile tyre fitter come to sort it out. Fortunately, it was day-time so I didn’t have to pay a night-time call out rate (although it was more expensive than going to a tyre place); unfortunately, I don’t get paid for waiting at home for the 3 hours it took for him to arrive and complete the job.

So, my compressor doesn’t work? Not sure how much that will be to fix. In the course of fitting the process together, I also noticed that the gloop is only guaranteed to be good for 4 years – although it will likely last longer, how much longer? One also then has to replace the one-use bottle of gloop (how much is that?) and, apparently, the tyre, even had it otherwise been able to be repaired. Finally, in our case, the hole in the tyre was so big that it wasn’t repairable (my wife said it went ‘bang!’ – and I’m not sure if mobile tyre fitters are able or want to do repairs) so the gloop wouldn’t have worked anyway!

OK, so having no spare saves us a bit on fuel, some space and, perhaps, a proportion of the associated savings of the manufacturer.

Do I feel comfortable driving around in a car that may have no solution to a puncture because at that point, any of the following may be faulty: the compressor socket, the compressor, one of the hoses or connections (less likely) or the bottle of gloop, or that the hole may be too big anyway? No. Would I prefer that my wife drive around dark country lanes in a vehicle that she could, at a push, try to fix by changing a wheel and getting herself a bit mucky? Most definitely.

For me, the whole bottle of gloop system has too many points at which it could fail whereas, with keeping a footpump in the boot, one should be able to revive a spare that tyre that may have become a bit deflated over the years.

The Zafira (and the Astra estate that I drive) have both been good and reliable cars – I think my Astra has a spare wheel – but, unless I manage to get a spare for the Zafira, we won’t be able to totally relax when driving it from now on.

I have asked my local mechanic to see if it is possible to obtain a spare wheel and tyre & associated bits for my car and hope that it car all be fitted in – the manual mentions that some models do have them and there does appear to be space to attach one beneath boot area. Strangely enough, our Zafira is the top of the range; my idea of ‘top end’ now is that a car would be equipped with a spare wheel over a bottle of gloop any day. The trouble is that, if it doesn’t work, particularly if the hole is big or the tyre is torn, then there is no alternative and, if you live in a hilly area where mobile signals aren’t that reliable (as is the case around where we are), then you’re well and truely stuck. I appreciate that, if it works, it is an easier option for the wife but my understanding is that it can then also compromise an otherwise repairable tyre. Experience has shown that we have managed without a recovery service for many years so I am not keen to fork out on one now, either annually or on a case-by-case basis, just because the puncture repair facility on a vehicle is a lot less than certain and, especially, as we may not be able to get a signal to call them in rural areas anyway.

I wouldn’t want my wife or daughter to have to change a wheel but, when we shortly move to a house with a drive, we will all have a practice as one never knows what’s around the corner – even if husband/dad/friend can usually be called to do the dirty work, the ability to be self-sufficient is preferable to a reliance upon questionable and unnecessarily complex technology.

I suppose the easy answer would be to have both options in a car so as to cover all possibilities but that’s unlikely to happen and I can certainly live without the gloop anyway.

Guess I’ll have to get my wife weight-training so she is strong enough to change a wheel. Hmmm…that’s an idea, maybe she could learn how to change the brake shoes, wheel bearings etc. at the same time…:)

A brief return: Just had a quote from Vauxhall dealer: Steel wheel & lockable cage £160 (it hangs under the car waiting to be stolen – inside in the boot well would be a much better design and keep the spare relatively clean too), security kit £25 (compels access from inside car, albeit with some difficulty), jack & wrench £120, fitting £105, tyre (from elsewhere) £90 = £500. What a convenient total – I won’t need to worry about complicated figure work when I go calculate the left-overs in my dwindling bank balance! Now, I could theoretically save the £105 by fitting it myself (and perhaps with a bit more shopping around) but, as I probably won’t have my nice drive and nice garage for another couple of months, do I really want to l lie down in the street and have someone run my legs over? Probably not.

Oh, nearly forgot to tell all about the opposing costs: Replacing my compressor would (not will!) cost me £65.40, the bottle of gloop (every 4 years or every puncture, a whopping £48.84 (probably justified by it being in a tin that can take more than the pressure required to inflate a tyre with gloop passing through it) and, of course, a new tyre at £90 or so for a Pirelli (although £10 could be saved by going for the cheap option). So, as one cannot repair a glooped tyre, each puncture, without having a spare wheel, is going to cost, at best, around £130. When I had my last puncture (a slow that didn’t require anything other than a bit of work with a footpump) around 5 years ago, the repair only cost £10 or £15 (although obviously some punctures will kill a tyre regardless).

Incidentally, whilst the first paragragh of figures includes VAT (phew!), I don’t know about those in the second (other than the tyre, which does) as I wasn’t really interested enough to ask.

In summing up, I would advocate always going for a car with a full-size spare wheel that is stored internally under the boot floor; if you are worried that your wife or daughter could be driving it and would be unable physically to change a wheel, then you could always throw in a can of gloop and, if needed, a compressor as they doen’t take up a huge amount of room. That said, I would always look to drive out to rescue them if viable, especially as, in addition to the peace of mind, there could be a reward of £100 or so (in possible tyre salvage) for so doing. Even if you have a recovery service come out for them instead, you could still save on the tyre. At the end of the day, if there is no ‘phone signal, they, or a passing motorist, could still be able to get them out of trouble as happened in the days of old(e!).

After this lengthy epistle, are you nicely asleep now? Sorry but I feel really strongly about this – I don’t normally contribute to threads, forums etc. but I enjoy the feeling of freedom that a spare gives so feel compelled to do so here.

Full-size spares as standard please; if customers really want it, why not make the ‘inflation kit’ an optional discount choice?

Tyre repair kit NO says:
19 October 2012

I’ve just read a comment that this may be driven by customers wanting cars with lower tax bands.

I for one would rather pay a bit more tax than have put up with the extra worry & costs to my pocket & the environment of having to rely on a repair kit

navigator says:
20 October 2012

I want a spare tyre full stop. I never new you didnt get one until i read this.
i am truly shocked by the greed of companies masquerading as “effiency”” weight saving.”
re bmw…yes they do have run flat but then you have to pay the cost of the new tyre…no repair option £400 each.

quantum says:
23 October 2012

My wife’s Mini One has no spare wheel, not even a spacesaver. However the handbook does refer to some variants (presumably for other countries) that do have the spacesaver wheel. A response from Mini to my enquiry re obtaining a spacesaver was “there is absolutely no room in the car for a spare wheel”. Clearly not the case!
Whatever next….perhaps cruise ships without lifeboats….that would save some weight and fuel. Every passenger could have their own mini-inflatable life raft complete with mini compressor and bottle of gunk!

Duttoner says:
24 October 2012

I run a “KitCar” (28yeas old) and although I have Two, Aerosol, inflators .. I have a Full spare on the Boot lid ! Aerodynamics up to 70mph are not really affected and it does “wonders” for traction in the wet!

A “disabled” friend in the last five years has had “Mobility” cars…an Almera, a Golf and currently a Quashqai. With as many punctures! 50/ 200+ miles from home, a ‘get you home’ is just a joke!
I haven’t always been “there” to change the wheel, but others have stopped/helped and commented …You are well prepared…..etc.
It has cost a bit to have a “Proper” spare, but she listens to me! Why don’t care Manufacturers.
And we do get ‘a good deal’ on changing the car…with the “Extra-wheel”
Now here’s a thought for EU Regulations and “Human-Rights” ???

Jean Sumner says:
11 November 2012

I purchased a ford focus cabriolet 2 years ago (18 months old) – shortly after I had a puncture and had to use the inflator kit, which ruined my tyre and I had to buy a new tyre. I am now driving without a spare kit. I have contacted my Ford dealer and after 2 years am still waiting for them to be able to get even a ‘temporary’ spare wheel. The tyre is available but not the wheel. I realise this is not a run of the mill car but will think twice before buying another car with a ‘proper’ spare. I do not even mind if it is not a ‘full’ tyre. Ford you need to listen to your customers!

As a GP I have had to drive over many questionable road surfaces. I have had a few punctures, perhaps higher than average, and am reliant on the AA to keep me moving. I would not have managed without my Toyota corolla having a full size spare wheel as standard.

Brenda's Lad says:
26 November 2012

New Honda Accord Tourer- no spare wheel but salesman took out the plastic guff in the boot floor to reveal space for a full-size spare;
New Skoda Superb – exactly the same as above.
It is worth pressing those car salesman types to prod around to earn their money!

Its high time the government with pressure from yourselves made it manditory for all cars sold in the UK to have a least a jack and spare wheel of some type. The sealant fix does not work for the many instances aforementioned plus the manufacturers excuse about extra pollution is eyewash, all they are doing is saving themselves money. Bought new Skoda alas no spare I discovered.

You say Subaru and Skoda don’t offer a spare wheel, just a bottle of gloop. We’ve just bought a new Subaru Forester which comes with a full size spare as standard. There wasn’t a discussion about it, it was in the car. The Skoda Yeti (our second choice), would have allowed us to decide between more load space or a spare which seems reasonable to me.