/ Motoring

Will the universal spare wheel save you when you break down?

Car wheel with a puncture

If you get a puncture that’s beyond repair in a car that lacks a spare wheel, there’s a good chance you’ll have to be towed to a garage by a breakdown provider. Not anymore.

If you bought a new car in 2013, there’s a one in two chance you’ll have a puncture repair kit in the boot of your car instead of a spare wheel, according to our research. But what happens if the tyre is damaged beyond repair?

You’ll have to call a breakdown service provider for assistance. However, it’s unlikely that they’ll have the correct tyre size aboard their patrol vehicle, so there’s a very good chance you’ll be towed to a local garage to have a new tyre fitted so you can continue your journey. Not the most time efficient remedy for something as small as a puncture.

However, a new product is now being used by some breakdown patrols which could be the answer to the problem.

AA and RAC carry a universal spare wheel

The AA and RAC, who collectively attend almost five million breakdowns on UK roads a year, now carry a new universal spare wheel.

This 17 inch wheel fits the majority of cars that have a five-stud wheel fitting. It cleverly allows the technician to change the positioning and diameter of where the wheel nuts and bolts attach to match the fitment on the wheel hub.

Once the universal spare wheel is fitted, you can continue on your journey. Then when you reach a garage to have a new tyre fitted to the wheel with the puncture, you leave the universal spare wheel at the garage and notify the breakdown provider so they can pick it back up.

Should your car have a spare wheel?

The universal spare wheel seems to offer the best of both worlds – you can benefit from the fuel-cost-saving effect of carrying a lightweight repair kit, but also have a spare wheel fitted by a breakdown service technician to all you to continue your journey.

However, is this a problem you should have to experience in the first place? I mean, you could be waiting around for quite some time before your breakdown provider arrives. Our latest survey of car breakdown services found that 55% of people had to wait between 31 minutes and an hour for assistance to arrive. A further 18% of stricken motorists had to wait for over an hour.

If your car just came with a spare wheel in the first place, you wouldn’t have to phone for breakdown assistance at all. While there are some running cost implications of carrying a spare or space-saver wheel, or extra charges from some manufacturers to include them, are you willing to live with the impracticalities of not having one? If not, then it’s worth paying a little extra for a spare wheel when buying a new car.

For those with a puncture repair kit, I think the universal spare wheel is a welcome addition to breakdown patrol vans across the country that will get many motorists out of a tight spot.


Very ingenious, but I hope the universal spare wheel will not be used by manufacturers as a further excuse to get rid of spare wheels from new models.

I would be interested to know if there is a speed or distance restriction on use of universal spare wheels.

The top priority when I replaced my car a couple of years ago was to get one with a spare wheel.

“Punctures and other tyre-related issues are the AA’s second-most common call-out – after batteries – averaging 35,000 a month or more than one in ten breakdowns.
When the wheel is fitted, the car is subject to a 50 mph maximum speed restriction. It is for temporary use only.”

Thanks dieseltaylor. That means that only a full-size spare wheel is the only option if you want to be able to drive normally after a puncture.

Brian says:
24 October 2014

Puncture.proof tyres work! They are not cheap! The cheapest I could find of the same make as specified by the car manufacturer(VW, Contiseals) was £175 per tyre. I have had the car for 3 years, during that period I have had no flat tyres. Have had one warning from the car saying I had one tyre a different shape to the other three(my interpretation of what the car manual told me, and may well be wrong), I stopped the car got out, kicked the tyres and couldn’t tell which tyre was in trouble, got back in the car, took the wife shopping, took the wife home again, still couldn’t tell which tyre was wrong. Got out the tyre pressure gauge and found tyre pressures of 41,41,41,36. Tyre pressures are supposed to be 41 PSI all round. I then wrang up my favourite tyre firm, he told me to pump up that one tyre back up to 41 psi and he would bring a tyre which he wouldto fit on my drive, he drive where liked, he doubted I would hear the warning siren( I had previously reset it). When my tyre an turned up he had a quick look round the tyres, showed be the stub of a size 10 wood screw sticking out of an outer rear tyre and said ‘totally legal to plug that’ which he did and charged me £30 . He said ‘there’s at least another 15,000 miles in that’. I and my wife are 79 years of age and do not fancy hanging around in cold car or changing a wheel in bad weather, so this was ideal. A prearranged 30minute job on my front drive was by far the least hassle I’ve had with flat tyres. Should say I could never have afforded any of this in my younger days, but over the last few years proved itself to be a Godsend. I should say the car tyre warning siren went off on two other occasions, once for 41,41,41,51 – entirely my fault. And once for a missing valve cap and slow leak, once again entirely my fault.
My tyreman said that after I had blown up the tyre the warning would not have gone off again for another three months, with the screw still in it.
Hope this helps, you can see that that there is a lot for and against all the different ways of dealing with a flat, I would just like to say this latest car manufacturer’s gimmick suits what a couple of old dodderers want, that is – minimum mental and physical stress.f

Good that they have worked for you Brian. And that there was need to pay for a new tyre.

The early generations of run-flats gave a very harsh ride and of course availability if they had to be replaced was also a consideration. The AA article said 17% of their members had run-flats.

I had a look at the availability of winter/ run-flats as both can be rare beasts and it is quite good provided you do not need them on the day. One major on-line chain has become notorious for promising them, then asking for payment to their bank account before the tyres are despatched from Germany.

Incidentally this quote from mytyres ” The fuel consumption is reduced as a run-flat tyre does not weigh as much as a normal tyre.” is totally untrue as they are significantly heavier

smike says:
24 October 2014

If the Universal Spare is five stud as reported, it will only fit a small minority of – mainly upmarket – cars. The majority of cars are fitted with 4 stud wheels.

However, this initiative, though a commendable ,attempt to deal with a problem unnecessarily foisted on us by manufacturers looking to reduce their costs.

The problem need not exist. Manufacturers should be pressed to reinstate the spare wheel.

24 October 2014

40 years in car trade .retired.ge-tting worse all the time.spare wheel is a must..space saver 2nd. got new volvo v60 no space saver jack or spanner (i’ve got plenty) waiting 3 weeks + for space saver from main agents who sent to sweden for it.. i got a space saver from scrape yard (volvo one) painted it along with jack & wheel spanner £25 most important it’s the correct size outside of tyre top to bottom as one on car not like most space savers which are smaller good luck to get all new cars to have a least a space saver.safty ..and…money wise.(if you carnt change wheel do drive) good luck.colin..

Rockturtle15 says:
24 October 2014

3 punctures in three years. Tyre repair kit not able to repair any of them. Will not buy another Skoda unless it has spare tyre.
Come on WHICH lets get the manufacturers to put in spare tyres. They are not listening to their customers.
Last puncture at 5.00pm instead of being on my way in 30 minutes it took 6 hours.

John Smith says:
25 October 2014

I will be replacing my old reliable VW passat within a year or so. Not having a spare wheel supplied on new cars really bugs me. The universal spare wheel looks good solution provided all rescue services carry them. However, I would like to know if the universal spare wheel would be available when traveling in Europe.

John – rather than have the uncertainty about whether or not a universal spare wheel may be available, I suggest you shop around and find a suitable car that is either supplied with a spare wheel or for which one can be purchased. Even if it’s a space saver wheel, the speed restriction is the same with a universal spare wheel and you know it is in the boot when you need it.

Can someone explain how the universal spare wheel works in modern cars. The description implies it only comes in 17″ size. If this is fitted to a car that has wheels of a different size, its ESP (electronic stability control) system will malfunction (at least, according to my owner’s manual) because it will think one of the wheels is losing grip as it spins at a different rate to all the others.

The universal spare wheels are low profile and there are several photos online.

First we had manufacturers providing space-saver wheels and now the AA and RAC fitting universal spare wheels, both of which would mean a fail if the car was presented for an MOT. A great deal of effort has been put into making cars safer and now we compromise safety by removing full-size spare wheels. Utterly crazy.

Do breakdown services in other countries carry these universal spare wheels? I’m more concerned about being stranded while abroad than in the UK. My BMW has run-flat tyres but they are prone to problems and don’t last the quoted distance in the event of a puncture.

Brian says:
26 October 2014

3 years ago I bought a new car, two of my requirements(there were many others, ho ho) were:I wanted
puncture proof tyres, and no spare wheel( I was 75 and wanted nothing to do with hanging about for the RAC in the
cold, or piddling about in the rain changing a wheel).

I found what I wanted – bought it, and have had no physical hassle at all, or much mental hassle now I
think about it, about tyres, wheels, or anything else.

The tyres on the car are “puncture proof”, not “run flat” ! Look for Continental Contiseal on the web, they are
top of the range tyres and consequently high priced, around £175 or more.

I’ve had to sell the car, worst luck, in those 3 years I drove the car I had 3 “tyre events”:

E1 – after 18 months from new the car, a warning bell and a flashing error light – I got out and kicked the tyres
and couldn’t find which it was so carried on driving for about 5/6 days until some- one had the right tyre and
a slot to visit my house. He said one tyre had 35 psi and a no. 10 woodscrew embedded in it, he said he
could plug it for £30. He further told me that, judging by the state of the screw, it had been in the tyre for some
2-3 months, and if I had pumped it back up to 41 psi probably would have lasted another three months longer,
without further complaint from the car’s tyre detection system. He also said there was a good 15.000 miles left
in the tyre, it has already done 19,000, so I didn’t think that was too bad.

E2: slow leak through a missing valve cap – my fault.

E3 – one tyre only had 51 psi( should have been 41) – again, my fault.

I would suggest that with the above system you would forget where your wheel spanners were – I certainly did.

I think you could run flat on one of the tyres I had fitted, but I personally wouldn’t want to.

I’ve had some experience of puncture proof tyres around farms and with my various ride-on mowers so I
wasn’t too worried about having it on my car, in fact, the opposite.

You’ll obviously have to take note of the previous pieces, over 55 years of driving I’ve had plenty problems with
tyres myself but I offer you this alternative as a system that need not make the hairs on the back of neck lift. It is
expensive but was very welcome to my wife and myself and has knocked all the worry out of driving on rough
roads or getting stranded anywhere.

I have only once had a tyre with a side-wall tear, years ago, so I can’t tell you how my car’s tyres would bear up
– maybe you can get onto Contiseal about this.

I have written on this before, this is positively my last entry on this subject.


Patrick says:
31 January 2015

Recently bought a 2011 Meriva from a main dealer. When I queried the puncure reapair kit, I was assured the tyre could be repaired after using the kit. The solution in the kit could be swilled out with water!! Some weeks later I used the kit on a puncture. I returned the car to the dealer. They told me they never repair tyres when the repair kit has been used, and replacement solution was £50..

Don’t forget the cost of the replacement repair adhesive and the fact that some punctures cannot be repaired in this way.

My neighbours bought a spare wheel etc when they found their new Meriva was supplied only with a repair kit.

Kevin says:
24 February 2015

I purchased a brand new Volvo V60 in Oct 2013 and have had the misfortune of having 2 rear wheel punctures.
On the first occasion on the M6 the repair kit worked and I was able to continue to a garage. On second occasion puncture was too severe for the kit to work and simply finished with chemical spurting out of the tyre. So we were stuck late on a Saturday evening with an undrivable car. Our son-in-law who lived nearby took us home and following Sunday morning our plan was to remove wheel and take to have a new tyre fitted.
We then discovered what most people may not have realised. No spare wheel means no jack or wheel brace, so for those of you rushing out to buy a spare, please remember you also need jack and brace. So we then had no option but call Volvo Roadside assist who collected car on the Sunday but due to an unbelievable series of events it was Tuesday 5:00 pm before I had my car back – all because of a puncture.
And what I also have not seen mentioned is that once the repair kit is used it needs replacing, along with the compressor connector hose. This adds at least £60 to the eventual cost of having the tyre replaced and any call out costs that you might incur. I begin to wonder how much profit is actually being made by not providing spare wheels.
Off setting that who is paying for all the roadside call outs being created by this phenomen, and how ecological can that be to the ‘green lobby’ . It would be interesting to know just how many roadside call outs are as a direct cause of no spare wheel. Looking at AA and RAC annual reports it must be somewhere approaching million per annum (AA alone attend 30000 per month).
And this is supposed to be economic and ecological – someone, somewhere is having a laugh !!!!

I’m fed-up with paying a fortune for breakdown services when it must cost the recovery services a fortune to deal with all these callouts where there is no spare wheel, and the motorist pays in higher annual payments.

I’m sorry to hear your tale and I totally agree that it’s downright nonsense to leave out a spare wheel on environmental grounds, but how do we encourage motorists to make the requirement for a spare wheel first priority when buying a car?

In France ( and presumably elsewhere in Europe?) I believe you have to carry spare light bulbs in case one fails. Since many cannot be replaced without dismantling the front of the car I wonder how much of their breakdown services time is wasted dealing with this. It should be mandatory for a safety device – lights – to be repairable easily by the owner. In the same way it should be mandatory for a spare wheel to be provided. You would think the motoring organisations would press for this – once upon a time not only did they repair cars but they also lobbied on behalf of the motorist. No longer?

The AA and RAC did some publicity when (not quite) universal spare wheels were announced, but I have heard little since then.

I thought that Which? was going to take forward the problem of replacing failed bulbs easily at the roadside, but nothing seems to have happened. I am uncertain whether there is a legal responsibility to carry spares in EU countries or whether this is now just recommended. It’s not much use having spares when a major dismantling job is necessary. Here is a snippet from the AA website:
“However, it is recommended that spare bulbs are carried for any lights that may be easily and/or safely replaced by the owner/driver. Spare bulbs are compulsory for Croatia.”

Apparently “► Spare set of bulbs. Though it is highly unlikely that you will be stopped and asked to show your spare set of bulbs, and though it is not practical to carry spare sealed-beam units that require a garage visit for fitting, French rules of the road require cars to carry a spare set of bulbs. Many French drivers do not carry them….. “

Remember that neither the AA or the RAC breakdown services have any relationship with the AA spokesman you might see on the media commenting on such issues as Smart (?) motorways. So let’s hear from Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association. ‘AA’ and ‘RAC’ are just brands selling insurance and owned by some holding company aiming to make money out of motorists.

The AA and RAC have a reputation for consistently charging existing customers more for renewal of breakdown recovery than new customers – disreputable behaviour in my view.

I now have breakdown with my car insurer and let them haggle with the providers.

I bought a complete spare wheel with runflat to keep in my car and when one tyre deflated, at an inconvenient time (when isn’t it?), got assistance from the AA – quick and efficient.

No one has to join the AA or the RAC if they don’t like their method of working. I presume their marketing strategy is to attract new customers, possibly with loss-making offers. I receive a renewal quote about a month before payment might be taken, at a price significantly above a new joiner. I phone them up and, with minimal negotiation, they quickly reduce my premium to match. You could leave, join the RAC, return next year and so on but, in my experience, it is not necessary.

Which? promote haggling for all sorts of products and services.

The Government provides incentives also – I rather resent giving my hard earned taxes away in a grant to someone who has the means to buy a brand new EV, and have to pay to use the roads when they do it for free.

But it has always been such a world and, I expect, always will be. We need to keep up with it and use it to our advantage. Help those who are not so able. I doubt we’ll change it.

What I did was to add breakdown recovery to my car insurance, which saves me money and avoids hassle. When I had a puncture a couple of years ago and had a problem with the jack when fitting the spare wheel, called the number I had been given and an RAC van turned up.

Why don’t car makers sell cars with space for a full sized spare wheel, then one would have the choice of paying extra if that was wanted, or accepting whatever the maker usually fitted.

I would pay extra for a full sized wheel every time.

w goodman says:
6 July 2015

where can i purchase a universal 17″ spare wheel to fit a 2014 ford S Max sport with 18″ ally wheels

You can’t.

The S Max weighs in at over 2 1/2 tons laden and there are no wheels other than those supplied by Ford that will take the corner loading. Buy another wheel that matches those you have fitted for a spare.
The car manufacturer is the only one who can decide what is a space saver, because they specify a heavier duty sticky compound tyre to compensate for the mismatch in overall dia to those wheels fitted and the reduced tyre width. DO NOT USE A SPACE SAVER FROM ANOTHER VEHICLE, it will not take the weight. I’m not sure if this Universal spare wheel will meet the Construction and Use requirements where ” wheels and tyres across an axle should be of the same size and sort” (I’m paraphrasing here). I am checking this out, no don’t give me it’s the AA and RAC it’s bound to be legal line, they make mistakes.

When I bought my new car it didn’t have a spare wheel. Just that spray into your tyres. I payed from a spare and spanners, because if I had a blow out, the spray wouldn’t be any good.

Brett Collins says:
25 September 2019

I was not aware of this and this week I had a puncture that was not repairable, I am with the RAC and one the patrol man arrived he said there was nothing he could do other than order a lorry to take us home or to a garage. I called the RAC at 6.40pm and arrived home at 11.45pm.

” there’s a very good chance you’ll be towed to a local garage to have a new tyre fitted ”

Why not get a mobile tyre fitter to come to you?

So far my cars have always had some sort of spare wheel. Recent experience showed that only in one out of four punctures would a repair kit have been of any use in allowing me to continue my journey. Anyway using a kit renders the old tyre beyond repair. Last week when looking buy the new 2020 Hyundai i10, I made clear that I wanted a space saver spare. No spare no deal. I was quoted £600 for a dealer fitted option. Moreover the dealer seemed very unsure if one could actually be supplied. Space savers (including the tools) are available on the Internet for most of the Hyundai range from around £70 to £120 depending on the tyre size. I did not buy the new car. I saved at least £4,600 by buying a less than one year old 3000 mile i10 with a factory fitted spare.