I have a confession to make, I am a woman and I can change a flat tyre on my car (well I did it once). And yes, I am a little bit proud of that fact. So imagine my horror when I saw Watchdog last week to discover that new car manufacturers are now not including a spare tyre as standard. What they are doing is replacing the spare tyre with a ‘do-it-yourself’ puncture kit, which is designed to repair the tyre at the roadside. However, motorists who have tried to use the kit say it is difficult to read the instructions, hard to actually employ the sealant into the tyre and in many cases, if the tyre has blown, has a deep cut or is completely shredded, the kits are useless anyway. But are we just getting lazy in our old age, or does this present a real problem? Reports from breakdown services suggest that drivers who are stranded because of a flat tyre are now on the rise, with rescue service Green Flag revealing that the number of call outs to drivers left stranded has leapt by 20 per cent and the RAC say they’ve had over 80 000 call outs a year from people who have no spare tyres and from drivers who have had limited success with the sealant kits.
Worryingly, out of all Britain’s top ten-selling models last year, only Volkswagen provided one. If you are lucky enough to own one of the top of the range new cars then you may get fitted with thinner space-saving spare tyres that take up less room in the boot, but will allow you to drive for 50 miles so you can get home or to a garage. Others are kitted out with four ‘run-flat tyres’ — tyres with strengthened walls that stay hard even when the air has escaped. So why has the spare tyre suddenly vanished from our boot? Dominic Tobin, Motoring Journalist from The Sunday Times told Watchdog that car manufacturers want to make their cars lighter because it improves fuel economy due to the new targets that the EU have imposed. So by removing the spare tyre you are getting rid of around 20 kilos of weight. But Dominic argues such efficiency savings can be made in other ways, using aluminium in the car design or redesigning the seats.
You’ll invariably find that it is the bottom of the range cars that now come with the sealant kit, cars such as Honda Jazz, Renault Clio and Vauxhall Astra, and if you thought changing a spare tyre was difficult, wait until you have tried using the kit. You first have to connect a pipe from a compressor in the repair kit to the flat tyre’s valve, plug the compressor into the cigarette lighter and switch on the compressor to fill the tyre with air and sealant. Then to ensure the sealant has been equally dispersed throughout the tyre, you have to unplug it all, drive the car for two miles, stop and park, plug the compressor back into the tyre and cigarette lighter, and then you can fully pump up the tyre. The problem is, there is no guarantee that even if you manage to inflate the tyre with the kit, that it will work as it is only effective with holes 4mm or smaller.
Prakesh Patel, who is an RAC patrol man, comments on the kits: “I’ve never been very successful with them,” he says. “They are fine if it’s a small hole caused by a nail. But the problem is that when you use the sealant it ends up on the road and it’s messy. It costs £20 to £30 to replace the sealant, and when you take the tyre to be repaired they won’t take it because of the glue inside. So you have to pay for a new tyre as well. I had a call out this week from a middle-aged women who couldn’t find the spare but thought there must be one. When we opened up the boot the hole that should have been filled by a tyre was instead filled with a piece of polystyrene. She looked at me in disbelief.” And RAC technical director David Bizley says: ‘Not including a spare wheel has become a growing trend among car manufacturers over the past five years, to the point where about 50 per cent of punctures registered in 2012 happened to vehicles which did not have a spare wheel.’
So if you are worried about the absence of your spare tyre, make sure you check with the manufacturer either before you purchase your car, as you can in some cases buy a spare as an ‘extra’, or see about purchasing one yourself if you discover your car is without one.
Photo credit feature image: BBC Watchdog