If you are one of the record 91.2 million Americans, including 7.6 million Texans, who will take to the roads over the 12 days of holiday traffic starting Dec. 23, be extra sure to check your tires.
You may not have a spare.
Approximately a third (36 percent) of 2015 model-year vehicles sold do not come with a spare tire, according to research by AAA. This compares to only five percent of 2006 model-year vehicles.
All told, AAA says more than 29 million vehicles sold in the last 10 model years are missing a spare tire.
“Automakers are facing increasingly stringent fuel economy standards and the spare tire has become a casualty in an effort to reduce weight and boost miles per gallon,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair.
In 2010, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency set new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards for vehicle model years 2012 to 2016. The CAFE standards are set at a combined 34.1 mpg by 2016.
To comply with CAFE standards, automakers have worked to reduce vehicle weight, including replacing the spare tire, which with a jack weighs between 40 and 50 pounds, with a much lighter tire inflater kit.
This trend is not just happening with cheaper cars. A seven-page list of car models compiled by AAA shows that while Kia was among the first to start ditching spare tires back in 2003 on its Rio, luxury carmakers Lexus and Porsche also took out the spare that year on their SC and Cayenne models, respectively.
The next year Cadillac, Mazda and Toyota released models without spares.
Jump to 2015 and the list has mushroomed to include 40 carmakers and around 165 different models with inflater/sealant kits, with spare tires offered only as add-on options or a few with run-flat tires, which are designed to be driven with a puncture for a limited number of miles.
Among the models now without a spare included in the base price are the popular Jeep Cherokee, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette and Volkswagen Beetle.
Green cars are well represented on the list, too, including the Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius and Tesla Roadster. Even carmakers known for their safety like Volvo and Subaru now have models without spares.
Other auto manufacturers that don’t always include spare tires include Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Lotus, Maserati, Mercedes, Mini, Nissan, Ram, Scion, Smart and Tesla.
A full list of cars without spares can be found on the AAA website.
“AAA responds to more than four million calls for flat tire assistance annually and, despite advances in vehicle technology, we have not seen a decline in tire-related calls over the last five years.” Nielsen said.
While most cars now have tire pressure monitoring systems and some include run-flat tires, the second leading cause of AAA roadside assistance calls is flat tires, after battery failures.
My husband and I experienced a blowout in our Kia Soul that left us stranded in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma one recent Sunday afternoon. After attempting to use the inflater/sealant kit unsuccessfully, we had to get resourceful fast.
While he downloaded an app called Blink to find us a tow truck, I asked the GPS on my smartphone for our location, which turned out to be six miles south of a small town called Kiowa.
Other than a minor hitch when the Blink operator demanded we name a cross street (which was nonexistent), she was able to find and notify a tow truck, who called us for our exact location and was there within an hour. We also were able to call two Walmarts in the area, including one that sold tires and was open a few more hours.
Problem solved, although our five-hour trip was doubled in time and the tow was $169.
So whether you are heading to Grandma’s this holiday season or buying a new car for Christmas, consider these tips.
Check your tires. Admittedly, we let the tires on our Kia get a little old, a particular problem when they blow and the repair and inflate system that comes with the car doesn’t work.
Read ahead. If your vehicle is equipped with a tire inflater kit instead of a spare tire, read the owner’s manual and understand system limitations before roadside trouble strikes.
Don’t assume there’s a spare. When purchasing a new vehicle, always ask for a detailed list of equipment and if a spare tire can be purchased as an option.
Check expiration dates. If your vehicle is equipped with a tire inflater kit, AAA recommends that you check its expiration date and replace the kit when necessary, typically every four to eight years.
Check tire pressure. If your vehicle has a spare tire, be sure it’s properly inflated and stowed. Check the tire pressure monthly, as a flat spare tire is of no value in an emergency.
Roadside service. Membership at AAA starts at $52 annually. AARP, Allstate Motor Club, Good Sam and others also offer the service with a paid membership.
Download apps for towing. The Blink app helped us find us a tow truck on the road. Other no-cost apps include HonkForHelp and Urgent.ly. They will also help you find a tire repair or replacement location near you.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net