As automakers strive to comply with increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, they are replacing spare tires with tire inflator kits. These kits don’t provide even a temporary fix for many common tire-related problems, according to new AAA Automotive Engineering research. This leaves millions of drivers vulnerable at the roadside.
Flat tires remain the second leading cause of AAA roadside assistance calls, accounting for more than 4 million calls annually in the United States. Spare tires enable roadside service providers to get motorists back on the go, without needing a tow after a tire-related incident.
Yet, AAA Engineering found approximately 36 percent of 2015 model year vehicles sold in the United States came without a spare tire, up from just 5 percent of vehicles sold in 2006. In the last 10 model years (2006-2015), more than 29 million vehicles were sold without a spare tire. (A complete list of vehicles sold without a spare tire can be found by clicking here.)
“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.
What is a Tire Inflator Kit?
Instead of a spare tire, many vehicles are now equipped with a tire inflator kit; a small, four-pound kit that contains an air compressor and bottle of sealant. The kit is designed to coat the inner wall of a tire with the sealant and re-inflate it with the compressor. This is just a temporary fix, and the motorist must take the tire to a professional for a complete repair.
While each kit eliminates approximately 30 pounds of weight, resulting in minimal savings in fuel consumption, they can cost consumers up to 10 times more than a simple tire repair, due to the replacement cost of the kit (up to $300) and the tire pressure monitoring sensor. What’s more, kits expire after four to eight years.
How Well Do They Work?
AAA tested the most common tire inflator kits in today’s vehicles and found they work as described, but are only an option in very specific circumstances:
Tire inflator kits work effectively when a puncture occurs in the tread surface and the object remains in the tire.
Tire inflator kits do not work if the object is no longer in the tire, or when sidewall, blowout, pothole or curb-related damage occurs. In these situations the vehicle will require a tow.
“Consumers may mistakenly believe that inflator kits are a one-size-fits-all alternative to installing a spare tire,” said Nielsen. “The reality is these kits can accommodate specific types of damage, but having the option to install a spare tire can save stranded drivers time and money.”
AAA encourages automakers to put consumer interest first and halt the elimination of the spare tire. In the meantime, motorists should:
Understand the limitations of tire inflator kits.
When purchasing a new vehicle, don’t assume it comes with a spare tire. Always ask.
If a vehicle has a tire inflator kit, check its expiration date and replace it when necessary.
If a vehicle has a spare tire, make sure it is properly inflated and stowed.
Even motorists with spare tires may need assistance changing a tire. While 82 percent of motorists say they know how to change a tire, according to AAA’s research, the ability to change a tire varies among ages and genders:
Age differences: 78 percent of millennial drivers, 18-34, say they know how to change a tire, compared to 90 percent of drivers, ages 35-54.
Gender differences: 97 percent of men say they know how to change a tire, compared with 68 percent of women.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 55 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial- and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited online at AAA.com.