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Spare Tire Economics – Cheaper Without One?

spare-tireThe Ford C-Max and the Chevy Cruze Eco. What do these two vehicles – and many other models from various automakers have in common?

Answer: They don’t come with a spare tire. Yep, no “doughnut.” You know, that thing that can be a lifesaver – and time saver – in the event that you end up with a flat while you’re on the go. In fact, more and more automakers are following suit when it comes to ditching the doughnut – a lot of this supposedly has to do with reaching the 54.5 miles per gallon fuel economy standard by 2025. Being that a spare tire can weigh up to 50 pounds or so, the stated reasoning is that removing this excess weight can help improve fuel economy. In fact, according to a November 2015 AAA report, about one-third of all new cars sold today don’t come with a spare tire. Instead, they come with an inflator kit or come off of the line equipped with run-flat tires, which are able to travel up to 50 miles without any air.

But is ditching the spare tire really more economical? Is this a reason that makes sense? We examine:

Making the Case for No Spare Tire

tire repair kit

Having a spare tire on hand is kind of like buying insurance – have one to give you peace of mind in the event that one of your tires goes flat. Some people drive all of their lives and never have to change a tire in transit. Others may blow several out a year.

Most cars these days weigh between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds and, according to GasBuddy, a vehicle weight reduction of 10 percent would save up to 7 percent in fuel economy. A reduction of 50 pounds should result in an increase in efficiency of about 1% depending on the curb weight of your vehicle. For someone who spends $2,000/yr on fuel, this would mean that you are saving approx. $20/yr by getting rid of the spare tire.

So, the savings on gas from removing a spare tire are close to negligible. So again we ask the question, why no spare?

While you might be saving a bit of money on gas, the manufacturers are saving on costs big time. The cost of a spare tire, tools, and jack is likely in the $100/car range for large manufacturers. For a company that sells millions of cars, this is going to mean huge savings over a long period of time.

Making the Case for the Spare Tire

There are several reasons why it still makes sense to purchase a car with, or ensure your car has, a spare tire.

  • jeep-spare-tireThe inflator kits are ineffective in the case of blowouts, only sufficient in the case of punctures to the middle of the tread (i.e. running over a nail). So in the event that you experience a blowout and you only have an inflator kit, you’re likely to be towed, and that’s hardly convenient and can quickly undo any fuel savings you experienced from driving without a spare.
  • Depending on your vehicle type, the fuel economy benefits experienced are likely to be very minimal. Is sacrificing your spare really worth it?
  • Run-flat tires, the other major alternative to the spare tire, are considerably more expensive than conventional tires. What’s more is that they can rarely be repaired in the event of damage. Self-sealing tires, a similar type of technology, aren’t yet widely available and also considerably more expensive than conventional tires.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to ditch the spare, the decision is yours to make. However, it’s worth noting that some automakers who years ago removed the spare tire from models are re-introducing it for subsequent model years. While the decision is yours, often times your least expensive option when it comes to spare tires, especially if your new car didn’t come with one, is to pick up a used one. You can do so for a lesser price, while keeping peace of mind.

List of Vehicles That Don’t Come with a Spare Tire

Here is a list of popular manufacturers that have either decided to stop offering a spare tire or have decided to make this an optional feature. Manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, and Porsche have eliminated the spare tire from nearly all of their models. Others have left this as an optional feature. See the full list from AAA here.

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