For drivers it’s a modern dilemma: to have a spare wheel or not. On the one hand there’s the risk of being one of the 23,000 drivers Green Flag attended in 2013 who were stranded at the side of the road because they didn’t have a spare wheel. On the other there’s the fuel and therefore tax you might save by not carrying the extra weight of a spare wheel that you might never use.
Many drivers lament the passing of the full-size spare wheel as new research suggests that nine out of 10 new cars don’t have a spare of any kind as standard. However, carrying a spare wheel is actually the least successful way of getting going again after a puncture. Figures from tyre maker Continental show that only 70 per cent of spare wheels succeed in rescuing their driver from a flat tyre. “This is because they’re frequently under-inflated or unroadworthy, or drivers don’t have the right tools or knowledge to change a wheel,” says Continental’s technical manager Richard Durance.
A survey of new cars by website Honestjohn.co.uk revealed that around a quarter of new cars come with a skinny ‘space saver’ tyre in the boot. The report adds that the worst manufacturers for lack of a traditional spare tyre or ‘space-saver’ are Volvo, Vauxhall, Porsche, MINI, Mazda, Dacia and BMW. That said, for the vast majority of new cars, a spare wheel is available as an optional extra. A space saver spare for a popular family car such as the Ford Focus or SEAT Leon will cost £100.
The Honestjohn report found that around half (46 per cent) of cars came with a puncture repair kit. This is usually a sealing mousse and a compressor to re-inflate the tyre. Continental’s data says this is successful in around 80 per cent of cases.
The reason cars no longer have spare wheels as standard is to save weight. The lower a car’s weight, the less fuel it uses meaning the less carbon dioxide it generates and the lower and therefore more attractive its tax bracket. Dan Powell, managing editor of HonestJohn.co.uk said: “A typical 17-inch alloy wheel weighs about 20kg, which can add up to nine grams per kilometre of CO2 to the vehicle’s emissions.”
Continental’s data shows drivers get a puncture on average once every five years, which equates to one every 44,000 miles. These usually – inconveniently – happen in the rain because wetting rubber makes it easier to puncture. And that brings us to the most successful means of combatting punctures: the self-sealing tyre. This is a tyre with an air-proof layer on the back of the tread which seals itself when it gets punctured by anything up to 5mm in diameter. As that’s 95 per cent of cases, it’s the best way to avoid being stranded roadside. The next best is, without doubt, to ensure your spare wheel is roadworthy and you’re carrying the right tools to change it.