The story behind the death of the spare wheel

Published 29 October 2014

One of the sad truths of modern car design is the phase out of the traditional spare wheel. HonestJohn.co.uk has investigated the standard fitment of new cars and discovered that just eight per cent of new cars are sold with a full size spare as standard.

The decision to kill off the spare wheel is inextricably linked to emissions, with the EU test-cycle for CO2 rating using a car’s weight to calibrate the rolling road for the test. Hence, the lighter the car, the less the owner will have to pay in tax.

As a result, car manufacturers’ fight to save every gram and the spare wheel has been seen as an easy route to cut weight. Indeed, a typical 17-inch alloy wheel weighs about 20kg, which can add up to nine grams of CO2 to an average vehicle’s emissions. For some car owners, lower road tax and a tyre repair kit will be fine. However, for others, it will result in higher bills and misery at the roadside.

HonestJohn.co.uk has discovered that the death of the full-size spare wheel has resulted in a surge of tyre and puncture related problems, with almost one in three of HonestJohn.co.uk readers reporting a tyre-related breakdown in the past two years.

The RAC estimates that puncture related breakdowns affected 1.5m car owners in 2013, while 360,000 of those forced to call a recovery firm to come to their rescue.

With puncture and other tyre-related breakdowns on the rise, these cutbacks can come at a huge cost to the consumer, with some having to pay more than £600 to buy a full-size spare, in addition to the necessary jacking kit and brace.

 

In 2010, the number of car owners calling the RAC for roadside recovery due to tyre-related breakdowns was 290,000; however, with car manufacturers phasing out the standard spare wheel, this has increased by 70,000 over the past three years.

With puncture and other tyre-related breakdowns on the rise, these cutbacks can come at a huge cost to the consumer, with some having to pay more than £600 to buy a full-size spare, in addition to the cost of the necessary jacking kit and brace.

HonestJohn.co.uk found that spacesavers were the most likely spare wheel fitted as standard and were provided in 27 per cent of all cars in the research. However, the spacesaver is not designed to be driven for long distances, with most having a maximum recommended speed of around 50mph (80 km/h) restricting drivers to short distances.

The majority of new cars (46 per cent) are sold with a tyre repair kit as standard, while 15 per cent get runflats, which use reinforced sidewalls and rubber to prevent a puncture and allow the driver to continue for a limited time. The remaining 4 per cent are fitted with either a compressor or a self-sealing tyre. 

For some car owners, the notion of scrapping the spare wheel for lower road tax will not be a problem. Indeed, we're sure some welcome it. But we think it's important to inform all car buyers of the facts. After all, you don't want to discover that your car hasn't got a spare when you're stuck at the roadside, do you?

That's why, where the data is available, you'll see the provision of a full-size spare, spacesaver, runflats or tyre repair kit listed in the specification section of all of our reviews - as illustrated below.

To find out more about the death of the spare wheel, click here.

Spares Section

Comments

EndlessWaves    on 29 October 2014

1.5 million per year (an estimate from an unspecified source) is one in twenty cars, so one in three 'HJ readers' every two years seems unlikely. I'm guessing it's actually one in three people who filled in a survey advertised as asking for recent tyre experiences or some such and so heavily skewed towards people who felt they had something to say about the subject.

And then there's tyre related breakdown callouts increasing by 70,000 over the last three years. How do we know how much of that is down to the removal of the spare tyre? Other recent trends like deteriorating roads, wider tyres and the popularity of heavier crossovers are likely to account for at least part of that number. And of course some of that increase will be down to a higher number of miles done (more cars/drivers on the roads) and it'll no doubt fluctuate year on year to some extent as well.

David Clark    on 29 October 2014

Also, How many of those 290,000 had a spare tyre, but did not have the expertise/strength to fit it. I have been driving for over 30 years and have never needed a spare tyre in the car. Also one car I had, it was nearly impossible to fit it without help as the bolts came out along with the nuts! So what is the point in carrying a heavy, fuel draining tyre, which like as not you could not fit without calling the emergency services! A spare battery would be much easier to fit, and I bet the RAC has more callouts for battery faults! So why do we not carry that spare? I have also run out of petrol several times, so a spare can?

GOM Salty    on 30 October 2014

David, because your house has never burnt down do you cancel your house insurance? A battery rarely fails suddenly if less than 3 years old, and a driver who can't read a fuel gauge should obviously carry a spare can!!!

Will the saving of up to nine grams of CO2 to an average vehicle’s emissions be exceeded by the energy needed to make tyre repair kits and replacing partially used tyres that cannot be repaired!!

Even if you can't manage the wheel change yourself, someone else can [eg AA, RAC, Green Flag etc] and you are quickly back on the road until the punctured tyre is repaired.
As stated, the tyre repair kit has significant limitations on puncture size & location, and it won't repair a blow-out [eg caused by road debris].
If the tyre repair kit can't be used or it doesn't work, vehicle recovery will be expensive, inconvenient, and your journey cannot continue.
In addition to the cost of replacing the tyre repair kit, I understand that if used, some garages will not repair the tyre so it will also need replacing.
As for run flat tyres, can they be repaired?
Progress - I think not!!!!
Thanks, but no thanks, I want a spare wheel.

JM    on 30 October 2014

I just paid an extra £100 for my new Corsa to have a full size spare wheel but I have found that it came with no wheel brace or car jack so at the moment it is useless unless I spend more money.

Gleneve Cars    on 30 October 2014

It's a controversial one right enough. At first I thought it was ridiculous not to have a spare on an expensive new car, what a cheek!
But then I suppose if you consider what it saves in total Co2 emissions for all cars and the RFL costs for motorists as it takes some cars into the £0 tax band.
Then there's the danger of jacking the car up and changing the wheel for the inexperienced motorist - I've seen someone trying to do it on a hill for example, or at the side of a busy motorway, yikes! Old cars can often have very weak jack points too, or the novice might use the wrong jack point - sometimes not that clear in the instruction manual.
The whole process can be fraught with danger for some.
You'd need to find a statistic showing how many had been injured changing a wheel, that would be interesting!
Having said all that I can see it would be a nightmare to have a puncture and not have a spare - however having driven for 35 years I've only had one puncture and guess what... when I went to change it I discovered Kwik Fit had lost my locking allen key for the alloy wheel....

   on 3 November 2014

It is not about saving motorists' cash, it is about saving manufacturers' cost of crash testing vehicles with sare wheel wells, because to provide these wells means have to make that part of the car stronger, Testing the well fitted to the vehicle and to get it to pass cost thousands if not a million or two.

I have had 3 punctures in 12 years. Providing run-on-flat is good idea because upon receiving a puncture, such a vehicle would less likely to loose all directional control as copared to punctured tyre which isn't run-on-flat. However, where BMW used to position the battery in the right rear corner of the trunk of the vehicle, now, on my X1 at least, it is taking centre stage where a spare wheel well would have been. To copound the stupidity, why would designers put an ignition source so near to a flammable fuel storage ?

There may be many physically smaller drivers who are unable to change a punctured tyre on their own but they could summon assistance (most people have cell phones with them). But without a spare in, on or about the vehicle, there is no chance of an easy reacue. The means many stranded motorists have to call out a tow or similar heavy duty rescue.

Don't kid yourselves; all motorists have to pay in the end, whether it is the "hot air" about CO2 emissions or in the subsequent higher membership fees which is distributed among the rest of the members through annual subscriptions; why do you think motoring organisations are always looking for more members ?

DaveWK    on 26 March 2017

The comment re lost security wheel bolt key reminds me of the time ATS overtightened a wheel security bolt on my CItroen C5. (Those b compressed air wrenches they don't know how to use!).
The security key socket was too weak for the job and its pins were destroyed in trying to unscrew the bolt. The clever trick of heating up a slightly smaller socket and hammering it on worked well. Lots of leverage and then a bang as the head of the bolt sheared off. Bit of extra security by CItroen to prevent the thief doing what I was trying to do.
Trip to Screwfix for an expensive set of tungsten drills and easi-outs which solved the problem after hours of drilling. Then off to the breakers yard for a set of proper bolts,£2 each and binned the security annoyances.
Anyway, when did you last hear of standard alloy wheels being nicked? About as common as car radio theft nowadays.
Maybe I'll get scrappage deal for a new petrol car seeing that this excellent diesel is the government's latest target.
2005 CItroen C5 2.0hdi Exclusive, 136 (plus a tweak) bhp. All the whistles and bells, twelve years old, everything still works. 80,000 miles, original exhaust, never missed a beat. 50mpg...has actually achieved 62mpg over 400 miles, on a gentle run Bordeaux to Costa Brava on a quiet Sunday.

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