Opinion Columns & Blogs

Dear automakers: Why did you take our spare tires? Return them, please

Does your car have a spare tire?

Well, duh, of course it does ... right?

Not necessarily — turns out, nearly one-third of cars on the market today do not come with spares. (Here’s AAA’s list of 2017 vehicles with and without spares.)

I’ve been driving one of those spare-less cars around for five years ... oblivious. So when I wound up stranded in Grover Beach with a blown out front tire, I assumed I had a spare. Then the nice AAA guy arrived and gave me the brutal truth.

I was incredulous .

“Just look over there,” I said, directing AAA guy’s flashlight into the nooks and crannies of my Ford C-Max.

Nope. No spare — not even one of those doughnutty things.

I apologized profusely when I hopped in the tow truck for a ride to the tire shop.

Turns out, I’m not the only idiot behind the wheel.

According to the nice AAA guy, lots of people don’t realize their cars aren’t equipped with spares. (Unless he was just trying to make me feel better.)

In this case, there was a happy ending. The following morning, I had a new tire — and a lesson in humility.

But what if I (or you) were out in the desert .... at night .... 100 miles from the nearest service station, with a blown tire?

Yikes, right?

Which raises a question: Why are car makers depriving us of something that used to come standard in every single vehicle? Something we depended on to help keep us safe?

Here are the most frequent responses:

  • Reducing the weight helps with fuel economy — though according to Consumer Reports, the fuel savings is “slight.”
  • Lack of space, especially in hybrid vehicles like mine.
  • Cost!

Add communication technology to that list. Without the ubiquity of cell phones, car manufacturers would never have gotten away with ditching spare tires.

Now, though, we can sit in the safety of our cars and call for service. Except instead of changing our flat and sending us on our way, roadside responders are now towing many more stranded motorists to service stations or tire shops.

As an alternative to a spare, there are “run flat” tires that can go for a limited distance after getting a typical puncture ... which makes it sound like they would be pretty useless in the event of an atypical puncture.

So are those tire inflation kits. They’re intended to temporarily repair punctures — but do absolutely nothing for a torn-up tire.

CBS News even quoted a AAA spokesman as saying it’s “pretty rare that an inflator kit can get a car back on the road.”

Yet a manufacturer who shall remain nameless gives us this encouraging sales pitch: A tire inflator with a sealant “provides you with a sense of comfort in knowing that you are prepared in case of a tire emergency.”

You know what would be even more comforting? A big, old-fashioned, heavy-but-serviceable spare tire in the trunk.

So, please, automakers, at the very least, let us know if our cars don’t come equipped with any type of spare. Put a big sticker on the cover of the owners manual, and maybe another one inside the trunk. Too many of use who grew up with spares take it for granted that one will be there when we need it.

Even better, don’t sacrifice our peace of mind for a “slight” increase in fuel economy. Give us back our spares.

Stephanie Finucane is The Tribune opinion editor .