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Disappearing Donuts: One-Third of New Cars Don’t Come With a Spare Tire

Nov 24, 2018

category :: Tires

What’s worse than a flat tire? The sinking realization that you have no way to fix it. That’s the situation more American motorists may find themselves in as 36 percent of 2015 models are sold without a spare tire, according to new research from AAA. That’s a steep rise from 2006 when just five percent of nameplates omitted a spare. As fuel-economy standards rise to 54.5 mpg for 2025, automakers are desperate to reduce weight and the spare tire is arguably the lowest-hanging fruit. Replacing a spare tire with a four-pound inflator kit can cut as much as 30 pounds from a vehicle’s curb weight, and the donut can be removed without the extensive engineering or major investment other weight-saving technologies require.

AAA identified 136 models that don’t include a spare tire as standard equipment, although some of those vehicles do offer one as an option. Every major automaker, from Acura to Volvo, sells at least one car without a fifth wheel and tire. The list is heavy with sports cars, coupes, and hybrids, where space is at a premium, and German luxury cars and crossovers, which often use run-flat tires.

By AAA’s estimate, more than 29 million cars sold in the United States in the last 10 model years don’t have a spare tire. Drivers who aren’t aware their car has no spare are likely to make that realization at the worst possible time: when they’re stranded on the side of the road with a deflated tire. In most cases, car manufacturers substitute an inflator kit for the spare tire. However, inflator kits are extremely limited in what kind of damage they can repair. They’re only effective on clean punctures through the center of the tread, such as picking up a nail. Inflators can’t be used on damage from a blowout, curb strike, or pothole. The sealant can also render the tire-pressure monitoring sensor on that wheel inoperable, and replacements can cost up to $200 apiece.

There is one consolation to counter the trend of disappearing donuts. Modern tire technology means flats are fairly uncommon these days. Tire manufacturer Michelin estimates that drivers average more than 70,000 miles between flat tires.