Buyer beware: Growing number of car models not equipped with spare tire

SUSQUEHANNA TWP., Pa. - Getting a flat tire probably ranks up there with your car not starting or getting locked out as one of the top annoyances when something with your car goes wrong.

But the traditional first line of defense after getting a flat tire is increasingly being replaced in the name of fuel economy.

AAA found that about a third of new vehicles do not come equipped with a spare tire. That includes my car.

I was driving into FOX43 one afternoon when I noticed the tire pressure on my back right tire dropping. I was close enough to work to get there safely without any damage to the rim, but when I parked, I noticed the tire had gone flat, and that the puncture was on the inner sidewall of the tire.

My mistake was assuming I had a spare tire, because when I opened the trunk to look for it, I noticed in the wheel well that there was no spare, but instead a box with a can of sealant and an air pump.

"Sealant and the tire inflator kits are only good for certain type of damage, like if you have a little pin hole, or a nail, something like that," said Doni Lee Spiegel of AAA Central Penn. "If you have sidewall damage or rim damage, you're not going to be able to fix it with that."

Vehicle technicians say it's another question you should ask your dealer before you buy your next car.

"You're not conditioned [to ask]," said JD Cooper, a tow truck driver. "You would automatically assume, 'It's the way it has been, why would it change?' Ask your dealer. Ask when you're purchasing your vehicle. It's happening in all makes and models."

The standard answer you hear to why a growing number of cars do not have spare tires is two words: fuel economy.

As fuel standards are getting more stringent, removing a spare tire kit is an easy way to lose weight.

"If you think about it, the reasoning behind it is they are trying to save weight in vehicles," Cooper said. "But when they only weigh about 35 to 30 pounds, you know you could save that by not carrying around your extra toolbox or something in the trunk."

Nowadays, many cars still have spare tires, but on some makes and models, like mine, it's optional. Others are not equipped to have them at all, and it's a trend that does not sound like it is going away anytime soon. Click here for the list of 2017 vehicles.

"2015 was the start, probably, when they started getting rid of spare tires, maybe a year or two before that," Spiegel estimated.

AAA says it received more than 450,000 calls in 2016 from members across the country with flat tires without a spare.

"They're getting a flat tire and they're thinking they'll just come change my tire,"  said Spiegel. "We get there and we find out, 'Oh, we need Plan B.'"

So what is Plan B?

Most often, it's towing your car to the mechanic to fix or replace the tire. In my case, I was able to get the tow covered under warranty. My tire was fixed within a day for about $160 at a dealership.

I then inquired with multiple parts distributors about a spare tire kit, since I found out later the kit in my vehicle was optional. The least expensive option was just under $600.

"I would say when this condition happens of the people, 90% of them don't know that they don't have a spare tire," Cooper said. "In a way, it feels like you're being cheated. It's something that was always there, something we relied on."