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Temporary Fixes Save the Day

The following column, written by Steven Cole Smith, appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.

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Question: My sister recently bought a new car, and I have learned that it has no spare tire. I don’t mean it’s missing – there is no spare tire, and no place for one. I have never heard of this. Is it safe?

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– Alex?

Answer: This is becoming more and more common for several reasons: It saves space, weight and cost. There are quite a few vehicles that come without a spare – not even a little temporary "doughnut" spare. They include the Chevrolet Corvette, several Porsche and BMW models, a couple of Cadillac models, the Pontiac Solstice and its twin, the Saturn Sky, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, and even the Toyota Sienna all-wheel-drive minivan.

The manufacturers typically handle this in one of two ways: The vehicle may be equipped with "run-flat" tires, which either have what amounts to a tire within a tire, or very stiff sidewalls that allow you to drive, at limited speeds and for a limited distance, without any air in the tire at all. I’ve driven Corvettes with deflated run-flats in a test, and aside from additional tire noise, at speeds of 50 mph or less, you can barely tell a difference.

Most manufacturers say run-flats are good for 50 to 125 miles, which should get you to a repair station. I like run-flats, but those stiffer sidewalls do usually mean a rougher ride.

Vehicles that don’t have run-flat tires and don’t have a spare usually come with an aerosol can of liquid tire repair, and many come with a small electric air compressor to inflate the tire. That works fine unless you damage the tire in a manner that doesn’t allow for repair. That happened to me last year, when I hit a pothole and the edge of the asphalt sliced the inside of a tire’s sidewall. I had a spare, but if I hadn’t, I would have been sitting on the side of the road, waiting for a service truck.

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On some vehicles, such as the Solstice, it would be very difficult to find a place for even the smallest temporary spare tire, not to mention a jack and lug wrench. On larger vehicles such as the AWD Sienna minivan, a spare is optional, so there is room for one.

Junkyards typically have plenty of the little temporary spare tires for sale, but if you buy one, you have to make sure it can bolt up to your vehicle’s hubs, and that there is sufficient room inside the wheel to clear the brakes and suspension pieces.

Around town, I’d probably feel OK with a working cell phone and an AAA membership (though some manufacturers offer roadside assistance with new vehicles). If I were taking a trip, would I feel better with at least a temporary spare and an aftermarket jack and lug wrench? Yes. I always carry an extra aerosol can of "fix-a-flat," too – get a flat tire on, say, a bridge in the rain, and I’m using that can to get to an area where I can change the tire safely. (Tire Review/Akron)

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