Spare or Goo? A Texas-sized test

To spare or not to spare.

If that's the question for modern automobile designers, whether to include a spare tire or save on weight and packaging, I want a vote.

My 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco doesn't have even a mini-spare, just a can of goo.

And in a perfect storm of Houston freeways, monsoon rains, local flooding and a 5-inch-long chunk of aluminum pipe, goo won't do. It's a recipe for a five-hour delay, which seems like forever to an old dude used to changing his own tires and being back on the road in 20 minutes.

The blowout that stranded my wife, Kathryn, our daughter Rebecca and me came during a deluge July 12.

I know the debate on the spare/no-spare trade-offs. I've heard other motorist dinosaurs my age loudly proclaim, "I'd never own a vehicle that didn't have a full-sized spare."

Consider me a semi-dinosaur. I'm fine with a doughnut spare, good for 50 miles or so. And over the years living in the States and in Germany, I've used one five times. Especially as I age, it's easier to change than a full-sized spare. And I prefer the extra trunk space that comes with the tiny spare.

The culprit: 5 inches of mangled metal. Photo credit: JESSE SNYDER

Admittedly, this blowout was an extreme test. I know it was a 5-inch chunk of metal because it was still inside the tire after the tow.

No, I really wasn't eager to swap a tire in the rain, especially if we hadn't been near an exit and I had to change it on the side of a busy freeway.

With OnStar service, I didn't even get wet. In a series of calls and follow ups, I talked to multiple OnStar folks, two tow truck drivers and service adviser Rick Braquet at Knapp Chevrolet, who didn't have a replacement tire in stock but ordered one from a tire wholesaler even before we got towed in.

Everybody was considerate and friendly; special thanks to Ramon who fit three of us into his tow truck.

But on a day with 9 inches of rain, the towing company was, literally, swamped hauling stalled cars out of flooded streets, and we fell down the priority list. So half of our five-hour delay was spent getting towed to the dealer and the rest waiting for the new tire to be delivered and mounted.

I bought the Malibu Eco knowing it didn't have a spare. That decision is on me.

I'd like to change my mind. If I had had a doughnut, I would have saved a half day. And I'm pretty sure I could have replaced the tire for less than $258. More important to me: with a spare, the choice between road service and self-changing is mine.

But it's a tough choice. There's room in my trunk for a space-saver spare. But Chevrolet wants $530 for it, a jack and a tire iron. And no credit for returning the can of goo and inflator kit. The parts guy at my local dealership already has "seven or eight" returned kits and doesn't want any more.

On a tough day, OnStar and Knapp Chevrolet did their job. Thank you.

But in terms of customer feedback, two thoughts.

To Chevrolet: If you sell a high-volume car without a spare, maybe dealers should keep a replacement tire in stock. And maybe you could price a doughnut spare lower than a replacement set of four regular tires.

To OnStar: Please train your staff to tell local towing services when a front-drive car has a rear-wheel flat, so they don't send a hook-and-sling when only a flatbed (rollback) will work.

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