It’s time to do something about the old spare tire -- and not the one that my wife, my doctor and I would all like me to get rid of.
No, what I’m arguing here is that we all need more junk in our trunks, not less.
In fact, our safety may depend, legislatively, on correcting the weight-slashing overzealousness that has eliminated spare tires from many new cars.
AAA said last week it came to the rescue of 32 million drivers in 2015, a record number of service calls that was about 10 percent higher than in 2014. The main culprits were flat tires, accidental lockouts and battery failures, as might be expected. Yet, AAA noted that newer vehicles -- less than five years old -- accounted for an outsized portion of all service calls, and that one out of five calls required a tow to a repair facility.
First, an admission: I’ve been stranded on the side of the road in a car with no spare, thanks to a pothole, more than once. For what it’s worth, I didn’t like it.
My car, a 2013 Ford C-Max, doesn’t have the luxury of a spare tire because of the packaging of its hybrid battery pack. If I wanted to keep a spare on hand, it means giving up space in the back as well as the hatchback’s rear flat load floor.
Yet, spare tires -- even emergency doughnuts -- are less and less common on new vehicles today because of weight concerns rather than packaging. Automakers trying to comply with ever-tightening corporate average fuel economy regulations scour every vehicle detail to cut ounces, so replacing even a doughnut tire and steel rim with a modest lightweight emergency inflator kit became low-hanging fruit for many.
This is an oversimplification, but in terms of fuel economy testing, if a vehicle has a standard feature, it has to be there when the vehicle is rated for fuel efficiency. This makes sense, and, in theory, is supposed to tamp down on the gamesmanship that has allowed automakers to occasionally overstate fuel efficiency.
Yet, just as I wouldn’t want automakers to remove turn signals in favor of lighter weight drivers’ arms, saving weight by eliminating spare tires on new vehicles is a step too far. I’d much rather see spare tires (and perhaps other crucial safety equipment) exempted: removed during testing, noted in the results, but come as standard equipment in new vehicles that can accommodate them.
Doing so would mean rewriting the regulations that govern testing, but that could be accomplished during the upcoming midterm review.
To me, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.