As a fleet manager, it is your responsibility to let drivers know their company vehicle is not equipped with a spare tire. The danger is many drivers do not know their vehicle doesn’t have a spare – until they need it. Drivers often say they were never told their new company vehicle didn’t come with a spare. Approximately 36 percent of model-year 2015 vehicles were not equipped with a spare tire. This compares to 5 percent in 2006. It can be difficult to tell which models are equipped with a spare and which aren’t, as some models include it in one trim level, but not the other.
OEMs have been eliminating spare tires for several reasons. First, it helps reduce vehicle curb weight, which is especially important for hybrids and electric vehicles. As OEMs struggle to achieve maximum miles per gallon, they’re eliminating dead weight to make vehicles lighter. The rule of thumb is that every 100 pounds reduced from curb weight improves fuel economy by about one percent. A 50-pound spare tire, which may never be used, is a tempting target, and offers the added benefit of creating more storage or occupant space.
Automakers compensate for the lack of a conventional spare tire with one of two options. The first option is to include an electric tire inflator kit in the trunk, so drivers can seal punctures and re-inflate a tire. In the event of a flat tire, the inflator-kit hose is attached to the valve stem of the tire. When the unit is turned on, it injects the sealant into the tire, and the compressor is used to inflate the tire. The advantage of these kits is that you don't have to jack up the car or remove the tire. The kit can only be used if the puncture is on the tire’s tread. If the puncture is on the sidewall or is larger than a quarter of an inch, the kit is unable to seal the puncture. Also, it is important for drivers to realize that this is only a temporary fix and that the vehicle should be taken to a national accounts service provider as soon as possible. Some fleets have ordered spare tires post-delivery after drivers expressed concern over using an inflator kit.
The second option employed by OEMs is to equip vehicles with run-flat tires. Vehicles equipped with run-flat tires will have no spare tire. Run-flat tires have reinforced sidewalls that allow them to operate with little to no tire pressure. Once a run-flat tire has been punctured and lost air pressure, the vehicle's tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) notifies the driver that the tires are below spec and the vehicle is in “run-flat mode.” You will need to keep your speed under 50 mph, but you can still continue to drive, up to 50 miles, until you find a tire shop or service station.
The decreasing availability of spare tires is also having an effect on general maintenance-related knowledge. An estimated 20 percent of drivers aged 18 to 34 do not know how to change a spare tire, compared to just 10 percent of drivers 35 to 54.
Spare tires have been standard equipment on most vehicles for more than a century. Nearly every vehicle came with a full-size spare tire. But fuel economy requirements, trunk space considerations, and safety concerns have prompted OEMs to shift toward smaller temporary spares. Space-saver or doughnut spare tires debuted in the mid-1970s as OEMs sought to reduce curb weight and increase trunk space in newly downsized cars. The smaller, temporary spares take up less trunk space and are light enough for most drivers to handle when they’re changing a flat. Since doughnut tires are not quite equal in size to regular tires, they are only meant to be driven a short distance and limited to a maximum speed of 55 mph. Temporary spares can be found on 52 percent of 2014 models, a 7 percent increase from 2007.
The only vehicles today that still have full-size spares are most pickups and large SUVs, but this is changing. There has been a 49-percent decrease (accounting for about 64 models) in vehicles that are equipped with full-size spares since 2007. Full-size spares have disappeared from the majority of passenger cars.
The New Reality
Nowadays, the lack of a spare tire is a reality for many company drivers. As Murphy’s Law repeatedly demonstrates, flats will occur at the most inopportune time and at the worst location. Some drivers may not have the physical strength to remove the lug nuts to change a flat tire, or, they may not have the knowledge to do so. This could create a potentially dangerous situation when attempting to jack up a vehicle with no prior experience or training, not to mention, potential liability concerns. Similarly, some drivers may be intimidated and not want to use an inflator kit. Many companies offer video tutorials or links to Web sites that explain how to operate an inflator kit.
Your drivers need to be prepared in advance to know that their company vehicle is not equipped with a spare and what to do in case of a flat tire. In many cases, the best option for most drivers is to call roadside service; however, this option is contingent that they are stranded in an area with available roadside service.
If you do not have fleet procedures in place to assist company drivers who may find themselves in these situations, now is the time to do so.
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