Where's the spare tire?

Published On: May 15 2014 04:27:48 PM EDT
Updated On: May 15 2014 06:10:00 PM EDT

VIDEO: They are not quite as extinct as rotary-dial telephones, but spare tires in new cars are becoming increasingly rare. Many drivers don’t know about it until they get a flat and try to change the tire themselves.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Imagine your tire blows out on the highway and instead of waiting for roadside assistance, you decide to change the tire yourself.

If you drive a new vehicle, you get a surprise when you open the trunk: no spare tire.

Once standard in cars, trucks and SUV, spare tires are starting to disappear, whether people know it or not.

Pete King loves his new Chevrolet Volt because it's gas and electric and is very fuel efficient. But he can't help but notice something's missing: a spare tire.

"Instead having one of these," said King, who was given an air pump and tire sealant. "It's like a Fix-a-Flat."

Nixing the spare tire is a big trend now. A growing number of vehicles from almost every manufacturer are now rolling out without them. (See AAA's list of cars without spare tires.)

The companies say it creates more trunk space, reduces vehicle weight and helps you get better gas mileage.

But experts say it could cost plenty if you get stuck on the side of the road.

"Somebody came in and they had a flat tire and they had to have it towed in," said Aaron Nelson, who owns Aaron's Car Care in Jacksonville. "And I said: 'Well, put your spare on it.' They didn't have a spare."

Nelson says more and more of his customers don't even know their new rides don't come with the old-fashioned safety nets. Instead, he says many new models come with inflator and sealant kits or run-flat tires which are designed to go at slower speeds for 50 miles or more after a tire has been punctured.

"Once you get to that point, you need a tire," said Nelson. "There is no fixing it. Because once it has been run flat, it is done."

That could be expensive because run-flats generally can't be fixed and they cost more than regular tires. Prices can reach several hundred dollars a tire. So consumer groups like Angie's List have been trying to educate drivers.

"For most having a flat tire can be their worst nightmare, especially if they are caught on the road when it happens," said founder Angie Hicks. "Being prepared and knowing exactly what you've got when shopping for a car is going to be important. Don't be afraid to ask the dealer, what comes with the car? How does it work?"

Ben Kennedy's in charge of new car sales at Jacksonville's Arlington Toyota. He says while his brand doesn't have many models without spares, it's still something you should ask when you're in the market.

"I would," said Kennedy. "It may not be something that a customer would think to ask."

Kennedy recommends if your new car doesn't have a spare or a spot for it, ask the dealer what the alternatives are..

"My sales staff is going to show that customer how if it were to get a flat, how to use that system," Kennedy said. "So then they're not just stranded on the road."

Volt driver King said he isn't looking forward to a flat, but not having a spare is a risk he's will to take.

"I have to go with the extra fuel economy," said King, who commutes almost 100 miles to work every day. "I'd rather have more fuel economy."

The experts Channel 4 talked to say even if your vehicle doesn't have one, you can buy a spare at most local tire shops. If you don't have a place for it, you may have to lose that trunk space. They said some people are even mounting them to the roof.

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