ORLANDO, Fla.The national automobile owners' club AAA Inc. is calling on vehicle makers to stop replacing the spare tire in their vehicles with tire inflation kits, claiming the practice may leave more than 30 million drivers vulnerable along the roadside.
Flat tires are not a disappearing problem, but spare tires are, said John Nielsen, AAA's managing director of automotive engineering and repair.
AAA responds to more than 4 million calls for flat tire assistance annually and, despite advances in vehicle technology, we have not seen a decline in tire-related calls over the last five years.
AAA calls tire inflation kits a high-cost alternative for consumers that cannot provide even a temporary fix for many common tire-related problems due to their limited functionality.
Research by the auto group reveals that 36 percent of 2015-model passenger vehicles come without a spare tire, up from 5 percent in the 2006 model year. Over this 10-year period, AAA calculates 29 million vehicles on U.S. roads now have no spare tire.
While each four-pound kit eliminates approximately 30 pounds of weight, resulting in minimal savings in fuel consumption, the replacement cost is high. With some kits costing up to $300 per use, a tire inflator kit can cost consumers up to 10 times more than a simple tire repair and has a shelf life of only four to eight years.
Auto makers are facing increasingly stringent fuel economy standards and the spare tire has become a casualty in an effort to reduce weight and boost miles-per-gallon, Mr. Nielsen said.
Advances in automotive engineering allow for weight to be reduced in ways that don't leave motorists stranded at the roadside.
AAA tested the most common tire inflator kits in today's vehicles and found that the units worked well in some scenarios, but they are not a substitute for a spare tire. For an inflator kit to work effectively, a tire must be punctured in the tread surface and the object must remain in the tire.
Used correctly, the kit then coats the inner wall of the tire with a sealant and a compressor re-inflates the tire. If the puncture-causing object is no longer in the tire, a sidewall is damaged or a blowout occurs, a tire inflator kit cannot remedy the situation and the vehicle will require a tow.
Knowing how to change a tire is also a skill that is now less prevalent among younger age groups, AAA contends. More than one-in-five millennial drivers (ages 18-34) do not know how to change a tire, compared with nearly 90 percent of drivers aged 35-54 who know this important skill. Gender differences also exist: while nearly all men (97 percent) claim to know how to change a tire, only 68 percent of women boast the same ability.
Consumers may mistakenly believe that inflator kits are a one-size-fits-all alternative to installing a spare tire, Mr. Nielsen continued. The reality is these kits can accommodate specific types of tire damage, but having the option to install a spare tire can save stranded drivers time and money.
AAA said it provides more than 55 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services.
The auto group has posted on its website a full list of vehicles sold in the U.S. that have a tire inflation kit in place of a spare tire. (http://newsroom.aaa.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2015/11/Vehicles-Sold-Without-a-Spare-Tire.pdf) along with a fact sheet on inflation kits.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Weigh in by taking our online poll at www.tirebusiness.com: AAA is asking car makers to not replace the spare tires in their vehicles with tire inflation kits. What do you think?