What happened to the spare wheel and tyre?

January 23, 2021 | Motoring

In the early years of motoring - basically, the entire twentieth century - cars were equipped with a spare wheel and tyre of equal size and capability to the other four.


We recently saw a letter published in the NRMA's Open Road magazine where a member wrote in to thank the NRMA road service for their help with a flat tyre.

They explained how they had a puncture out of town and the NRMA came to their rescue by arranging their car to be towed to a nearby town and organising a taxi to take them there too. A local workshop then stayed back after hours to help and get them back on their journey.

What great service NRMA, but one that may not have been needed if most modern cars had not dispensed with being equipped with a spare wheel and tyre.

In the early years of motoring - basically, the entire twentieth century - cars were equipped with a spare wheel and tyre of equal size and capability to the other four. In the event of a puncture, the motorist (sometimes with the assistance of a passerby road service organisation) would replace the disabled wheel and tyre with the spare and then continue on their journey, usually in a matter of minutes.

Then over time vehicle manufacturers decided that carrying a spare took up valuable space, added weight and, possibly most importantly, added cost, so they started using alternatives such as space-saver spares, run-flat tyres and sometimes nothing but a can of tyre sealant.

All of these replacements had limitations. Space-savers limited the speed you could travel and could not be used for long distances, and seriously limited the vehicle's handling capabilities and safety.

Run flats also limited speed and are intended for only a short-range, and were not capable of surviving major tyre damage. They can also suffer from availability problems meaning you might make it to the next town but have to wait a day or two for a replacement tyre to be available.

Tyre sealants can be a bit hit and miss. They can be a quick and easy fix sometimes but do have drawbacks. Tyre fitters are not fans of these products either, as they have to deal with the resulting mess, and often tyres cannot be repaired when a sealant has been used. They also have a limited shelf life so might be of no use when needed if not monitored.

It seems that progress is resulting in vehicle's that are merely an appliance and when they need attention of any sort they are attended to by experts. Drivers are no longer expected to change their own wheels, or even check the oil as many cars no longer have an oil dipstick. Just add fuel (or plugin) and drive and call someone when something goes wrong.

Are these changes good or bad? Are manufacturers giving us what we want, or is it being dictated to us?

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