What's the deal with MINI-spare tires?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am 72 years old and retired. After 22 years, I saved enough to purchase a car from Chrysler. The car I bought has normal sized tires, but the spare is about three inches thinner than the tires on the car! If this spare is put on the vehicle, I do not believe it will be safe to drive. The service manager at the dealer told me the spare was only to be used for a distance of approximately 50 miles at a speed of no more than 50 mph. This is absolutely ridiculous since I travel many roads that have no service stations within 50 miles. I think this is a rip off. I would appreciate your opinion on this matter.

TOM: Well, in the 22 years since you last bought a car, Gerald, the 'mini-spare" has become standard equipment. And while it may seem like a rip off, it's really adequate for most people.

RAY: Sure, it saves the manufacturers a little money--which no doubt delights them--but it saves other things, too. Most notably, it saves space and it saves weight.

TOM: And flat tires aren't nearly as common as they used to be. Mostly because tires are a lot better than THEY used to be. So people use their spare tires much less frequently. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I had to change a flat tire.

RAY: It was two years ago, right after you drove over my wife's rock garden.

TOM: Oh, yeah. But for the number of times we actually use spare tires these days, it's not worth carrying around that extra weight (which reduces gas mileage) and taking up all that valuable space in the trunk (which leaves less room for empty cans of transmission fluid, used oil rags, and old pizza boxes). And the truth is, for the 50 miles or less that most people need to go to get home or get to a service station when they have a flat tire, that mini-spare tire is perfectly safe.

RAY: And if your circumstances are unusual, like yours are, Gerald, you always have the option of getting a full sized spare tire and wheel. Almost all manufacturers offer you one when you buy the car for less than 100 bucks. And that's what you should do. You'll probably never use the full size spare either, but at least you'll have peace of mind.

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