Why are new spares tiny donuts?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

What's with those tiny donut spare tires the auto salespeople want to foist on us these days? Recently, one of my tires blew and shredded on a major interstate. I was able to put on the donut and drive to the next town 15 miles away, but found no replacement tire there. A nice guy at one of the gas stations warned me to drive slowly, and not to go further than 50 miles or I'd ruin my transmission. The next town was 40 miles away! Now I'm thinking of buying a new car, and I don't want to pay for one of those donut spares that makes me mad every time I see it in the trunk. What are my options?

TOM: Great questions, George. As you probably know, these "donut," or miniature spares came into fashion in the '70s when cars were being downsized. Car makers were looking frantically for ways to save space, weight, and of course, money.

RAY: Mini spares made sense for a number of reasons. Since tire technology was better, people were getting fewer flat tires, so spares were used much more--shall we say--"sparingly." It also occurred to car makers that a spare didn't have to be a permanent replacement, but could be designed for temporary, emergency use.

TOM: And since 99% of flat tires occur within 50 miles of a gas station (as does most human activity in the United States), the mini spares actually work fine in most situations. They're not designed to go over 50 mph or more than 50 miles not be??cause transmission damage will occur, but because they're really junk, and can't take the stress normal tires are subject to.

RAY: As for as your options, they're getting slimmer. According to our Access Dynamics AutoNet automotive database, fewer and fewer new cars are offering full size spares as standard or even optional equipment these days. A few popular cars that DO offer them as options are the Chrysler minivans, the Ford Taurus, the Toyota Camry, and the Dodge Spirit/Plymouth Acclaim. Many sport utility vehicles and luxury cars (and a few surprises, like the Yugo GV) come with full size spares as standard equipment.

TOM: Of course, making a full size spare available as a dealer-in??stalled option simply means that there's enough room to store one in the spare tire compartment in the trunk. If your mother-in-law is willing to ride in the back with the Labrador Retriever AND a P205 radial on her lap, you can have a full size spare in any car you want, George.

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