Emissions Standards Lead to More Motorists Being Stranded as Manufacturers Omit Spare Wheels

The Royal Automobile Club say they have noticed an increase in call-outs by motorists as manufacturers have increasingly built cars without spare wheels.
Emissions Standards Lead to More Motorists Being Stranded as Manufacturers Omit Spare Wheels
An undated image of a car with a flat tyre. (Phoderstock/Shutterstock)
Chris Summers

The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) breakdown rescue company says it is being called out to an increasing number of stranded motorists because more and more car manufacturers are omitting spare wheels, partly as a result of emissions laws.

The RAC said they had been called out 200,000 times in 2022 to incidents where drivers with a flat tyre found there was no spare wheel, up from 165,000 incidents in 2018.

Analysis conducted by the RAC found only 3 percent of new cars sold in the UK were built with a spare wheel as standard—only eight models out of 313 came with a back-up in the boot.

Many manufacturers have stopped including spare wheels as it can reduce the weight of their cars by up to 20 kilograms, which can make vehicles more fuel efficient and able to pass tougher emissions legislation.

Sometimes, in electric vehicles, the space which would have been given over to a spare wheel is taken up by a battery pack.

RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said, “Getting a puncture on a journey has to be one of the most irritating breakdowns for drivers, especially if it’s as a result of hitting one of the plethora of potholes that currently characterise so many of our roads."

Earlier this month, the government announced plans to put £8.3 billion—money saved from the shelving of the HS2 Birmingham-Manchester leg—toward the cost of repairing potholes up and down the country.

Spare Wheels 'Thing of the Past'

Mr. Dennis said, “In the past, a driver could have reached for the spare wheel in the boot but this new analysis shows that these are now pretty much a thing of the past, with a minuscule number of new cars sold in the UK coming with one as standard."

“It’s understandable, therefore, that drivers are increasingly calling on us to help them out of a tight spot, and it’s a trend we fully expect to continue as electric vehicles are even less likely to come with a spare," he added.

Up until the 1990s all cars would have been fitted with a spare wheel in the boot, but they have gradually gone out of fashion, not due to customer demand but due to manufacturers forcing customers to do without them.

Many companies, including BMW and Volkswagen, have introduced breakdown kits—sometimes referred to as tyre inflation kits—which consist of a bottle of sealant liquid and an air compressor.

They are designed to allow the motorist to reinflate flat tyres to a level which will allow them to drive off the motorway and to a garage to get repaired.

But in reality, it appears few motorists know how to use them or want to use them if they break down in the dark, especially on a motorway's hard shoulder.

Mr. Dennis said: “Fortunately, we’re continuing to innovate to ensure our members get the best service possible should they breakdown as a result of a puncture, having just rolled out a four-stud version of our pioneering multi-fit spare wheel, that’s carried by every single one of our patrols.

“In many cases, drivers ordering a new car can still buy a spare wheel, whether that’s a full-size one or the more common lightweight space saver type, as an optional extra. This might turn out to be a wise investment if you are one of the many drivers who unfortunately suffers a puncture.”

The RAC said it had also noticed an increasing number of cars with four-stud spare wheels, as opposed to the traditional five-stud model and it has fitted its van accordingly.

The RAC said the only models which had spare wheels as standard were Fiat Tipo, Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Defender, Suzuki Across, most variants of Ford Focus, some Seat Atecas, Hyundai Sante Fe (PHEV) and Volvo XC90 (not PHEV).

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents car makers, declined to comment.

PA Media contributed to this report.