TOWSON, MD (Wednesday, February 10, 2021)– Winter weather undoubtedly leads to treacherous driving conditions including potholes, and ultimately, flat tires. This winter, after almost a year of limited driving due to COVID-19, some motorists are taking to the roads in vehicles that have been idle or not driven as much, not realizing that they don’t have the proper tire tread, air pressure, or a spare tire.
“In recent years, more and more motorists calling AAA for roadside assistance due to flat tires are discovering that to their surprise, they don’t have a spare tire in their vehicles,” said Ragina C. Ali, Public and Government Affairs Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “COVID-19 also factors into the mix this winter as many drivers have not been on the road as much and may have let vehicle maintenance fall by the wayside,” Ali added.
In an effort to reduce weight and improve fuel economy, automakers continue to eliminate spare tires from new vehicles. According to AAA, nearly one?third (28 percent) of 2017 model year vehicles do not come with a spare tire as standard equipment, creating an unnecessary hassle and expense for drivers.
In 2020, AAA Mid-Atlantic came to the rescue of 75,660 members faced with a flat tire in Maryland. In 2019, 97,834 members needed assistance with a tire issue. To avoid a roadside surprise, AAA urges drivers to check their trunk for a spare tire before trouble strikes. AAA roadside assistance asks members calling with tire issues if they have a spare tire. This helps determine how to best service members, by either putting on the spare tire to help the motorist get back on the road and later replace the tire, or towing the vehicle to a place where a replacement tire can be obtained.
“As vehicles return to the road after sitting idle or not driven as they typically would be due to COVID-19, motorists are reminded to check their tire pressure and tread depths, as well as whether or not they have a spare tire on board,” says Chris Storms, District Director for AAA Car Care. “Getting stuck on the side of the road is not the time to discover you don’t have a spare tire.”
Here in Maryland, lawmakers will be considering SB 377 – Vehicle Laws – Rental Vehicles – Provision of Spare Tires in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee today. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Cheryl C. Kagan, District 17, introduced the legislation to have motorists avoid having a flat tire, only to find out there is no spare – as was the case for her last summer, on a road trip.
“While new vehicles are equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems that alert drivers to low tire pressure, AAA’s roadside assistance data shows that flat tires remain one of the top reasons our members call for service,” said Ali. “Unfortunately, it is often not until they have a flat tire that many motorists realize they do not have a spare tire.”
Even if drivers do have a spare tire, they are often reaching for their cell phones to call for roadside assistance rather than changing the tire themselves. According to a previous AAA survey, nearly 20 percent (39 million) of U.S. drivers do not know how to change a flat tire.
“Having a flat tire can be a nuisance for drivers, but not having a spare could turn the relatively routine process of changing a tire at the roadside into an inconvenient and costly situation that requires a tow to a repair facility,” said Storms.
As a replacement for a spare tire, some automakers are including tire-inflator kits that can temporarily repair small punctures in flat tires. However, a 2015 AAA study found that tire-inflator kits have limited functionality and cannot provide even a temporary fix for many tire-related problems, including sidewall damage or blowouts. Not only are tire-inflator kits not a good substitute for a spare tire, but they can also cost up to 10 times more than a tire repair and have a shelf life of only four to eight years.
“With low-profile tires and the elimination of a spare tire, many newer vehicles are especially vulnerable to roadside tire trouble,” Storms said. “AAA urges drivers to make it a priority to check their vehicle’s equipment and know what to do if faced with a flat tire.”
To prevent drivers from being stranded in the event of a flat tire, AAA offers these precautionary tips:
- Do not assume there’s a spare. When purchasing a new vehicle, always ask for a detailed list of equipment and whether a spare tire can be purchased.
- Inspect all FIVE tires. Check tire pressures monthly and have all tires inspected as part of routine maintenance. If your vehicle has a spare tire, be sure that it’s properly inflated.
- Read ahead. If your vehicle is equipped with a tire inflator kit, read the owner’s manual and understand how it works and its limitations.
- Check expiration dates. If your vehicle is equipped with a tire inflator kit, check its expiration date. Most need to be replaced every four to eight years.
- Consider roadside assistance coverage. Roadside assistance coverage can offer peace of mind when faced with roadside trouble, including a flat tire. To become a AAA member, visit AAA.com/join.
AAA roadside assistance crews are always at the ready to assist our members when they need us most, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when relying on others for help may not be an option. When members call for roadside assistance, they will be helped by a driver wearing fresh gloves and driving a vehicle that has been disinfected after each service call. For the protection of our members and AAA drivers, members will not be allowed to ride with the tow truck driver to the tow destination. This is to ensure compliance with social distancing recommendations by the CDC and other relevant authorities.
In addition, drivers should identify a repair shop they trust to help keep their vehicle tires in good shape. AAA Approved Auto Repair network consists of more than 7,000 facilities that have met AAA’s high standards, including, technician certifications, ongoing training, financial stability, facility cleanliness, insurance requirements, rigorous inspections, and customer satisfaction. Visit AAA.com/AutoRepair to find a nearby facility. Before hitting the road, download the free AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Apple Watch. Travelers can use the app to request AAA roadside assistance, route a trip, find the lowest gas prices, access exclusive member discounts, book a hotel, and more. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile.