Spare tires and Third-row seats. Who is responsible?

My correspondent who recently was looking for a new car is reporting. Let’s call him Average Driver 

Average Driver likes to travel far from the beaten path, but this is not really a deep off-road, so the car should be reliable and reasonably large, but this is still a city car.

Most of the daily driving is still on normal roads, so economy and ride comforts are also important.

You would think SUV? Kind of ok

Recently, he noted that cars with spare tires are difficult to find. At first, only expensive cars dropped spare tires, and now even smaller and cheaper ones are not offering them.

We are getting to the meat of the problem. There are a lot of speculations online as to why the tires are not supplied anymore with the cars, such as 

  • Saving space
  • Saving weight
  • Saving cost
  • Nobody uses them

The main problem is that the arguments are offered by regular people and there is not a single official statement from the company representatives, which should agree on why the spare tires are discontinued. Regular speculation does not hold criticism for a second.

  • Saving space – most of the time the same space in the truck is just being lost, nobody does deep trunks and non flat floors. And the doughnut tire volume is really rather small compared to the overall trunk.
  • Saving weight – ridiculous, tire weight is 10kg and not noticeable on the sale of the car at all.
  • Saving cost- another ridiculous argument, even a new tire in retail is $200, a cheap spare tire would cost less than $20 if made in bulk by the manufacturer.
  • Nobody uses them – irrelevant argument. There are a lot of features in the car that people do not even know about or do not use. They cost a lot of money and are installed nevertheless.

Maybe this is the reason why the official manufacturer reps never talk about it. They would not be able to defend it from a practical point of view. So there must be another reason?

Let’s compare the situation with spare tires with another recent trend: the third row of seats. 

In light of the spare tire discussion, it has very interesting similarities:

  • NOT Saving space – much more space than a spare tire, and it is USEFUL space, definitely could be used for storage.
  • NOT Saving weight – seats are heavy and come with a lot of mounting and safety hardware 
  • NOT Saving cost – evident.
  • YET almost nobody uses them. Small kids could go there sometimes, but those who have small kids better buy a minivan, it is much more comfortable. Only a very infrequent rider would ever sit in this third row for a short time.

Interesting huh?

Still, we see that the three-row SUVs are popping up as mushrooms after the rain.

What is the reason now?

Could it be that the reasons for Spare tires and third-row seats are the same, and have nothing to do with common sense?

Just some salespeople do not know what else to do and find a way to make pretty advertisements?

If one compares the picture of a father changing the tire and a mom with 4 happy kids filling the third row, it is clear what looks better for the flashy ad. But the reality is not like this.

As my Average Driver , the hidden cost of the spare tire absence is huge. Both time and money. Even if it happens to you only once in non-urban environment and not in the middle of the day, you can expect the following to happen:

Wheel puncture with spare tire

  • Replace the punctured tire
    • 15 min if you know what you are doing
    • 40 min of you just can do such things
    • 1 hour waiting for towing truck and 15 minutes while they do it for you (see two lines above)
  • Drive home, hotel, anywhere
  • Use the comfort of the situation to find the repair shop and buy a new tire at normal prices and normal, convenient time. Maybe even a few days later, not now.

Wheel puncture without a spare tire

  • Wait for the towing car, 1h+, as not all will work but the one capable of towing your car.
  • 1+ hour towing 
  • 1-2 hours repair, or tire replacement if you are “lucky”
  • If repair is not possible and tire needs to be replaced, the situation is even worse
    • You are lucky if they have tires similar to yours, otherwise you have to buy two tires and discard a good one. 
    • The price will be what you are quoted, and not what you found with the discount. You have no way to bargain as your tow truck is gone by now and you are tired and ready to pay for anything 
  • If you are unlucky and your car has fancy tires, they might be not available and you are in even deeper trouble for a few coming days
  • If you are far away from home, let’s say on a stretch of HWY 5 from LA to SF, the 30-minute wheel replacement might cost you more than a day of hassle, not counting money, lost work or vacation days.

So why do we (or the salespeople around us) trade the rare chance to uncomfortably fill the car with seven people for the same rare chance to lose a significant amount of time and money? And everyone acts like it is normal and makes sense?

Side note while talking to the Uber driver about the tire absence in his new car

While loading my suitcase into the Uber car, a fairly large Honda Accord, I saw a huge tire in the trunk taking up a lot of space and creating a mess even when it was clean.

Driver said that yes, he drives all the time and a spare tire is essential. He explains in detail, mostly talking about money, that he had to buy it, even though his tires are on warranty and he could have had them repaired for free, etc. 

I express pity that cars do not have spare tires even though many people need them.

Driver immediately confirms that he agrees with manufacturers as most of the people do not use them and do not know how to.

I present an analogy that a spare tire is like insurance which we do not use most of the time but still have as it covers rare cases when something happens. Insurance of course is needed according to my chat partner, but the logic of comparison with the tire is completely missed.

Further attempts to analyze the absence of the tire, do not find understanding, as the trunk is fairly big, and you can still fit many cases of luggage even with the tire in. 

He claims to be just a good overcautious guy and is rather proud of having a tire in the trunk. Looks like the car manufacturer created a situation for him to be proud of being prepared. And who is he to judge the big guys? It is not an inconvenience, but a problem to be solved and live with it.

A summary should be here

Psychology books tell us that providing a summary at the end of the article is counterproductive.  People immediately forget everything mentioned above in the body of the problem and start concentrating on criticizing the last phrase. 

The problem statement is one thing and it is important. The solution can be done in many ways and not necessarily in the way the author proposes. Therefore we will leave the proposed solution on a separate note and sit here pondering why we have so many heavy fuel inefficient 3-row SUVs and time and money-saving spare tires practically disappearing from all cars as of 2023.

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