When Michelle Stevens got a flat tire on her 2014 Cadillac CTS, she knew she had no spare and went to the trunk for the tire inflation kit that came with the car.
The kit includes a sealant that coats the inner wall of your tire and covers a puncture, as well as a compressor to reinflate the tire, but it won’t work on all flats. In fact, some kits advise they cannot be used to fix some common tire problems, such as a tear of the side of the tire or a larger puncture.
Stevens, from Woodbridge, Virginia, had what she described as “a big hole” in her tire during the April 2015 incident.
“After I looked at my tire, I just kind of said ‘forget it. It's not going to work,’” she said.
“GMA” Investigates went on a ride-along with AAA in Philadelphia, where they encountered more drivers in similar situations.
“Now they'll have to have the inconvenience of being towed,” said Shannon Schuhart, a fleet driver with AAA.
According to AAA, 30 million vehicles in the U.S. don't have a spare tire for their car. So where are the spare tires? Automakers began eliminating spare tires to make vehicles lighter to meet fuel efficiency standards. More than a third of new cars don’t come with a spare tire, an increase from 5 percent of new cars in 2006, says AAA.
“GMA” Investigates went to Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores, an outlet mall in Orlando, Florida, to ask drivers to open the trunks of their cars. When they did, some were surprised to find no spare in their vehicles.
John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, said a tire inflation kit would work “when an object's gone through the tread of a tire ... a nail, a screw. When the nail or screw is still in the tire, this kit's going to work well.”
AAA is calling on car companies to put spares tires back in cars.
“It's not a spare tire and it's not going to take the place of a spare tire,” Nielsen said, speaking of the tire inflation kits. “But what AAA is saying consumers really should understand what's in their car and what it means to them at the roadside.”
Car manufacturers defend the switch to kits, saying tire technology is so advanced these days, flat tires are rare. Cadillac told “GMA” Investigates that “spares occupy space, carry significant weight and often go unused. Many drivers prefer to turn to a service provider in the event of a flat."
Cadillac and some other luxury auto makers offer run-flat tires on certain car models which "enable drivers to continue driving with no air pressure (in most situations) for up to 60 miles, at speeds up to 55 mph," allowing the driver to get to a service location safely.
Speaking of tire inflation kits, Hyundai said: “It won’t help on some flats but works extremely well in many cases,” adding “customers can opt for a tire if they like.”
Depending on the car maker, a spare tire kit could between $300 and $600 extra.
AAA also advised that motorists check the dates on their tire inflation kits, saying the kits expire after four to eight years.