Has modern tyre technology made spare tyres redundant, or is it still important to carry a full-sized spare for country driving?

Updated March 31 2020

QUESTION: My wife and I live in country New South Wales and cover a lot of distance in our vehicles as a result. Because of our relative remoteness, we have always had vehicles with full-size spare tyres. To replace our current SUV with another is proving to be something of a problem.

Our Hyundai Santa Fe needs updating, but apart from buying another, it seems that most SUVs don’t have full-sized spares. Most have ‘run flat’ or similar technology which might be okay for city driving but perhaps not in rural areas where repair/replacement is not easy.

Am I being overcautious and should I accept what appears to be the inevitable or is there a practical alternative. What do you think?

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS: When you’re comfortably sat behind your computer in a warm house with a glass of red in hand, and there’s nothing urgent to do then it’s very easy to economise and compromise.

Now let me transport you to an evening about six months from now, when you’re driving in country NSW. The wipers are working hard against the horizontal rain. The headlights are just about adequate given the lack of moonlight, and of course, there are no streetlights out there. Then, you feel the steering get a bit heavier. Was it just a small pothole? You want to reassure yourself it was, but there’s doubt. You feel it again, and then there’s a flap-flap-flap noise erasing the last of your hopes. You know what it is. 

At this point, you will want a time machine, or failing that, a full-sized spare tyre.

If you use a space saver then you stand a good chance of another puncture as these tyres are designed only for 80km/h and 80km of distance, and are much smaller and weaker than normal tyres. If you use runflats they’re good for maybe 100-200km, and again at lower speeds. And they typically cannot be repaired. Oh, and good luck trying to source a replacement tyre, especially if there’s a weekend in the way.

In my view, the single thing most likely to fail on a modern car is the tyres through a puncture. The safest option for remote travellers, by far, is a full-sized spare wheel and you should only consider vehicles that have one, or can take one. Runflats and space-savers are fine for city folk who can get to their home within 80km, and then summon Ubers, rent other cars or otherwise make do while they wait for their replacement tyre. But that’s not you, and come that lonely night out in the country then you’ll be glad you packed a full-size spare.

Aside from the Santa Fe, most Subaru and Land Rover vehicles have full-sized spares, as does the Mitsubishi Outlander, and even the Jaguar F-PACE can fit one, so there are options out there.

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  1. Although the current gen i30 is not the kind of car you’re looking for;
    I was genuinely surprised that it came with a full size spare when I bought one last year.
    Kudos to Hyundai

  2. Haven’t purchased and won’t purchase any vehicle without a full size spare. Subaru Foresters XT have a raised floor so a full size wheel fits, as standard, my 1st choice. My wife’s Suzuki Swift, dealer changed the spare to full size and it fitted into the well.
    Space savers and repair kits are a complete joke in Oz, your on a Australian highway kms from the next stop, bingo a puncture how do you get on now with a space saver, or worst a repair kit, if the tyre is buggered.
    Manufacturers please get it correct.
    I didn’t purchase a BMW because of run flat tyres, Volvo because of a space saver. Has to have full size.

    1. With you on this one, DJR. When we had the Vitara on long-term test I made a point of pulling a wheel off and fitting it into the bay. Fitted once the false floor was in place.

      1. A 2014 model, full size spare fits into the wheel well as if it’s made for it, the line up of yellow space savers along the back wall at the dealership was very impressive, everyone must have the same thoughts.

  3. The only thing wrong with my Lexus RX 450h is it has a temp spare so I had to buy a full size spare for safe travelling,as being 200k’s from each town a 80k temp distance was useless, plus doing 80kph with everyone else doing 110k’s I didn’t want to be a pain on the highway to other travellers. Lexus should make it a option, as nothing for, or about the Lexus car is cheap. They preach how important the customer is to them but are willing to risk our lives for a cost saving temporary spare to increase their profit margins. Boy it upsets me.*#*#

  4. Recommending step daughter get a full sized tyre for her new Peugeot 3008 as the 2 level back luggage area tray should be able to accommodate – travels from melbourne to Euroa
    But where do you get a full sized wheel?

  5. 100% correct, Australian car standards should specify a full sized spare, no ifs, no butts.
    BMW Run Flats are fine for the master race’s homeland, where there is full availability virtually everywhere, but should not be permitted in Australia.

    Certainly any 4WD SUV should not be marketed without a full size spare wheel, they just don’t have off road credentials without one, and should be called out for what they are, expensive vehicles for suburban posers.

  6. I bought an Ford FG G6E back in 2011 and that came with a space saver spare. I told the dealer I wouldn’t buy the car unless they fitted it with a full size spare. They fitted it. Space savers are fine if you’re confined to city living or you live in a country that’s much smaller than Australia with triple the population where the longest drive between centers of population is 20km.
    But in our huge country with it’s often crappy road surfaces and in country driving hundreds of kilometers between centers of population a space saver spare is an abomination and actually downright dangerous. Often the space saver will change the way a vehicle handles on the road and it won’t handle better it will be worse. Inflation kits often don’t work when you need them most so a full size spare should be mandatory on all cars for the Australian market. But the ADR lot has no balls and just follows what the rest of the world does instead of looking at Australia the distances we can travel.
    I recently traveled between Hillston and Cobar a distance of 255km and if I’d gotten a flat tyre on that road a space saver spare would have been useless for it’s a two lane road with a speed limit of 110kph. Getting help out there is not possible for most as their mobile phones won’t work for there is no signal. So a full size spare is the only spare to have even if you never use it.

  7. How far will a space-saver go on gravel roads with loose sharp stones and a few deep pot holes, or on rural roads with sharp broken edge bitumen: basically the average country road. for safety, IF you have a space-saver make sure it is one the RH rear wheel, otherwise it makes steering dangerous and the LH hits the sharp edge broken bitumen when moving over to let another car pass going the opposite direction on narrow rural roads. Wonder where the Insurance Co’s fit with personal liability driving with these, steering is bloody dangerous.

  8. Nothing worse than being 100km up a Bush track using a space saver to get back to town with less than 1inch of clearance in the centre of the rut. I learnt the hard way and now have a 5mm bash plate for the entire bottom of the engine and a full sized spare. I find it strange that the I 30 has a full sized spare and the kona suv has a space saver. There is space and it fits easily so if you buy a car with a space save check if a full size fits. It should be standard for all cars in Australia.

  9. We have a 2013 Jeep GC, and it came with a space-saver spare. I found a standard alloy wheel (same as the road wheels) and that is now the spare-fits into the same space as the original spare- and I carry the space-saver as an additional spare for country travel. Belt and braces mentality, that’s me!

  10. Having a full size spare was the deciding factor when I purchased my middle of the pack suv, a Kia Sportage. Still keen to give it to the missus & get a Golf R or similar for different reasons. Despite this, the Kia has performed well at its regular duties.

  11. I was 30 klms from Lake Mungo – on red dirt country. A tennis ball size bump on the right rear tyre. Hmmm so I ventured to Mungo and stayed a couple of night as I only had a space saver (I wished I had checked that it was at the required 60psi). It was a long weekend so the chances of getting a 245 45 18 tyre was = zero. I decided to leave a day early and debated on putting the space saver on but on a rough gravel road that was not a good idea. So drive with a suss tyre.
    I had 600klms to get home. Sure enough no tyres in Swan Hill so keep driving with “tennis ball tyre” rear right so I was expecting a blow out = rapid deflate.
    I got about 200 klms and blow out.
    That happened and did no affect tracking BUT the TPMS system told me what had happened BEFORE my brain realise what the sound was!
    Yep the temp tyre was underinflated. Drove 20 klms on it and got it pumped up for the long drive home – with massive long weeend traffic.
    I had thought of buying a full sized tyre which I will do if I have a country trip and I will throw in a better jack!

    1. Bought a mazda 3 and insisted on a full size spare only to find it doesn’t fit the spare wheel compartment then saw that the space saver spare supplied shouldn’t be used on a front wheel so would have to do 2 wheel changes. Thinking about carrying one of those aerosol cans to use in an emergency but are they any good?
      It’s all about the car maker’s convenience not the customer.

  12. Just picked up a new RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser. No full size spare. One is available as an option on the base level GL model but not on the more expensive models. Told by the Dealer that a full-size tyre would not fit in the wheel well on mine. Sounded sus to me as all Kiwi RAV4s of any trim level come standard with a matching full-sized spare. And I also noted that a RAV4 may come with 17, 18 or 19″ Rims but the tyre profile for each Rim is smaller for each larger Rim. So I suspected that the diameter of the differing sized Rim and Tyre combinations was pretty much the same. Joined a couple of RAV4 Forums and found out that a full size spare does fit. Bought a matching new Rim from someone who didn’t like what came with the car and replaced them with aftermarket rims. Got a matching tyre and it does indeed fit; just needed to remove a couple of polystyrene packing pieces that were under the donut.
    No way, for the reasons in this article, would I travel out of a city without a full-sized spare. It was an expensive exercise but I will include the spare in the regular tyre rotation schedule and get the use for the money I’ve spent. Note also that you cannot tow anything with a temp spare fitted. The restrictions on speed and distance are already admissions that the damn things are unsafe; ponder also on the load restrictions of a temp. as you leave your caravan on the side of a country road, possible for a few days, while you search out a repair or replacement! And, of course, if you don’t know of this and continue towing your van or if you are reluctant to leave it unattended, your Insurer will refuse to pay up if you have an accident. Useless as flywire screens on Submarine hatches!

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