A rocky ride on a space-saver tire
This month my article revolves around a recent road experience I had as opposed to a market view, just to be different for a change.
Toward the end of May I was driving to the airport to travel to Italy for the Autopromotec show when I discovered I had what appeared to be a small bolt embedded in one of my rear tires. Usually this would not present a problem, but my car is fairly new and therefore fitted with a space-saver tire as opposed to the normal sized version.
Obviously I knew about these thinner, supposedly emergency tires which are primarily designed to get you to the nearest tire dealer at an absolute maximum of 50 mph. Now I was about to find out what it actually felt like to drive with one — not to my nearest dealer, but to the airport which was around 90 miles away.
So how would my car behave and would I actually be able to drive with the tire for a total of just under 200 miles (with the return journey from the airport)? The good news is I made the return journey safe and sound. The bad news to report was how having a space-saver fitted affected my driving performance. Not only was it constantly difficult to maintain a speed of 50 mph, but instantly my steering and braking performance (even at a reduced speed) was noticeably affected. This provided me with a very edgy and nervous drive.
On my return I took my punctured tire to my local tire dealer where fortunately, on inspection, it was discovered that the damage had not been caused by a bolt but a large-headed screw and the tire was repairable.
Use only in an emergency
This experience got me thinking about the whole concept of space-saver tires and I discussed them with the tire dealer who expressed a concern over the long-term feasibility of what in effect should be used as an emergency tire but very often isn’t.
First of all, I can bury several commonly held myths about space-savers, such as them being a very short-term solution to get a vehicle to the nearest tire dealer. As I learned when my used but still perfectly formed space-saver tire was placed back in the boot of my car. These alternative products, as long as used sensibly at no more than 50 mph, can be used a number of times and therefore are regarded as a reliable safety tire when a puncture occurs.
In fact, European law states it is an offense to drive over 50 mph on a space-saver, but even so it seems tire fitters all over Europe are sometimes stunned to find a worn out (and extremely dangerous) space-saver tire still being used by ignorant or maybe lazy drivers months after a puncture.
From my own recent experience, I can confirm driving with a space-saver tire fitted is no picnic.
In fact, in researching I have discovered that a new version of the tire is now available with some car brands which takes the driving limit up to 80 mph with a stiffer construction that is primarily aimed at larger vehicles including 4x4s and SUVs. It copes well with being driven at higher speeds.
I also have discovered that many European-based vehicle breakdown associations now are carrying a new universal spare wheel on their vehicles which can be fitted to most cars that have a five-studded wheel fitting. This new wheel concept permits tire technicians to change the positioning and diameter of where the wheel nuts and bolts attach to match the fitment on the wheel hub.
Once the universal spare wheel has been fitted, drivers can continue on their journey and in due course visit a tire dealer/garage to have a new tire fitted. They then leave the universal spare wheel at the premises and notify their breakdown service provider with details of where it can be picked up for use on another vehicle. In my opinion this is an excellent solution which hopefully will be used extensively as it becomes more popular.
A growing movement
At the moment there is a strong, growing campaign by drivers to get car manufacturers to return to including a full-sized spare tire with future new vehicles.
Even if this campaign is eventually successful, I feel European drivers still will have to cope for some time yet with the stress of using a space-saver tire... as I had to! ■
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own consulting company, Sapphire Media Services, which caters to business media clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.
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