Millions of cars traveling without spare tires

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JEFFERSON CITY - Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest in terms of drivers on the road, but about 29 million of those vehicles aren't equipped with a spare tire. New data from AAA shows that more than one third of 2015 vehicles on the road are missing spare tires. In most of those vehicles, a tire inflator kit has replaced the spare.

Inflator kits are smaller and about 30 pounds lighter than a spare tire on average. The lighter weight of the kits helps to improve a vehicle's fuel economy. AAA said manufacturers face pressure from both consumers and the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce weight and improve fuel economy, and because of this, 136 car models were not equipped with spare tires in the year 2015 alone.

Andy Forck manages Big O Tires in Jefferson City, and he said the costs of the kits outweigh the benefits.

"The Department of Transportation says it's dangerous on the highway for people to put a spare on," Forck said. "But you still have to pull over to use the kits. And they're only a one-time use. Once you use it, you have to buy another kit."

AAA says the replacement costs of inflator kits can be as much as 10 times greater than the cost of using a spare tire. It says inflator kits also only work when a tire is punctured and the object remains in the tire. Forck said in other circumstances, without a spare, costs will increase even more.

"You're going to have to have it towed in, or call someone to come get it and bring it in so we can change it," Forck said. "And that's just more costs."

Forck said spares are also easier to use than the inflator kits, but AAA data shows that more than one in five drivers ages 18-34 don't know how to change a tire. Forck recommends that all drivers check their cars to see what their options are and if they can expand those options in order to avoid being stranded.

"First thing drivers need to do when they buy a car is see if there's a spare and what kind it is," Forck said. "Then they need to see if they have any other options because that'll save a lot of problems down the road."

Forck also recommended that drivers check the pressure of all of their tires, including the spare, multiple times a year to make sure they're not deflated.

Let us know whether you would prefer a spare tire or an inflator kit by joining KOMU 8's Facebook discussion.