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Flat tire preparedness tips to avoid costly tows

February 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Needing a tow is a pretty miserable experience.

"Two to three times a day we get calls on the highway to service people that have a flat," said tow truck driver Michael Rotanelli.

Think you're prepared? Consumer Reports says maybe not. For one the standard spare and jack are no longer a given.

"Auto manufacturers are always looking to optimize passenger and cargo space and to reduce the overall weight of the car to improve fuel economy. Eliminating the spare tire is an easy way to get both," said Jennifer Stockburger of Consumer Reports.

For example, the Hyundai Accent comes with just a small air compressor and a sealant kit to help fix a flat tire. There is no spare.

"The problem is that these kits don't work if the damage to the tire is in the side wall area. In that case, you'd be stranded until someone could come and help you," Stockburger said.

And that help will cost you.

"If you don't have a spare or your spare is flat, there is absolutely nothing we can do for you other than to tow you," Rotanelli said.

Then there are run-flat tires designed to allow you to keep driving after a puncture.

"You won't be stuck on the side of the road having to change a tire. But they can be more costly to replace, and they're sometimes not as readily available as a standard tire," said Stockburger.

Bottom line: to avoid a costly tow, make sure you're prepared for a tire emergency.

Consumer Reports says owners of vehicles like the Mazda 3 and the Subaru Impreza are in for a surprise when they get new tires. Such lower-priced cars come with performance tires that are very expensive to replace and wear out more quickly.

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