Spare tires are slowly losing their in-every-car status, unfortunately. While a can of fix-a-flat can solve most fixes, a recent experience in our long-term Hyundai Elantra reminded me of why an actual spare tire—even a space-saver—is way more useful.

We've had a lot of rain in Southern California this winter, and it's done a wonderful job of exposing weaknesses in our current roads. Case-in-point: the never-ending war against potholes on the 710 freeway in Long Beach. Thanks to heavy truck traffic from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles (not to mention construction traffic related to a new bridge that's being built) the 710 is already one of the roughest and most broken up freeways in Los Angeles County, and that's saying something. The rain has not only made things worse, it's also turned the pothole dilemma into a moving target, with sections of the freeway looking more like an asphalt quilt than a roadway.

Double hit

And so it was that after a heavy rain early one morning, I was driving our long-term Elantra to our offices through this area, cruising along at about 65 mph, when WHAM! WHAM! I struck two potholes in rapid succession. Immediately the front end of the car squirmed, there was the unmistakable flop of a flat tire on its rim, and finally the tire pressure monitor confirmed what was already painfully obvious: my tire was shot.

Luckily I was near an exit, and coasting to a stop, I pulled off the road onto the hard shoulder, got out, took a look and got to work, popping the trunk and pulling out the mini spare. It turns out that the tire had two gaping holes in the sidewall, both big enough to shove a golf ball through without difficulty. It was quick work and I was soon on the road again with little more than a pair of dirty hands. Luckily there was a Hyundai dealership not too far from where all this happened, and I was able to cruise over and have the tire replaced, with the tire itself ($129) and labor all totaling up at about $160.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

In the end, it wasn't very eventful, and you may dismiss all this with a terse "cool story, bro." But the takeaway is a little more important. See, while the Elantra comes standard with a spare on all but the Eco model (it's a dealer-installed option), a lot of cars these days don't come with anything but a can of fix-a-flat. That's fine for minor punctures, but in this case it would've just leaked out the gaping holes, forcing me to contact some sort of roadside assistance. Instead of a quick roadside repair, I would've been stuck with a colossal day-ruining time suck.

The moral of the story: if a spare tire isn't standard, get one. And, know how to change it.

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