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Spare tyres and Big Society

I’m in the process of changing my car. The recent arrival of two wind turbines, some low energy light bulbs and smarter heating controls have turned me green. Add 16 tonnes of firewood plus the planned purchase of a second woodburner and the picture is almost complete. Apart that is from the car.

You see four years ago a particularly profitable year coincided with an urge to revert to type. My Essex genes conspired to make a 4×4 the car of my dreams. I stopped short of a bling-laden Range Rover, and bought a black Nissan X Trail instead. Leather seats, lots of buttons to press and an ability to take short cuts through the bushes when leaving shopping mall car-parks was for a while urban automotive bliss.

Seven tonnes of CO2 emissions later I’ve decided to grow up. A hybrid car was the obvious solution, charged up by my new turbines this surely heralds an era of free motoring. I investigated, researched and looked carefully at passing Prius drivers. Could I join them I asked myself? Could I adopt that smug look as I purred around town in total silence? Could I learn not to worry about those bloody batteries and what happens when they stop holding charge?

The very helpful Honda website enabled me to compare cars objectively. Most interesting to me was cost per mile over three years and 60,000 miles. (Not every long journey I make is possible by train). My X Trail costs 57p per mile and a Prius 42p.

An easy choice perhaps, until I realise that the slightly more modest Nissan Quashqai with its economical 1.5 litre turbo diesel engine performs better, looks better and costs 3p per mile less to run than the Prius. In other words, am I prepared to pay £1,800 more for the hybrid? Ermm no, I’d rather reduce my CO2 output by 2 tonnes and have a life. I am a pragmatist and compromise second nature.

But remarkably, what really got me going was not the apparent inability of hybrid cars to cut the mustard. It was the idiotic notion that in their quest for weight reduction and greater fuel efficiency I’d be happy to accept a car without a spare wheel.

You see statistically we only get a puncture every 75,000 miles and so it’s considered acceptable to sit by the roadside and wait to be rescued on the odd occasion it happens. Or you can use a handy aerosol full of foam that gives you a temporary if lumpy fix. And so at the point where technology gives virtually total reliability, man introduces an element of unreliability.

If Big Society is about helping people and their immediate communities become self reliant how can we allow the car industry to make us so vulnerable? I’ve had punctures at the most inconvenient times and in the most remote places over the years. How do I explain to a waiting audience that I cannot reach their conference to speak because I have a flat tyre and no spare?  It’s surely idiotic?

Of course it could be that I’m simply getting old. In November next year I’ll celebrate 40 years behind the wheel. I’d hate to return to my first car, an Austin 1100, it was slow, ill-equipped and not very sexy. But it did have a spare wheel!

So, is the demise of the spare wheel a step towards an uncertain future, where risk is re-introduced because it makes economic sense? Discuss.

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