Last Wednesday, I was stuck in a traffic jam for the first time for months as the commuters going home jammed Dublin's Navan Road. This doesn't bode well for the coming months and the easing of measures tomorrow.
However, this doubling of time for my journey to Phoenix Park to walk Dooey and Ziggy meant I had a lot of time to study the rear of a 2006 Toyota Rav4 and more particularly to reflect on its spare wheel which was mounted behind a metal casing on its back door.
The question of spare wheels and their replacement with, first, space-saver wheels, then just inflation and repair systems has become a very live issue over the last few years. It regularly comes up at car launches - more often from a rural journalist. Also, I get a lot of emails and letters on the subject. It has become more relevant recently as new emission-charging systems affecting more stringently both the price of new cars and road tax bands has made weight saving absolutely critical.
The rise in EVs and PHEV, with their need for extra battery space, has also put pressure on the space normally taken up by the spare wheel.
However, many people still want the security of having a spare wheel and tyre with them. We may never, or hardly ever, need them but just having one on board gives peace of mind. A recent email I received puts this in perspective. The reader had just bought a Volkswagen T-Cross R automatic after upgrading from a 13-year-old Mercedes B150 as he was about to drive to Geneva and then to Scotland to visit his two daughters.
As time was getting close to travelling (this was just before the lockdown), he was rushed into purchasing a new car for safety and other concerns. He questioned the tax loading and was told it was €200pa. However, when he looked in the boot he saw that the spare wheel was missing and had been replaced with "apparatus for sealing a puncture" and he was given a roadside assistance package.
He takes up the story: "We talked about our yearly journey to Geneva and elsewhere over six weeks but was assured everything would be alright. I explained that I could be out at night travelling well away from towns with no extra wheel etc. Try getting roadside assistance up the Swiss Alps. I was informed that if I had a spare wheel and jack installed, costing over €400, my road tax would be increased."
The reader talked to the road tax office and they said road tax was on engine emissions and were a bit surprised. He adds: "I have researched and asked around about this matter as I feel I was perhaps 'done' out of a spare wheel!" He asked for my comments.
I put the question to Volkswagen who came back with a fast but comprehensive reply which stated that last year, in anticipation of a move from the old NEDC to WLTP-based VRT calculation, it removed the spare wheels from the standard equipment in its range.
"In some models that straddle different tax bands, the difference in a few grams of CO2 can make quite a significant difference to the purchase price and also affects annual road tax costs.
"The T-Cross is in Tax Band A4 and removing the spare wheel saved weight and delivered lower C02, because the heavier a vehicle is, generally the more fuel it uses, which adds up to a higher CO2 value.
"The customer would also have the option of course of adding a spare wheel kit later, for around €250 fitted, which would not incur any tax penalty as an aftermarket accessory.
In the case of the T-Cross, jumping a tax band into B4 would add around €350 to the purchase price before any options are considered, and the annual road tax would increase from €200 to €270 per annum. It is also worth remembering that each new Volkswagen comes with three years of Europe-wide roadside assistance."
I think that VW has come up with a good idea here. Get the later spare wheel kit but don't necessarily have it in the boot the whole time, keeping it for longer and more difficult journeys so that most of the time you are using the car when consumption and emissions will be lower. I do like having a spare but have got used to not having one most of the time.
I have horrific memories of coming back from Scotland in an absolutely packed estate and having to empty it on the roadside to get to the spare. Maybe in that case it would have been good to have a bit of equipment to fix the puncture on board, but that spare got me through another 480km and home that night. All the new options wouldn't have.
I talked to contacts at Ford who told me that most models can be ordered with a full-size spare tyre as an optional add on (cost €100); however, not the new Puma whose megabox boot design means that it does not have the space for one.
But research finds that a significant number of potential customers were not put off by the absence of a spare wheel. This is because of the many roadside assistance policies covering them in the event of a puncture and that the incidence of motorists experiencing a flat is becoming rarer, thanks, in part, to better road conditions and to advances in tyre technology that have made them more sturdy and reliable.
If I was up the Alps I'd still want one.