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Have you ever checked if the rented car in Austria has a spare wheel?

Probably not, especially if you are a foreigner and not an Austrian and you consider a spare wheel to be part of the mandatory car equipment, which in Austria is not. Here is what happened to us.

We have rented the car from TAFRENT GmbH company (http://www.tafrent.com/) in Villach. We have paid the insurance (KASKO) and the insurance to travel abroad to Italy (Auslandsversicherung).

All looked great until Saturday evening. In Dolomite valley, at one moment we found we had a flat tire. We stopped the car, take out all the mountaineering equipment from the car’s trunk, and while joking about the bad luck we prepared to change the wheel. To our surprise, we found that there is neither a spare wheel nor any repair kit.

We call the rental company to complain and ask what the next step should be, but they refuse to help us and we were told it is our problem and we must solve it. It was 6 PM on Saturday in February and the temperature was 17C below zero and was dropping, so we started to Google and call Italian car services one by one. After several calls, we found an open service with a nice lady who knew few English words. We explained the problem and she told us they can come and tow a car to a garage to fix the tire if we pay in cash. They were unable to fix the tire on the road immediately.

After 3 hours of waiting, they arrived and took the car. We meanwhile ordered a taxi and drove to the apartment.

The next day they fixed the tire and towed the car back. We were happy even we lost a day of climbing since we were unable to travel without the car.

We collected all invoices and send them to the rental company. Naively we were expecting that since there was not a spare wheel and we paid the insurance they will pay us the bills back.

But as usual, the situation was quite the opposite: We were told the insurance does not cover such problems and the spare wheel is not required by Austrian law and we must cover all costs.

Well, I am not a lawyer and I do not speak German, so I assume they are right, and the law is on their side, but according to my opinion it is against the customer interest and common sense.

First – a flat tire is a common situation, which can be solved in 15 minutes if there is a spare wheel and the only result can be a photo on a social network, not a loss of 1000 EUR and a day of holidays. Second, the rental company should inform the customer about such a risk and offer insurance that covers this problem. And last – if I would be traveling with kids in winter conditions in a more abandoned valley without the GSM signal and temperature around -20C such a situation can quickly turn into something much more dangerous and might require either police or mountain rescue assistance. And it is all because the car does not have a spare wheel or repairing kit, which costs 100 EUR.

What is the lesson? Choose a better car rental company, check if there is a spare wheel in the car so you can prepare yourself for the problems, and have your tire repairing kit with you.

Posted by
5586 posts

I've rented cars all around the world. Before I jump in and drive off, I always walk around and inspect the car, noting all the scratches and other potential issues, documenting those (take photos, mark on the sheet provided by the agency), always open the trunk/boot, look to ensure there is a spare tire (and that it's inflated) with a jack, and they work together (are not just some random junk thrown in). Every time. Then I sit in the car, take a little time to get acquainted, adjust the mirrors, seat, stering wheel, etc., check that the horn, wipers, headlights, turn signals, aircon, etc. all the controls and features are working, and I have figured out how to make them do what I need without having to learn while zooming down some foreign road.

Checking all these things, and checking them carefully, should be part of your routine every time you pick up car keys for a new-to-you vehicle when you're away from home. It only takes a few minutes and can save not just the hassles of waiting for a fix (as happened to the OP here), but it can save your life -- I once saw someone total a rented car just steps from the agency, as they were blithely pulling away (on the wrong side of the road). Driving While Clueless can be dangerous.

Just part of the joys of travel.

Posted by
5554 posts

I always check the car and the spare before I leave the car hire depot. Many modern cars don’t carry a spare tyre, but a spray foam.

I have rarely hired a car in Europe when tyres are the responsibility of the hiring company. They are down to the user. They are also rarely covered by insurance. I had a flat tyre once in Croatia and we put the spare on and we paid to get the original tyre repaired.

Posted by
7613 posts

Oh my gosh.

I have never looked for a spare !!!

I am so sorry for your horrible experience. And then that they haven't reimbursed you properly !!!

Posted by
4670 posts

Most modern cars (in Europe at least) are fitted with run flat tyres which negates the need for a spare tyre.

Also the basic cover accompanying the majority of rentals does not include the tyres. For that you have to take out an additional policy, the rental company would prefer you to choose their expensive option and most agents will go to considerable effort to persuade you to take this option as there's often a commission involved. Every rental I've taken has involved being informed that the basic cover doesn't include tyres, windscreen or other glass etc. which is why I take out my own, separate policy which provides multiple annual rentals for about £40.

Posted by
3030 posts

I'm in the crowd that has never thought to look for a spare tire. Thanks Petr for sharing your story. I'm sorry you had this experience.

Posted by
6644 posts

We had a flat tire with a rental car in Nashville (major company), and there was no spare tire. I'm not assuming anymore. Maybe they dont want people doing unsupervised maintenance on their vehicles.

Posted by
1860 posts

Good advice we now practice. We rented a car many, many years ago during our first visit to Spain and had a flat. We searched the trunk, tried prying up the back seat, looked everywhere we could imagine. We begged the help of some office workers in a nearby building who called Hertz on our behalf. After several hours (yes, the kind people explained to incredulous us, they really did close in the middle of the day for three hours) we were advised and followed their directions to the spare…lying on top of the carburetor under the hood. That was not on our list of places to look. We made the repair, bought a couple of bottles of wine for our telephone-translator pit crew and continued on our way. Safe travels to all.

Posted by
2580 posts

As noted, modern cars often do not have spares. They have runflats which are supposed to get you to the nearest garage, or a small inflator that injects foam into the tires. Was that a well known rental agency? That all should have been part of the walkaround when getting the rental. In France you're supposed to have a complete emergency kit in the trunk (including the famous yellow vest), I'd be surprised if Austria wasn't the same.

Posted by
3460 posts

Echoing preceding posts , while I usually travel by rail, there have been occasions where a car was preferable . 2014 in the UK , and 2015 in Belgium and Northeastern France . Both cars had run flat tires , no spares , and clearly included in the documents , phone numbers to call in case of a flat or breakdown , Both rentals were Avis .

Posted by
1492 posts

Neither in Germany nor in Austria a spare tire is required by law.

Unfortunately the different rules by different countries have still not been harmonized by the European Union.
When traveling across Europe always check the local requirements; some countries require a fire extinguisher, some a box containing spare light bulbs, etc.

Posted by
2580 posts

Spare tires are not a legal requirement anywhere in the world, carmakers fit the tires they wish.

Posted by
422 posts

OMG! I never would have imagined a European rental car would not have a spare tire in the trunk. But then, that’s
my American ethnocentrism at work.
It makes one wonder if you’re supposed to check that the radiator has enough antifreeze in the water before driving the car off the rental lot.

Posted by
2580 posts

This is not just a European thing, it's a carmaker thing. They decide whether to give you a spare or not. Of course it should be on everyone's preflight checklist, just like looking for dents and scratches.

Posted by
4670 posts

OMG! I never would have imagined a European rental car would not have a spare tire in the trunk. But then, that’s
my American ethnocentrism at work

There's no need for a spare tyre when you have run flat tyres, they make spare tyres obsolete.

Posted by
5 posts

phred, this has nothing to do with America, as many cars in the US have them also. My most recent rental car in the US had run-flats, and they came in handy when I had a flat tire 30 miles away from the rental company.

Posted by
4697 posts

There's no need for a spare tyre when you have run flat tyres, they make spare tyres obsolete.

But as the OP stared, they had nothing.

I have never thought to check for either a full-size spare or a ”run flat” or a jack in a rental car. Thanks for the warning and I am so sorry you had to go through that hassle.

By the way, I would have used the term ”spare tire” to refer to the ”run flat” tire as I never knew the hard, plastic, small, tire in the trunk was a ”run flat” and I have never heard that term before. I checked my owner’s manual and they refer to it as a ”compact spare”.

Posted by
5 posts

Laura, run flat tires are different than compact spare. Run flat tires are often already installed on the car and they look like 'regular' tires. They do contain some air but when the air is lost, they deflate to the point where the car is riding on a hard surface inside, somewhat similar to what you referred to as a 'compact spare'. So there is no need for a spare, or to change the tire, or to get out tools etc -- you simply drive on the deflated tire without damage. You will likely know when it is deflated - and it is usually recommended to drive slower than normal.
Cost savings as well as truck space savings - a win, win in my book.

Posted by
4697 posts

So then a follow up question … how would one know hat the installed tire was a ”run flat” tire and you could continue driving on it. I learned how to change a tire in Driver’s Ed many years ago, but obviously this is new technology …

Posted by
3460 posts

Actually , not so new , Laura . My UK rental in the UK (2014 ) and France ( 2015 ) both had run flats . There was a warning light on the dash that would come on to indicate low pressure , and clear paperwork in the glove compartment about it , including how to get help if there was a problem . In the UK , the light did come on in LLandudno . Since low pressure was the first thought , I topped off the tires at a gas station , the light went off , and never came back . If the light had come back on , it would have indicated a leak , I dropped the car about three weeks later in Edinburgh witout further incident . EDIT - the rental agency had told me about the tires , after having put my luggage in the trunk , I noticed the lack of a spare

Posted by
2580 posts

For those worried about tires ... ask the agent while you're doing the walkaround and look at the tires on the car and see if there is wording or acronyms indicated that they are runflats. As part of that walkaround you should both be checking out the trunk, and you'll know if there is a spare or not. The small hard spare being referred to is often called a donut, it's for temporary use at low speeds and there will be the usual jack alongside. If there is no tire in the trunk, look for a small electric inflator pump in its place. If not one of those, you likely have a car with runflats.

The irony about runflats is they often can't be repaired so they must be replaced. They are designed to get you to the nearest gas station, but good luck finding somewhere to change or repair tires these days. Ultimately, call your rental company and raise heck for a new car.

Posted by
2327 posts
Posted by
1222 posts

I've never checked, and I didn't know about run-flats. The last time I checked, Autoeurope's 'no deductible' does not cover tires or windshields, its 'supecover' does.

Posted by
2269 posts

I am more and more and more down on renting cars in Europe, due to differences in traffic laws, US expectations about enforcement, and so on. This is another reason why car rental is the last option to take. Better to hire a driver for a day and use mostly the fine public transportation in Europe.

Posted by
1492 posts

Driving in Europe is no rocket science. After a while you will notice the differences in driving habits, not only in comparison to the US, but also between the different countries in Europe. Just adapt to the flow.