Q:I got a flat tire 60 miles from my cabin and had to put on a "mini spare." Are these things good for 50 miles, as I recall? I fixed my regular tire but I'd like to know why manufacturers went to these. Is it just a money saver?-David H., Savage
A:Mainly it's a space saver. The mini-spare was developed the first time when the industry headed down the road to smaller, more efficient cars. Make luggage or cargo capacity too small and families won't buy a vehicle because they can't take it on trips. With the big cars from the '60s and '70s, the full-size spare was something parents always packed around, but there was so much additional room it didn't matter.
In a smaller Toyota, Honda, Plymouth Horizon or Subaru, the encroachment was much more significant. A few people removed the spare, counting on a good set of mounted tires to get them home again. Obviously this was risky. Rather than "encourage" people to do that, manufacturers went to a smaller spare - one big enough to hold up that corner and carry you just far enough to get to a service station to repair or replace your full-size donut. (Of course, you needed to stuff your damaged, dirty, full-size tire somewhere en route to service, but hey, that was a short-distance proposition.)
You can always get a fifth full-size wheel from a dealer, wrecking yard, etc., fit a full-size tire to it and run a full-size spare, keeping the mini-spare for when you pack a lot of people and luggage into that vehicle. As to mileage, 50 is about right. Usually the mini-spare will include information about how many miles it's good for, or it will say so in your owner's manual. That's an estimate by the manufacturer-mainly they're trying to encourage you to run the mini-spare only until you can get your regular tire fixed.
Q:I have a 1988 Cadillac Cimarron with leather seats. Car runs well and I plan to keep it; however, the leather is torn on the upper corner of the driver's seat. Tear is "L-shaped," about 1-1/2 inches by 1/2 inch. Can this be sewn?-Tony M., Minneapolis
A:An auto upholstery shop could repair it for you, but to do it properly, they would need access to the back side of the torn leather. Gaining such access involves removing the seat and the leather cover. The advantage to this approach is that, with the seat apart, they could fit new foam if the seat has lost any support or is sagging. The downside is that the labor and time involved will cost more than the simple stitch-up you may be hoping for.
The average furniture upholstery shop doesn't do automotive stuff, at least not for seats still inside the vehicle. I'd call a few auto upholstery shops, tell them what you've got on hand and see if they can help you. If you're good with tools, you can tell them that you plan to remove the seat yourself and can deliver it out of the vehicle, which will save you some money.
Depending on the quotes you get, you might consider checking salvage yards and online to see if anyone is parting out a Cimarron with the same color interior. Keep in mind that dye lots vary and so does the amount of fading from wear and sunlight. Swapping just the driver's seat could leave you with one that doesn't quite match the other seats. There are leather repair "kits" available, e.g., on the Internet, but for a rip like yours all the way through the leather, you'll still need access to the back of the tear so these kits may not save you much. I'd talk to a few pro shops about price and approach and that will give you the best perspective on how to proceed.