Most cars now come with a “donut-style” spare tire, and the consensus is that you shouldn’t drive for long distances or at high speeds on them. Donut tires are not meant to act as a permanent replacement for your regular tire; their purpose is to get you safely to a mechanic for repair or replacement. If the vehicle is equipped with a full-size spare tire, you can drive faster and longer. However, you will most likely need to have your regular tire replaced or repaired eventually.
Back in the day, all cars came with full-size spare tires. The spare tire matched your regular tires, so if you got a flat tire, you could just swap it out with the spare and be on your merry way.
Things are a little different now. Small or mid-size cars are usually equipped with a space saver spare, also known as a donut, which is a single-use spare. Trucks, some SUVs, and other larger vehicles often come with full-size spares, although they may not match your other tires exactly. This means they will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
Today, we will take a closer look at the different types of spare tires, the key differences between them, the best ways to drive on each type of tire, and exactly how long can you drive on a spare tire.
Types of spare tires
Donut spare tires
As mentioned, most average-sized cars today come with a donut or temporary spare tire. Cars used to be bigger in the “olden days” and could better accommodate a larger, heavier, full-size tire.
To save space and weight as we trended toward more economical and smaller vehicles, manufacturers began introducing the more compact and lighter-weight donut tire. Unlike a standard tire, a donut tire is only meant to be used for a short period at low speeds to get you to a repair shop where you can have your damaged tire fixed or replaced.
One of the main issues to keep in mind when driving with a temp spare tire is that it has very little tread. This makes it exceedingly vulnerable to road hazards such as debris that cause punctures. That also means it has less traction than regular tires and is more prone to slipping on snow or ice or hydroplaning on puddles.
Also, because the donut tire has to spin faster to keep up with the speed of the vehicle, it can affect the braking as well. To stay safe when driving on the highway or other roads, always allow for extra time and space when slowing down or braking.
Full-size spare tires
Bigger vehicles, such as trucks, SUVs, and others usually come with a full-size tire as a spare. This gives you a lot more leeway as far as driving time and speed are concerned. Plus, because of the larger weight of these types of vehicles, it’s important that the spare tire can accommodate the heavier load. A donut tire just won’t cut if you’re towing your boat behind your pick-up truck, for example.
Keep in mind that you probably can’t just slap on a full-size spare and call it a day. You can drive on a spare that’s full-sized for much longer and faster than with a temporary spare tire, but it’s not usually a permanent fix. For instance, it might not come from the same manufacturer, so it has a different type of tread and probably a narrower wheel. This means the vehicle won’t handle as well and can cause stress on your other tires. Still, full-size spare tires are a good temporary measure.
Some cars don’t come with a spare tire at all, such as newer model BMWs and MINIs, for example. Instead, they come with run-flat tires, which are designed to handle road hazards and function well even after incurring damage. Much like donut tires, though, they also shouldn’t be driven for much more than 50 miles at 50 miles per hour after injury to the tire, although some models can go up to 200 miles.
So while they’re not spare tires, per se, run-flats are meant to be tougher than regular tires, withstand the rigors of the road better, and continue to perform even after incurring a puncture or other damage. This means if you do get a nail in the tire while driving, you won’t immediately lose tire pressure or suffer a blow-out, and you won’t have to pull over in a blizzard to change a tire.
However, as soon as you notice a change in your air pressure (which your car should indicate, or you may notice it handling it differently), you will need to take it to a tire professional for an inspection. Guidelines differ widely by manufacturers, so you may either need to replace the tire entirely or you might be able to have it repaired. If it can be fixed, it will depend on the following factors:
- How far the car was driven with low tire pressure
- The extent of the air loss in the tire
- The overall condition of the tire
While it can be handy to not have to change your tire by the side of the road, one of the problems with these types of tires is that, if you do have to replace it, they’re more expensive than traditional tires.
Do spare tires require maintenance?
While there isn’t an actual expiration date for spare tires, they do deteriorate. As part of your regular maintenance, it’s important to keep an eye on them in case they need to be topped up with air or occasionally replaced.
Because temporary spares are stored inside the vehicle, they can last quite a long time — up to ten years or more. However, you still need to check on them regularly, particularly regarding the air pressure. They will lose tire pressure over time, and a low-pressure tire won’t do you much good in the event of a flat. It’s a good idea to check the pressure once a season and also look for any deterioration of the tire itself.
Full-size spare tire
Unlike other vehicles, full-size spares are often secured underneath or otherwise outside of the vehicle, leaving them exposed to the elements. Weather and varying temperatures can all have an effect, not to mention the corrosive impact of road salt.
As part of your inspection, be sure to look for cracks and dry rot. It’s also a good idea to dismount your spare tire now and again to make sure it’s possible. Better to deal with a rusty bolt during your free time than on the side of the road.
What happens if you keep driving on a spare tire?
A donut spare tire is simply not made for long distances or high speeds like most tires. Prolonged use can cause problems with your transmission, suspension, or other car systems. If you do have a flat tire and a repair shop is more than 50 to 70 miles away, you’d be better off calling a tow trunk rather than risking more costly repairs than a blown tire.
Can you reuse a donut tire?
A donut tire is meant to be a single-use spare tire that you ideally replace at the same time you repair or replace your flat tire. As mentioned, you shouldn’t drive much more than 50 miles on your spare donut tire. In rare cases, such as if you only used it for five minutes to get to the repair shop around the corner, you could conceivably reuse it again, but be sure to check with your car care professional first.
- Donut spare tires should only be driven for 50 to 70 miles at no more than 50 miles per hour.
- Full-size spare tires can be driven much like traditional tires. However, the spare wheel is often narrower, so it shouldn’t be used for prolonged periods of time.
- If full-size spares are the same size as the other tires and in similar condition, they can be mounted on the original wheel and are fine until you can afford a replacement.
- Cars with run-flat tires don’t come with a spare tire, but they function as one when encountering punctures or other road hazards.
- With run-flat tires, some manufacturers recommend replacement only. But others say they can be repaired if they fall within certain boundaries.
View Article Sources
- Tires — U.S. Department of Transportation
- Does a Spare Tire Expire? — Consumer Reports
- Should You Always Replace Car Tires in Pairs? — Consumer Reports
- How Much Does It Cost to Patch a Tire in 2022? — SuperMoney
- Used Car Checklist: Check For This When Buying a Used Car? — SuperMoney
- How To Get The Best Deal On A Used Car — The Super Guide — SuperMoney
- Buying a Car: Paying Cash vs. Auto Loan — SuperMoney
- How Much Should You Pay for a Car Diagnostic Test? — SuperMoney
- Used Car Checklist: Check For This When Buying a Used Car? — SuperMoney
- 10 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car — SuperMoney
- Buying a Used Car? Here’s A Step by Step Guide — SuperMoney
- Should I Buy a New or Used Car? — SuperMoney
- OneMain Financial Car Purchase Loans — SuperMoney