Spare tires can seem like a life-saver when you have a tire go flat and need to get your vehicle to the shop. But how long can you really drive on them?
If you’ve had a tire blowout while driving or you’ve walked up to your car to notice that one has gone flat, you might need to put the spare on to get the car up and running. But it just doesn’t seem right to drive on that little spare tire for too long, does it? So how long can you safely drive on a spare tire? In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of spares and how long you can drive on them as well as get a few tips and tricks to keep your spare ready to go!
For donut spare tires (or space savers), you want to drive on them for less than 70 miles at under 50 miles per hour. If you have a full-size spare, you can potentially use the spare tire indefinitely depending on condition and how it compares to the other tires on the vehicle.
All the information in this article comes from years of experience working in an automotive shop as a technician. Over the years, I’ve dealt with every type of vehicle and every king of spare tire out there. Between my hands-on experience and countless hours of research, I’ve learned all there is to know about spare tires and how to use them.
How Long Can You Drive on a Spare Tire?
How long that you can safely drive on a spare tire is dependent on a few things, most of which we’ll touch on later in the article. But the single biggest factor on how long you can drive on a spare is simply what type of spare it is. There are two common types of spare tires in most modern vehicles — donut (space savers) and full-size spares.
Let’s take a look at the differences between these types of spares and answer one additional question that certain vehicle owners may also have if their car doesn’t even have a spare tire included.
How Long do Donut Spare Tires Last?
The majority of spare tires in vehicles on the road today are known as space-saver spares or, more commonly, donut spare tires. These are the small spare tires that you’ve likely seen on vehicles all over the road or that you might have even used yourself. The first thing that you’ll notice when you see one is that they are much smaller than the rest of the wheels and tires on the vehicle, in all senses of the word.
The wheel and tire diameters are both far smaller, the donut is significantly more narrow, and they usually weigh much less than the regular wheel and tire options. Due to their low weight and small size, they are popular with vehicle manufacturers since they’re easier to fit in the vehicle design and they don’t add nearly as much weight as a full-size spare would.
But due to their small size and cheaper design, donut spare tires are not meant to be driven on for long, or at too fast of speeds. The typical rule of thumb for donuts is to drive less than 70 miles on them at speeds slower than 50 miles per hour. In fact, most donuts will say on the tire’s sidewalls not to exceed 50 miles per hour. Their small size, lesser tread, and faster spinning relative to the other tires mean they do not last long.
So if you have a tire issue and are forced to put your donut on, don’t fret. They’re great for what they’re meant to do: get you and your way and help you get the vehicle to a shop to have the original tire fixed or replaced. Don’t try to make them into something they’re not and act as a full-time tire on your vehicle. It’ll wear out and do more damage than it’s worth.
Can You Drive Longer on a Full-Size Spare?
In some vehicles these days, including most trucks, vans, and SUVs, the spare tire will actually be a full-size replacement, rim and tire included. While full-size spares can be found in some coupes and sedans out there, they are most commonly found in larger vehicles due to the additional space that these vehicles have for storage. In many cases, especially on trucks, they are mounted to the bottom of the vehicle up underneath the truck bed since there’s so much space and there’s enough room between the bed and the road.
And if your vehicle has a full-size spare, you might be hoping that you can drive on it much further than you could on a donut spare. And the short answer is that you would be correct! Full-size spares are almost always significantly better options for long-term use than a donut spare due to their size and reliability since they are the vehicle’s standard tire size and composition. Sometimes, a full-size spare can even be used indefinitely if it’s in great condition.
But in some cases, full-size spares are not in ideal condition and should not be relied on for long-term use and complete replacement of what was there. This is especially true of trucks, but oftentimes the full-size spare will be on a steel rim rather than matching the vehicle’s rims due to decreased cost. This can also mean that the tire is a different size than the other tires on the car.
No matter what, you should try to get the damaged tire fixed or replaced when you can. Because even if you are using the full-size spare as a complete replacement, you’ll want to have a good tire on the other wheel just in case you need another spare at some time!
What Happens if I Get a Puncture in My Run-Flat Tire?
Vehicles that do not come with a spare tire — usually BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Mini (but not always) — choose not to include one because they use a special type of tire on the vehicle. This special type of tire is called a run-flat tire. As the name suggests, they are designed to be able to be driven on even after you would expect them to be flat following a puncture or an air leak.
Run-flat tires are typically either self-supporting or self-sealing tires. Without getting too in-depth on the types of run-flat tires, just know that they are designed to give you roughly 50-100 miles of travel even after a puncture. In some cases (for self-supporting tires) they can even be driven on completely flat due to their composition and construction, typically consisting of significantly stronger sidewalls.
But even if your vehicle does have run-flats, don’t think that means you don’t need to get the tire fixed or replaced if there is a puncture. It just means that you might not have to go through the trouble of putting the spare on, since one doesn’t exist anyways! So still get to the shop as soon as possible, and if the run-flat cannot be driven on, you will have to get the vehicle towed since it doesn’t have a spare.
Keeping Your Spare Tire Ready for Action
Here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your spare is in good condition and ready for use if you ever need it. After all, a spare tire is completely useless if you can’t even drive on it when you need it.
- Regularly Check the Spare’s Pressure — People almost never check the pressure in their spare. And then when they go to use it, it’s gone completely flat over the years. A flat spare can’t be driven on at all!
- See if Your Spare Tire Has Been Recalled — Spare tires can be recalled for a number of reasons, and if yours has, you want to get it replaced as soon as possible. You want your spare to be as reliable as it can be whenever you need it.
- How Often You Should Replace Your Spare Tire — It’s recommended to replace your spare tire every six years for the best results, but every ten years at the worst. Tires break down over time and you want your spare to be in good shape when you use it.
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding