Do you ever wonder why a spare tire is standard equipment in your vehicle? Well, a flat tire can be frustrating and will most likely happen when least expected.

Carrying a spare tire is no doubt essential when traveling, especially on long-distance trips. Although some modern cars do not come with spare tires, a spare tire is a handy and vital component of a vehicle when it comes to inconveniences caused by flat tires. Having a spare tire in your car not only enhances your safety but also saves you the stress that comes with getting a flat tire. In this guide, we’ll learn all about flat tires, from why it is essential to have one to the precautions you should take when using spare tires to ensure they are in good condition and of good quality.

Nobody likes the idea of getting stranded on the road because of a flat tire emergency, and that is why having a spare tire in your vehicle is always essential. However, it’s also necessary that you know how they operate and how you can ensure your safety when using them.

Our main intention is to ensure you are informed on everything about spare tires to ensure your safety. Besides the importance of having a spare tire, we’ve gathered more information about spare tires from various experts such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). We’ve also addressed what the National Safety Council advises on using spare tires, with safety being our most priority. At the end of this read, you should be able to make wise decisions as far as spare tires are concerned.

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What is a Spare Tire?

A spare tire, also known as Stepney, refers to an extra tire carried for an emergency and can be used to replace a regular tire if it has a blowout, goes flat, or has any other emergency. It’s a temporary spare wheel that is smaller and lighter than standard tires.

A spare tire is typically smaller in diameter than the usual tire in an attempt to save on space and lower the vehicle’s weight instead of a full-size tire, which would take a lot of space and increase the vehicle’s weight. However, there’s also a full-size spare tire.

Why Should I Carry a Spare Tire?

Getting a flat tire when least expected is quite frustrating and no one wishes to encounter it. When you drive long distances or travel a lot on rough roads, you’ll need a spare tire. Getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere could mean you’re far away from the nearest repair shop, and you need that quick fix to get you there.

When are Spare Tires Useful?

Spare tires are valuable during an emergency. They can be used to get to a car repair shop or get home safely. Spare tires are a practical alternative to sealants or inflater kits, which need extra expertise to handle and operate and can cause damage to the tires if not used properly.

What are the Essential Things You Need to Know About Spare Tires?

Here are a few things that you should know about spare tires.

Types of Spare Tires

Have you ever wondered what type of spare tire you can purchase for your car? Well, there are several types of spare tires to choose from, and it is essential to know the available spare tires. You should keep in mind the following options when purchasing a spare tire.

Full-Size Spare Tire

This spare tire matches the original set of tires on the vehicle. It’s the most versatile spare tire by far, as it is identical to the car wheels. Full-size spare tires can either be matching or non-matching spare tires.

The full-size matching spare tires match the vehicle's regular tires, while the full-size non-matching spare tires do not match the regular tires. Keep in mind that the non-matching spare tires may not aesthetically match the normal wheels and tires of the vehicle.

Some midsize SUVs like the Isuzu mu-X are accompanied by full-size spare tires. The full-size spare tire offers a long-term solution and may not require you to drive to the repair shop immediately. It is, therefore, more flexible and reliable, but it requires a lot of storage space in the vehicle.

Full-Size Temporary Spare Tires

These spare tires happen to be lighter than the full-size spare tires and are characterized by shallow tread depth. They are easier to install and do not add a lot of weight to the car as opposed to full-size spare tires. However, they also occupy a lot of space, just like the full-size spare tires.

Compact Temporary Spare Tires

These spare tires have smaller dimensions and require more inflation pressure than the standard spare tires. They are lightweight and have shallow tread depth. They are designed for limited or restricted usage and can impair some vehicle features such as the traction control, the ABS, or even the speedometer’s operation.

The Donut or temporary mini Spare Tire

This spare tire is smaller in diameter compared to the standard car wheels and is used for short-term emergency fixes. While the donuts occupy smaller space, however, they can only operate at low speeds. A general rule to always remember is to not drive a donut spare at a faster speed than 80 miles per hour. They are for temporary usage and are not intended for highway use as well.

Folding Temporary Spare Tires

These are temporary spare tires that are also inflatable or collapsible. They take the least storage space but a little more challenging to install. They are only intended for limited usage to get you to the nearest garage.

This video explains all you need to know about spare tires.

How are Spare Tires Different from Regular Tires?

Apart from the full-size matching spare tire, spare tires are different from regular car tires. The spare tires are designed for temporary short-term use during emergencies and to save on space. The spare tire wheel is generally made of lightweight material, and the tread depth is shallow compared to the regular tires. The compact or the donut spare tires have smaller diameters which help to save on space.

Does Your Choice of Spare Tire Size Matter?

Some tires are smaller than the original tires and are known to be temporary spare tires. Such tires cannot operate on long distances or at faster speeds.

How Far Can One Drive on a Temporary Spare Tire?

Are you wondering how long you can drive on a spare tire? Depending on the kind of spare tire you have, the actual mileage will vary. However, you must replace the spare as soon as possible for your safety when driving.

The donut spare tires are not meant for long-distance trips. It is also advisable to drive them at a range of 50-60 mph. It is, therefore, essential that you consult with the manufacturer’s manual for more informed information.

The spare tires are meant to enable you to reach the nearest repair shop or reach home safely. The American Automobile Association (AAA) advises that when driving the donut spare tire, one should not exceed 50 miles. Long-distance driving can potentially lead to damage to other parts of the car, such as the transmission.

What is The Spare Tire Speed Limit?

Maybe you’ve just had a puncture, and you’re late and wondering how fast you should drive on the spare tires. Keep in mind that the exact speed limit of spare tires is in most cases indicated on the tire. However, the general thumb rule is not to drive more than 50 mph with the temporary mini-spare tire. You should instead avoid highways as possible and try to get to a repair facility.

In any case, you’re in an unfortunate situation, and you’re forced to drive on a spare tire, you should make sure that you stick to the recommended limit to ensure your safety on the road. If needed, you should drive in the slow lanes.

The consequences of driving too fast on a spare tire

Another essential thing to note is that driving on a spare tire is not safe for you and your car, and the faster you drive, the worse it becomes.

  • While it may not seem like a significant rule, driving too fast on spare tires can be very dangerous and expensive. The most prominent risk when you drive faster than the recommended speed is that the tire may fail.
  • Compared to the standard wheels, a spare tire may cause a much worse blowout or puncture when they fail. This is mainly because spare tires are much smaller or lighter and lack additional features designed for your safety.
  • You run high chances of losing control of your car in case your spare tires fail. Significant damages could also happen to the car axle and other parts, not forgetting the potential damage that can be caused when you encounter a car crash.
  • Another essential point to keep in mind is that when you drive on a spare tire, the side of the car with the spare tire has totally different tread patterns, and the wheel size is also different from the other wheels of the vehicle. This means that the spare tire spins at a completely different rate from the regular tire, impacting your suspension, steering, differential, and other car parts.
  • As noted earlier, spare tires are not meant for long-term solutions. If driven for too long, the spare tires can throw the car out of its alignment, possibly causing a car accident.

Wondering why you have a small temporary spare instead of a full-size spare tire?

The use of donut or mini-spare tires is because of the limited space in the vehicle or the manufacturers seeking to limit cost or weight. The donut spare tires take less space and require lower prices than full-size spare tires, which translates to more profits for the car manufacturers.

They are also lighter than the other spare tires, and this helps with fuel economy. With all that said, anything less than a full-size spare tire to the consumer can be pretty compromising when a puncture occurs.

Can I purchase a spare tire?

You don’t need to wait until you have a tire emergency to think of investing in a spare tire. If your car is not equipped with a spare tire, you must purchase a spare tire. This comes in handy when you need to replace the damaged tire and drive safely to the nearest car service or garage.

Where Can I Buy a Spare Tire?

If you find out that your car is not equipped with a spare and you decide to get one, you can purchase it at any tire store or tire dealership near you.

You can also get spare tires online from Amazon and Walmart. However, it is important that you pay attention to the product description to ensure that the tire you’re about to purchase is compatible with your particular car.

How Much Does Spare Tires Cost?

Temporary spare tires vary in cost. The main factors that affect the cost include the place where you purchase the tire and the size of the tire.

Donut spare tires can cost as low as $50 but can rise as high as $300 and beyond. The cheapest place to buy a spare tire would be a local spare tire shop near you.

Buying a Spare Tire? Here’s what to look for

As a car owner, it’s hard to imagine owning a vehicle that lacks a spare tire. The reality is that you may encounter a car that doesn’t have a spare wheel at one point in life. You may want to buy a spare wheel to avoid any inconvenience. In this case, you ought to explore these essentials when buying yourself a spare tire:

Consider the available storage space: It is important to consider where you will store your spare tire.

The compatibility of the spare tire: pay attention to the compatibility of the tire to ensure you buy a spare tire that is compatible with your vehicle.

Depending on the vehicle’s needs and your driving habits, you may choose to buy more than one spare. Alternatively, you may upgrade from the small space-saving tire to a full-size spare tire to allow full vehicle function.

A qualified technician can guide you in acquiring a spare tire and the process of mounting a replacement spare tire.

Can you fix a broken spare tire?

The right answer is ‘NO.’ Spare tires are called temporary tires for a reason. Don’t try to fix the spare tires because the rubber used is of inferior quality compared to the regular car wheels. The spare tire’s trade is also not as deep as the normal tire. The solution is to purchase a new spare tire.

How Long Does a Spare Tire Last?

Maybe you have a spare tire, but you’re fortunate enough not to have used it. Good for you! You don’t need to replace the spare tire as often as you may have thought! Unused spare tires can last over ten years, whether your spare tire is a donut spare tire or a full-size spare tire.

The rubber tends to break down over time due to chemical reactions. The spare tire may look okay, but the tire's structural integrity gets compromised over time even when not used.

Why Does My Car Lack a Spare Tire?

There are several models of cars that don’t offer spare tires, including Chevrolet and Buick. For this reason, many people don’t realize they lack a spare tire until they find themselves in a situation that needs one.  

According to the AAA estimates in 2012, out of seven cars bought, one lacks a spare tire, says Mike Caskins, the technical service manager at AAA’s national headquarters. Manufacturers are going with carbon fiber and lightweight car designs to save weight and ensure better fuel economy.

Driving on a Donut or Compact Spare Tires

Flat tires can occur when least expected; having an inflated spare tire comes in handy. There are several essentials to remember when driving on spare tires to ensure you arrive safely to your destination.

The small donut spare tires should be maintained with 60 PSI inflation pressure and are restricted to overspeed past the required speed limit. Donut spare tires are driven at no more than 80 km/h or 50 miles per hour.

Spare tires should be removed as soon as possible by replacing or repairing the original tire. The presence of any differences in tire traction can increase braking distances, especially during an emergency. Tire traction differences can also reduce vehicle handling.

Spare tires are developed to help users regain mobility in the event that a blowout, a cut, or a puncture causes a flat tire emergency. Compared to full-size spares, the compact spare tires are not designed for long-term use because they are lightweight and small, with narrower tread.

When a temporary spare tire is used in driven-wheel positions, tire revolution differences require the car driveline to continuously compensate for the wear, increasing heat and the possibility of the vehicle’s failure.

This happens especially for four-wheeled vehicles as well as any vehicles equipped with a limited-slip differential. For this reason, many car manufacturers recommend using spare tires in non-driven wheel positions to avoid wear or failure of the vehicle.

Temporary spare tires that come with a particular vehicle are only designed to fit that vehicle. Never attempt to change or use the spare tire on another vehicle unless the wheel is of the exact model and make.

Essential Things to Consider When Driving on a Spare Tire

Before you drive on your spare tire, there are essential things to know about spare tires:

  • Ensure the spare tire has been appropriately inflated before use.
  • Inspect the tire conditions to ensure punctures or damages are not present on the sidewall and tread.
  • Follow the guidelines indicated by the manufacturer. For instance, ensure you watch your speed following the manufacturer's instructions on the same.
  • In addition to limiting the speed, your driving range should also comply with the guidelines indicated in the manufacturer manual.
  • Please drive with caution when using a spare tire and only use it to get to the garage and not run your usual errands because spare tires are only a temporary solution.
  • Handle the vehicle with care when driving on a spare wheel. When the ABS is compromised, and the traction control is affected, you must handle the vehicle with utmost care. It is also important to take curves with caution while driving.
  • Ensure you are aware of the affected systems as soon as you replace your original wheels with the spare wheels to ensure your safety.
  • Know the type of spare tire that your car needs. For instance, when driving an SUV car or an older car, you'll probably need a full-size spare tire. However, with the new vehicles, full-size spare tires are rare.
  • Lastly, do not neglect the spare tire when making regular checks for the normal tires. If your spare tire has any problem, it is important to immediately replace it rather than have it repaired.

How and Where are Spare Tires Stored?

In automobiles, spare tires are stored in spare tire wells - an area in the car's trunk, often in the center, where spare tires are stored when they're not in use. In most cases, the spare tire is secured with a wing-nut fastener and a bolt.

Sometimes the spare tires are stored in a cradle under the rear of the vehicle. For security reasons, the cradle is secured by a bolt that is only accessible from the inside of the trunk. This arrangement is advantageous over storing the spare tire in the trunk, including saving space and not having to remove contents from the trunk to access the spare wheel.

However, storing spare tires in the cradle can also be disadvantageous because the tire gets dirty or dusty. The changing of the tire can thus be unpleasant and can also rust on older cars making it difficult to remove the spare tire.

Many off-road vehicles and Sport Utility Vehicles have their spare tires mounted externally, either on the side, the top, or even on the hood or bonnet.

Like mid-engine cars, the spare tire is stored in the front boot in the rear-engine vehicles. Some vehicles, such as the first-generation Fiat Panda and the Subaru Leone, keep their spare tires in the engine bay.

Maintenance of Spare Tires

Perhaps you just invested in a spare tire, and you’re wondering how you’re going to ensure that your tire lasts longer. Well, you are encouraged to inspect your spare tire each time the regular tires get rotated. This service is recommended in order to maximize the spare tire’s life.

You can kindly ask the tire technician to help you check the condition of your spare tire when your car is being serviced at the garage. However, if you decide to perform the process yourself, you can simply pull the spare outwards to ensure the spare tire is properly inflated and in good condition.

The NHTSA recommends that if a spare tire of any kind accompanies your vehicle, ensure that you frequently check its pressure. It is frustrating enough to get a flat tire; you don’t want to discover that the spare you have is also in the same condition.

Consumer reports on tire safety indicate that spare tires need to be inspected regularly and at least replaced after 8-10 years. This is with the exception in case the owner suggests that the spare tire should be changed sooner.

Why Aren’t Some Cars Coming with Spare Tires?

If you’ve recently shopped for a new car, you may have probably noticed that a spare tire was missing. How is that possible? Consumer reports indicate that newer models continue to flock to the market, with spare tires not being standard equipment anymore. About 35% of cars from the factory come without a spare tire. There are several explanations for not including spare tires:

To improve fuel efficiency and economy: some manufacturers do away with spare tires to reduce the car weight to improve the fuel efficiency. The fuel economy ratings play a big role in the marketing strategy of vehicle models and the overall brand’s average fuel consumption.

Some vehicle brands, such as the new BMW, do not include spare tires. They are instead equipped with run-flat tires, which feature stiff internal reinforcement. However, it’s hard to find run-flat tires, and they’re more expensive than spare tires, which makes the consumer wonder why they don’t provide spare tires. Hyundai automakers also pinpointed to replace spares with tire mobility kits, explaining that it’s a matter of saving weight and not cost savings.

Car manufacturers are finding alternative ways to reduce car weight in order to improve their efficiency and improve the fuel economy. In simple words, reducing the car weight helps increase fuel economy.

To improve mileage: automakers have resorted to ditching spare tires to lower the weight of the car, which is regarded as the easiest way to improve mileage in a vehicle. A car tire with a jack weighs approximately 40 pounds.

Space considerations: the increasing popularity of EVs and hybrid cars gives automakers another reason not to include spare tires. The car manufacturers encounter challenges when designing cars that require both battery packs and electric motor or gas engines. The battery ends up being placed in the trunk or under the rear seat.

For this reason, automakers find it sensible to locate the electric or hybrid battery systems in the trunk meant for a spare tire in order to maximize the cargo and passenger volume of the alternative fuel vehicles. Of course, this isn’t a big problem for large vehicles, but most alternative powertrain vehicles are small.

Saving on costs: automakers tend to save money when they don’t include spare tires. They are concerned with the weight of the car and the added costs that come with spare tires. Most manufacturers do not see the need to include a spare tire, while there are other alternatives to either donut or full-size spare tires.

AAA recommends that car owners should take the initiative to know whether their cars have spare tires before they need them. Also, if you are looking forward to buying a new car, find out which manufacturers or car dealers include spare tires. Make sure to take a peek in the car’s trunk before you get stranded with a flat tire, only to notice you don’t own a spare tire.

Cars that do not have Spare Tires

If you’ve never encountered a car without a spare tire, you’re probably wondering which cars don’t have a spare tire at all. AAA gives us a list of vehicles that lack spare and among them include - BMW 2,3,4 and 6 series, Dodge Viper, Hyundai Accent, Jaguar F-Type, Jeep Compass, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 718 Cayman, Porsche Panamera, and Tesla Model X.

AAA advises car owners not to assume that there’s a spare tire and if there’s one, find out if the spare is optimal. The spare tire pressure should also be checked regularly.  

What to Do If Your Car Doesn’t Have a Spare Tire

While flat tires and blowouts don’t happen more often, you may be caught unaware and be stranded in the middle of nowhere. The last thing you want is to waste time while on your long journey. If your car doesn’t have a spare tire, the best thing to do is try to avoid having flat tire emergencies. However, if you’re stuck without a spare tire, you can:

Buy a spare tire

You can check with your car dealer to get a spare tire, although it could be expensive to buy a new one. Another alternative is to get a used spare tire from a local yard or search on Craigslist or eBay for more options. This option may not be best and safe but could come in handy when in an emergency.

Call for help

If you’re a car owner, you may have a roadside service or insurance company you can rely on during a car emergency. If not, you can purchase a subscription from plenty of other plenty options available, for instance, Triple-A. This will make it easier, especially if you have no clue about fixing flat tires.

Ensure you own emergency tire kits

Emergency tire kits are easier to use than changing the tire. With these kits, you’ll be able to fix the tire and drive to the nearest garage to have the tire replaced. If you don’t own an emergency kit, don’t worry because you can actually create your own. You’ll only need a tire inflator or small air compressor and tire sealant.

Install run-flat tires

Run-flat tires are designed in such a way that they can run at specified speed limits and limited time. They can support the car’s weight when the tire has a puncture to prevent you from stopping on the road due to an emergency.

Keep in mind that the options are temporary regardless of the method you choose. The methods described above are meant to help you reach a location that will allow you to repair your tire.

What Are the Tools Needed for Spare Tire Installation?

Before you start changing your tire, you need to make sure that you have the necessary tools required to install the spare tire. The tools required include:

  • A spare tire to be installed
  • Work gloves
  • Carjack
  • Lug wrench
  • A source of light
  • Reflective triangles if you’re installing the tire on the side of the car parking lot or road.

Having all the necessary equipment is necessary in the event of an emergency, failure to which changing the wheel to a spare wheel is impossible.

Steps to Follow When Installing a Spare Tire

Step 1

Make sure you already have a spare tire that is in good condition before gathering all the tools you’ll need to install it.

Having everything required for a spare tire installation is essential, especially when driving an old car. All the tools should be ready and in their proper condition.

You can also consult your driver’s manual or the manufacturer’s website to ensure you know where the wheel brace and the spare are located if you’re not sure where they are stored.

This is the time to verify if run-flat tires are present in your car since technology allows one to drive with flat tires at limited speeds and distances to allow you to access the nearest garage or car dealer. A source of light such as a headlamp or a flashlight is also essential before you even think of traveling on long distances.

Step 2

Stop and pull over in a safe place that is flat and free from traffic.  

An ideal place to change or install your spare tire is a parking lot, with level ground, asphalt, or concrete surface, and of course, the site should be free from traffic and away from the highway.

In case of an automatic car, place it in “Park” and don’t forget to apply parking brakes. It is important to ensure that it doesn’t move during the process of spare tire installation. You can place an object behind and in front of the car, tires to ensure the stability of the vehicle.

Make sure you position your reflective triangles if you’re near the parking lot or near the road to avoid unnecessary accidents.

Step 3

Loosen the lug nuts without detaching them

Loosen the lug nuts using the wrench, and then you’ll remove them later using your hand when you’ve jacked up the car. Place the wrench into place, make sure it’s firm and turn from the left to the bottom. It takes a lot of force to break the lug nuts free.

Make sure you only loosen the lug nuts and don’t remove them.

Step 4

Install the jack.

Sometimes it can be tricky to determine the exact spot the jack is supposed to be placed, especially in the recent model cars. Failure to place the jack in the correct position can crack the molded plastic at the bottom of the car when you lift the vehicle.

You should consult your manufacturer’s manual to find out the right position of the jack if not sure. Lift the car about 6 inches above the ground.

Step 5

Remove the lug nuts carefully and take off the tire.

Detach the lug nuts and place them together. Keep in mind that dust and rusts can make it difficult to remove the tire off the car. You have to be a little patient.

Step 6

Install the spare tire and place the lug nuts in place.

Replace the spare tire where you removed the regular tire, and place the lug nuts into place by hand without tightening them.

Step 7

Lower the car before tightening the lug nuts.

Lower the jack slowly till the tire touches the bottom of the ground. Use the wrench to tighten the lug nuts into place securely. You might want to use your bodyweight for that additional force to make sure everything is tightened well.

Step 8

Gather your things and drive carefully.

When you’re done with fixing your spare tire, you can drive away carefully. Make sure you adhere to the speed limits indicated on your car manual. You can also turn on the hazard lights to ensure you’re visible to other cars.

Here’s a sneak peek of how you can fix your spare tire in case you encounter a flat tire.

While spare tires are seen as simple things by most people, we’re not bothered until we find ourselves in a situation that needs one. We recommend that you keep a spare tire and ensure you regularly check its pressure, as it may come in handy in case of an emergency.

About THE AUTHOR

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

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