Once the old tire is off your car and safely stowed in the trunk, you’re left with a spare tire to get your vehicle safely to the nearest auto repair shop. If you’re lucky, the mechanics can easily fix your flat tire for $10-$15. If the tire was damaged beyond repair, you’ll need to buy a new one.
For some, spending hundreds of dollars on a new tire just isn’t in the cards. That leaves the question, “How long can you really drive on a spare tire?” The answer from our ASE-certified technicians is,“It depends.”
In older cars, every model came with a spare tire that matched the tires already on the vehicle. Over the years, car manufacturers have realized the spare tire is used so infrequently, it doesn’t make much sense to equip every vehicle with a full-sized spare. For this reason, manufacturers began leaving a space-saver spare (otherwise known as a “donut”) in place of a full-size spare.
The type of spare tire in your vehicle makes a difference in how long and how far you should drive before buying a new tire.
Full-Size Spare Tire
For years, cars were built with spare tire wells capable of carrying a full-size spare. On many older cars (and a few newer models), this is still the case. If you bought a truck, SUV or another larger vehicle, your car may have been equipped with a full-size spare. While a full-size spare is heavier and requires space for storage, these tires are more durable and can handle a drive similar to a normal tire.
Once you’ve taken your vehicle to an auto repair shop and learned your original tire cannot be repaired, you can request the spare tire be put on the original tire’s rim – just make sure to check the spare tire’s air pressure. This process is quick and cheap, and will allow you to drive on the spare tire for a longer period of time.
However, the spare has not been used to the same extent as the other 3 tires (and may be a different type of tire altogether). For this reason, the wheel will handle differently than the other tires and can create an unsafe drive. We suggest buying a new tire as soon as you can afford to.
Safe-Saver/Donut Spare Tire
These narrow, compact spares were designed to save space and weight in the vehicle. This allows the manufacturers to build a smaller car, but the tire itself is not built to last. Your owner’s manual will give the recommendations for driving time and speed. A general rule of thumb is to drive no more than 70 miles and no faster than 50 miles per hour before replacing your donut with a new tire.
The biggest reason to use these space savers for a short period of time is because they have little to no tread. This makes the spare vulnerable to road hazards and projectiles. It is also much smaller than the other 3 tires, making it spin faster to keep up with the moving car.
Over those 70 miles, the lubricating grease will break down, causing unnecessary wear on the gears and clutch plates.
A Run-Flat Tire
Run-flat tires are becoming more common as manufacturers are realizing they cost less to maintain than traditional tires. If you drive a recent model BMW or a MINI, your car likely came with run-flat tires. These tires are tougher than most tires, but are not designed to last forever.
Rather than including a spare tire, these run-flat tires are built to withstand most road hazards, including punctures. Rather than going flat or blowing out (as traditional tires do), a run-flat tire can continue to drive after a puncture for about 50 miles before needing to be replaced. However, these tires cost more to replace than a traditional tire.
Regardless of the type of tire, your spare needs to be replaced sooner rather than later
If driving on a full-sized spare, a rim replacement will allow for more time before you absolutely need a new tire. However, a space-saver tire should be driven on for no more than 70 miles.
Even the most well-built set of tires will have a finite lifespan, so it's important to key into the signs of when you might need new tires, and to adequately take care of a flat tire if it does occur.
About Christian Brothers Automotive:
Born out of the idea of not just being an auto repair shop, but also a neighbor, our mission is simple: to take root in the local communities we serve, and to create an uncommonly great experience for customers in need of auto service and repair. To get your tires looked at, or to replace a spare tire, please do not hesitate to call or visit a shop near you. We have 195 plus locations nation-wide that are locally owned and operated, providing a full range of auto maintenance and repair solutions.