How Long Can You Really Drive On A Spare Tire?

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?”

We asked the Christian Brothers Automotive ASE-certified technicians and their answer 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 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 in your vehicle makes a difference in how long and how far you should drive before buying a new tire.

Full-Size Spare

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

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.

It’s important to remember your tires are the only thing standing between the road and yourself. Getting a flat tire adequately taken care of isn’t a matter of convenience; it’s essential to your safety. Don’t risk your life in the interest of saving a few bucks.

To replace a spare tire today, call your local Christian Brothers Automotive.

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