How Long Can You Safely Drive on a Spare Tire?

By Kimberlea Buczeke, March 22, 2017

When talking about a spare tire, or donut, it's important to remember that a “spare" isn't actually a spare. The spare tire is only for emergency situations and any tire damage should be fixed as soon as possible by a Certified shop nearby.

Spare tire / Image source

Err on the Side of Caution: Don’t Drive More Than 35 Miles on a Spare Tire.

It’s true that a flat tire has the potential to ruin your day, but in most cases, you can get the spare tire in place and you’re on your way. Now, you’re wondering how long you can drive on that spare; possibly due to time constraints or because you’re hoping to make it until payday when you can afford to get it replaced. There are a few things you should consider before deciding how long you can safely drive.

A Brief History on the Spare Tire, or "Donut."

At one time, a spare tire meant just that; a full-sized tire and rim that you switched out for the flat. However, in the late 80s the German automaker, Volkswagen, introduced the smaller spare tire in an effort to reduce costs for the company and save space in the compact vehicle. These spare tires, also commonly referred to as “donuts,” have since become popular in America, and are widely used in most vehicles today.

While lightweight and space saving, the donut spare does have its drawbacks.

Spares are less durable than a standard tire. Because they’re designed for short-term use only, they won’t handle the road as well.

Spares wear more quickly and cause gears as well as other mechanical parts to wear faster. This is simply because of the design. The diameter is smaller and they need to spin faster to keep up with the regular tires.
The spare tire can also affect braking and suspension. You might notice that your vehicle handles differently. Poor cornering and braking are both common problems when using the spare tire, and the vehicle may tend to pull in the direction of the spare when braking.

Because a spare tire is not as durable as a regular tire and comes with risks, you should always get your spare swapped out for a regular tire as soon as possible. Your vehicle’s manual and the instructions for the spare may have different guidelines, so always defer to manufacturers for specific instructions, but 35 miles is usually a safe bet for how far you can safely drive on a spare tire. For most of us, that means we need to head to a mechanic within a day or two of getting a flat. You also shouldn’t drive more than 50mph, so highway driving is out for the time being.

If you don’t like the idea of battling with donut tires, there are a couple of other options to consider.

First, some newer vehicles come with “run-flat” tires. The tires are specially designed to be more resilient and can usually be driven for as long as a spare could after they’ve been damaged. Although you’d still need to change them out quickly, you don’t need to worry about roadside changes.

As a second option, you can keep a full-sized tire in your vehicle and use that as a spare. Ideally, you should purchase the spare when you replace your tires (buy five, not four), and use the spare as part of your regular rotation.

Ultimately, the spare tire or donut is intended as an emergency fix only. The general rule is that you should drive no faster than 50 mph, keep the miles on the spare tire low, while avoiding highway driving altogether. This should get you safely home and to the repair shop where you can get the spare replaced with a regular and much safer tire.

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