How Far Can You Drive On A Spare Tire? (Types, Safety, Maintenance)

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Updated December 2, 2022

How long can your spare tire last? In this guide you’ll learn: 

  • How far you can safely drive on a spare tire
  • The evolution of the spare tire
  • How run-flat tires work
  • The importance of tire pressure
  • When to get a spare tire
  • And much more!

Let’s get into the details below:

How Far Can You Drive On A Spare Tire Guide

Table of Contents

How Long Can You Drive On A Spare Tire?

An answer to this very common question is – it depends on what type of spare tire your vehicle has. Is your vehicle equipped with a donut tire spare? Or, are you fortunate enough to have a “real” tire as a spare?

In this guide, I will provide a great deal of information and advice on the ins and outs of spare tires and driving on a spare tire based on my 40-plus years in the auto industry.

In my humble opinion, the donut spare, that space-saving little tire that many car owners love to hate has a limited driving range for obvious reasons. It is smaller than the full-size spare tire on your car, has little in the way of road-hugging tread, and is simply a temporary fix for when you have a flat; emphasis on the word temporary.

I personally do not like the donut. I think they are unsafe and a money-saving device for car manufacturers. I live in an area that is very hilly and in the winter, has two or three heavy snowfalls. The donut tire is useless in these heavy winter conditions and more than that – is unsafe with much less traction than a regular tire.

Though the regular vehicle tire has come a long way from the old original cross-ply tire, it still has a way to go before it becomes completely reliable. Available on some makes of cars are run-flat tires and self-sealing tires. More on these tires later.

To me, these are not a fully satisfactory alternative to a spare tire. They are a temporary fix to enable you to get to a tire repair shop or a service center to get the flat tire repaired.

How long can you drive on a spare tire

Early Cars Did Not Have Spare Tires

When the automobile began taking over from the horse and buggy or horse and cart, the manufacturers did not provide a spare tire with their cars, even when they eventually gravitated from solid buggy style wheel to the new pneumatic tire. If an early motorist had a flat tire, the only choice was to repair the tire themself using a very crude jack. repair kit and a hand pump to inflate the tire.

Blacktop roadways roads were a rarity in the early 1900s and most automobiles had to travel on roads built for horses and carts. Needless to say, flat tires were common. Maintaining tire pressure was a constant problem and a blowout was always just around the corner.

Then in 1904, an Englishman by the name of Davies invented the spare. Within a few years, all the automakers began providing a spare tire with each vehicle sold. They were almost an afterthought, commonly strapped to the trunk lid with leather straps. A few were mounted in a holder molded into the car’s front fender. Some pricier cars came with two spare tires. Eventually, all cars came with at least one spare tire and some were also equipped with a jack and a full tire repair kit that included tire levers used to pry the tire off the rim to be able to repair the inner tube.

Drivers back then, mainly men, had to have a high degree of do-it-your-self skills as few cars came with an owner’s manual. The wealthier car owners had a driver who also maintained the car. This gentleman’s driver washed and polished, changed the oil when necessary, and repaired flat tires on trips.

Just How Far Can You Drive On A Spare Tire?

The answer to this question is not very far if your vehicle is equipped with a donut tire. There are various opinions on just how far it is safe to drive. Manufacturers recommend driving no further than 50 miles or 100 km.

I say 50 miles is pushing it due to the thinness of this space-saver spare tire. They are very vulnerable to nails and debris spilled from trucks or around a construction site, much more so than a regular tire. Also, they should be driven well under the speed limit. Always keep tire safety in mind.

However, if you are 100 miles from the nearest town and service center, you have no choice but to drive that distance or, spend the money to get a tow.

For this reason, if I were to do a cross-country trip, I would definitely carry a full-sized spare.  Driving with a regular spare tire is so much safer than with a donut. However, if your vehicle has a donut, don’t throw it out. Keep it as a backup to the backup on long trips.

Flat tires like many things, tend to come in threes.

When Should You Get A Spare Tire?

If you have bought a BMW or a BMW Mini, a Mercedes, or a particular type of Cadillac, you may be surprised to learn your new vehicle does not come with a spare tire.

If all your driving is done in urban areas, you can get away without having a spare tire so long as your vehicle is equipped with self-sealing tires or run-flat tires. What is the difference? Run flat tires have heavy-duty walls designed to absorb the weight of your car. So, if you lose tire pressure in a tire, it has the strength to keep the tire as if it was semi-inflated allowing you to drive to the nearest garage for a  tire repair.

This is all very well and good in principle; but what happens when you get to the nearest tire repair shop and they are booked up? In that case, you have to leave your car and hope they get to it before closing. In the meantime, you have to cab it or take a bus to get home or to your appointment. A real inconvenience!

Therefore, the big advantage of having a spare tire is you can leave the punctured tire in the garage and drive around on the spare until your tire is repaired.

Another thought on this subject. If you plan on doing a road trip for a family vacation or you are a traveling salesman and your trips take you out into rural areas where tire repair services are few and far between, having a flat tire under these circumstances could be a major problem even if you have roadside assistance.

As mentioned. I strongly suggest packing at least one spare tire if you are driving long distances if you have room for it. If you have a trailer, throw it in there. Or, you can pack it in a cartop carrier. Another good implement to pack is a plug-in electric tire pump. If you have a slow leak and no spare, this can be a lifesaver. It all comes under the heading of car care.

And Finally, Spare Tire Options

Self-supporting tires

These tires have sidewalls that are reinforced more than a regular tire. This allows the tire to support the weight of your vehicle when the tire has zero or very low pressure.  The sidewalls are also designed to prevent the sides of the tires from being crushed between the rim and the road to increase the life span. The design also prevents the tire from slipping around the rim.

Another thing to keep in mind with self-supporting tires is that even with the specially designed and stronger rubber walls, they wear out faster than standard tires.

Many drivers ask the following question: Can you repair a run-flat tire that has been punctured by a sharp object such as a nail?

The answer is no. Tire manufacturers who produce self-sealing tires state very unambiguously to replace the wounded tire. The reason is that once the tire is damaged, it is very difficult to tell if further damage has been incurred. And always keep in mind that tire safety is everything. It pays to understand them.

Self-sealing tires

With a self-seal tire, the sealing system is designed to provide you with enough time to get your vehicle to a repair shop for a new tire. The nail or sharp object you ran over and punctured the tire is automatically surrounded by a built-in sealant that prevents any further air leakage.

The invention of the self-sealing tire has one big plus. Even though your tire has been punctured by a piece of glass, a screw, a nail, or any sharp object, it gets rid of the necessity of having to grapple with a car jack and install a spare donut tire, often in the dark and worse, if it’s raining or snowing.

Just remember, if your vehicle is installed with self-sealing tires and if you do suffer a puncture, have the tire checked at the first available repair shop.

Summary

The worst time to find out if your car is equipped with a spare or not is when you have a flat. If you have bought a new car, familiarize yourself with its repairing or replacing flat tire options. and finally, keep your tires inflated to the manufacturer’s specifications.

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About The Author

Michael Trigg

Michael Trigg

Michael grew up in New Zealand where in his teens, trained as a mechanic / welder / fitter. After leaving New Zealand Michael worked around Australia and in New Guinea, immigrating to Canada in 1969. He started his own automotive business in 1974 and sold it in 1999, but he continue to dabble in cars and the auto business.

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