Being stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire can be an inconvenient and stressful experience.
A spare tire is designed to be strong enough for a short drive. But how long can you drive on a spare tire? Can you make it home, or do you need to go directly to the nearest auto shop?
Let’s dive into the facts so you can get back on the road safely.
How long can you drive on a spare tire?
A good rule of thumb is to limit the maximum distance traveled on a spare tire to under 50 miles. This assumes your car carries a compact “donut” spare that’s stored in the cargo area or underneath the vehicle. See your owner’s manual for instructions.
Spare tires are shorter and narrower than factory-equipped tires. This means they spin faster than the other tires on your vehicle, and the contact area (where the rubber meets the road) is considerably smaller than a standard tire. That puts more weight on a smaller contact area, which not only compromises handling capability but wears the tire out faster.
In addition, there isn’t much tread on a spare tire, and as a result they are not particularly durable over longer distances.
How fast can you drive on a spare tire?
Keep vehicle speeds below 50 mph when traveling on a compact spare tire.
Standard vehicle tires are rated to indicate the maximum speed they can travel. Passenger vehicle tires have a speed rating that ranges from 81 mph all the way up to 186+ mph for high-performance machines. Spare tires are not engineered to withstand sustained high-speed driving of any kind, and most manufacturers explicitly state that they are not to be driven at speeds over 50 mph.
Types of spare tires
Most people are familiar with the “donut” compact spare that’s located in the cargo compartment or underneath the vehicle, but there are a few other types of spare tires that your vehicle may be equipped with.
Full-size spares are rare in today’s vehicles due to the space they take up, and the cost for manufacturers to include them on new cars. If you have a full-size spare that’s in good condition (properly inflated, solid tread, etc.), you can absolutely swap your flat tire for the spare and be on your way without speed or distance limitations.
If your vehicle is equipped with run-flat tires, it may not have a spare onboard at all.
Run-flat tires have a unique design that allows drivers to continue driving without stopping after a puncture. Most run-flat tires achieve this feat by having a reinforced sidewall that is designed to support the weight of the car. Run-flat tires only work on vehicles with Tire Pressure Monitor Systems (TPMS). Otherwise, many drivers would never know that their tires are flat.
The same 50/50 rule for compact spare tires applies to run-flat tires as well: don’t drive further than 50 miles, or over 50 mph.
Most vehicles are equipped with a compact or “donut” spare that is designed to either sit beneath the cargo area of an SUV or under the trunk area of a standard car. Trucks and vans may have the spare tire underneath the vehicle to maximize cargo space.
Remember the golden 50/50 rule if you encounter a blowout and your vehicle is equipped with a “donut” spare.
What happens if I drive too long on a spare tire?
The number one risk for driving too long on a spare tire is another blowout or flat.
Since spare tires are not made to last, extended driving will wear down the tread quickly. Spare tires are also not durable, and road hazards like potholes or debris can easily damage a spare tire and lead to a dangerous blowout. In addition, unless you happen to have another spare handy, you’ll have no way to get moving again.
You must also keep in mind that prolonged driving on a spare tire can put additional wear and tear on other components in your vehicle such as the transmission, differential, axles, brakes and suspension. Every part of your vehicle is designed to work together in sync, and having a tire that’s smaller than the rest causes some components to work harder than they should to balance out the workload.
How to care for a spare tire
There’s nothing worse than having a flat tire, only to realize your spare tire is also flat!
Caring for a spare tire is relatively simple. Here are some easy tips to help keep your spare tire in peak condition:
- Check the air pressure every three months (or once every season).
- Inspect the tread to ensure there are no cracks or splits.
- Replace your spare every eight years.
- Rotate full-size spare tires onto your vehicle whenever you perform a tire rotation.
Check for any spare tire recalls with the NHTSA.