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In your life, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself with a flat tire. Knowing how to put on the spare is an important maintenance skill, but that’s not enough. If you have what’s called a donut spare, the half-sized space saver that comes with most new cars, then there’s a good chance you’re using it wrong. After all, there’s a reason they’re called temporary spares.

Donut Spare Tire Mounted In Car
Donut Spare Tire Mounted In Car | Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Donut spare tires aren’t built for everyday use

These space savers and the kits to replace them are there in the event of an emergency. But they are not capable of being full-time tires. With space savers, you’re supposed to put them on your car if you get a flat, and then drive to the tire shop to have the old tire fixed or replaced.

These spare tires are skinny in order to save space and improve your vehicle’s handling and gas mileage. A heavier full-sized spare tire could negatively impact both of those aspects. But space savers are only designed for short distances. That’s why it’s recommended to go straight from the side of the road to the tire shop. After all, if space savers could handle everyday driving, why wouldn’t automakers put them on all four corners?

There are limitations to these spare tires that you need to know about in order to stay safe on the road

The speed and distance limitations of space savers

Skinny Spare Tire On Side Of The Road
Skinny Spare Tire On Side Of The Road | Interim Archives/Getty Images

While every spare tire is built differently, a good rule is that you shouldn’t go further than 70 miles on a donut spare tire. Likewise, you shouldn’t exceed 50 mph according to Roadway Ready, which means no getting on highways without using your hazard lights. Chances are there’s a tire shop within 70 miles of you. And chances are you won’t even have to get on a highway to make it there.

If your vehicle doesn’t come with a spare tire, then you can consider purchasing a spare tire kit that works for your car. Remember, every car is built differently, which means they all have different spare tires. You can’t pluck them from one car and use it on another, so refer to your owner’s manual or the internet. Most times, these spare tire kits will cost anywhere from $50 to $250 bucks, including scissor jacks and tire wrenches.

But for a little more money, you can avoid the hassle of the tire shop altogether. No having to pop on the donut spare, then immediately drive to the nearest shop. Chances are, you can actually fit a full-sized spare tire in or on your car. So rather than having to change the donut spare, you can just keep going and not have to worry about a thing.

Why it’s better to carry a full-sized spare tire

Man Changing A Full-Sized Spare Tire
Man Changing A Full-Sized Spare Tire | Lambert/Getty Images

Whenever your current set of tires gets worn out, consider purchasing five tires and a new rim. You can find them online, or go to your dealership to learn what size your rim is. Then, when you’re having your old tires removed, have the tire shop mount a new tire to that new fifth rim. And make sure they all match, as mixing tire brands isn’t a good idea.

If you drive a larger SUV, you could keep this fifth wheel in your trunk. I have mine under the trunk in a storage compartment. But in order to fit it there, I had to remove some of the fabric trim. If you don’t have room in or under the trunk you can also use your car’s trailer hitch.

On Amazon, you can buy a $100 tire rack that’ll allow you to mount your full-sized spare to the back of the car. Provided, this may impact handling and fuel economy slightly, but not so much where the car will be undrivable.

Once you have that, and the tools to change the tire in a pinch, you can simply drive off after you’re done installing the full-sized spare. You can also start doing five tire rotations, which is similar to a traditional tire rotation. This prolongs the life of each of your tires, meaning you can go further before they wear out.

That’s the complicated, enthusiast’s approach. But I can personally vouch for the peace of mind knowing that, if I’m caught on the side of the road, my trip is only inconvenienced by a flat tire rather than ruined.


What to Do If Your Car Doesn’t Have a Spare Tire