It’s not your day. You’re unlucky enough to find yourself stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. Any mom who has ever been in this situation knows how much of an inconvenience and hassle it can be, especially with hungry and whining kids in your backseat.
Fortunately, if you drive a larger SUV, a truck, or another sizeable vehicle, your car may be equipped with a full-size spare tire. Full-size spare tires are safer sturdier, and more reliable to drive with than a smaller, space saver (or donut) spare, but you may be wondering how long it’s safe to drive on a full-size spare tire.
In general, you can typically drive up to 100 miles safely on a full-size spare tire. However, make sure to consult your vehicle owner’s manual to see the recommended distance and speed for your full-size spare tire.
It’s also essential, for your safety and the safety of your family, that you have your spare tire inspected or replaced at your dealer or local tire shop as soon as possible.
While a full-size spare has a longer lifespan and is safer than a space saver donut spare, it should not be considered a permanent fix. However, full-size spare tires can be a life-saver if you find yourself stranded.
While they can be less convenient to store in your vehicle due to their size, the benefits can far outweigh the negatives if you find yourself in a pickle.
What Is A Full-Size Spare Tire?
Full-size spare tires are the same size as your regular tires. Since they are the same size, it shouldn’t affect your car’s performance as much as a smaller, lightweight option. Medium to large SUVs (think GMC Yukon, Toyota Land Cruiser, or Chevy Tahoe), as well as large pickup trucks (such as Ford F-150 or a Chevy Silverado), will typically come with a full-size spare.
Full-size spares come in matching and non-matching options. A matching full-size spare is identical to your other tires in make and model. Because it’s the same, you should also incorporate it into your regular tire rotations. This practice can keep the tread consistent with your other tires and prevent damage to your vehicle.
If you have a large vehicle that allows it, a matching full-size spare tire is your best option.
A non-matching full-size spare tire typically has a more shallow tread depth and is lighter weight to make it easier to install. The wheels could differ from the ground tire’s wheels and should not be part of your car’s regular tire rotation.
The nice thing about having a full-size spare tire is that it will buy you some extra time, and you can put off driving to the service station for another day. So if you get a flat on the way to your kiddo’s dance recital or sporting event, you can switch it out and carry on with your day without missing a moment.
What Are The Downsides To A Full-Size Spare Tire?
Although full-size spare tires are preferable to have in a pinch over a lightweight donut spare, drivers should still be aware of some issues.
If you have a non-matching spare tire, it means that the manufacturer that produces your tires may not be the same for your full-size spare tire.
The tire width may be slightly different, causing your tire to rub against the wheel wells and cause damage to the wheel bearings. The tires could also lose air this way.
Depending on how long you’ve driven on your existing tires, driving with a full-size spare could lead to uneven tread wear since the new tire hasn’t worn down as much as your current tires. Uneven tread wear can negatively impact your vehicle’s traction, handling capabilities, and overall safety.
Driving on a spare tire over an extended period can also cause damage to your transmission and other car parts.
Other Types Of Spare Tires
Space Saver Spare Tires (Donuts)
As the name implies, this spare tire is smaller than your regular tires to take up less space in your trunk. Because the space saver is so much smaller than the rest of the tires, it will not perform to the same standard as your other tires.
The tire’s size will significantly impact the speed and distance that you can travel safely, so if you’re driving on a donut, you should only be going to the closest service station and no farther.
Alternatively, a full-size spare tire will allow you to go about your day without rushing to the nearest service station and will buy you a bit more time for repairs.
Donut spares come standard with most compact vehicles, sedans, minivans, and smaller SUVs. However, if you drive a car larger than a sedan, you may want to check your car’s space to see if you have room for a full-size spare instead.
Run Flat Tires
Yet, another spare tire option is the run-flat-tire. If you drive a BMW, a Mercedes, a Mini, or a Cadillac sedan, your vehicle will come standard with a run-flat-tire, otherwise known as zero pressure tires.
Run-flat tires are designed with reinforced sidewalls and can support a vehicle for a short time with a punctured tire. However, run-flat tires are not intended for distances exceeding 100 miles once punctured. If your run-flat tire is compromised, make sure to head to the nearest service station immediately.
The design of run-flat tires and donut tires are for emergency use only and very short distances. Full-size spare tires will give you the peace of mind that you don’t need to rush immediately to a repair center, but keep in mind that you will need to get in to get it fixed as soon as you possibly can.
My Car Is Too Small For A Full-Size Spare Tire. How Far Can I Drive On A Space-Saver Donut Spare?
If you drive a smaller vehicle, your car may only have space for a donut spare. If you replace your compromised tire with a donut spare, know that this is a very temporary fix meant only to get you directly to your nearest service center.
When driving on a donut tire, for your safety, drive no faster than 50 mph and go no further than 50-70 miles. These spares are lightweight and much less durable than your standard tires. In addition, your vehicle’s handling capabilities and traction can be significantly compromised when driving with a space-saver spare tire.
If the nearest service center is further than 70 miles away, you should rethink driving there on a donut spare and instead call for roadside assistance. For more information, check our detailed post on how far can you drive on a spare tire.
Spare Tire Maintenance And Care
Like the rest of your car, your spare tire needs to be regularly inspected, maintained, and stored correctly. Below are some tips for regular maintenance of your tire.
Check Your Spare Tire Pressure
When you go in for your regular tire rotation and inspection, make sure they check your spare tire as well.
Before you go on a family road trip, it’s a good idea to check your spare tire pressure in addition to your regular tires as well. The last thing you need if you get stranded on the way to the Grand Canyon is a flat spare. In some rare cases you may be able to pump your tire with a bike pump so take it with you if you have it.
Check For Deterioration
Regularly check your spare tire for punctures or other signs of wear and tear. If you discover that your spare tire is damaged, replace it as soon as possible.
Auto experts don’t recommend that you drive on a spare tire older than eight years old. So, be mindful of how long you’ve had your vehicle and tire, and replace if your tire is past its prime.
Check for Recalls
Many people don’t realize that recalls can also occur for spare tires. So when you bring your car in for regular maintenance, you should also check that your spare is up to date on recalls. Or you can check for recalls yourself on the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Association) website.
What To Do If You Get A Flat Tire
If you feel the dreaded thumping of a flat tire while you’re on the road with your family, it’s not always easy to think quickly and make the safest decisions. Below are some safety tips if you find yourself with a flat or blown-out tire.
Stay Calm and Keep Your Hands Steady
It’s important to remember to stay calm and not to panic. If you panic, you could put yourself and others in danger. Remember to keep your eyes on the road and keep your hands steady on the wheel to prevent yourself from swerving into another lane.
Turn On Your Hazard Lights
Notify other drivers around you to give you space, and they won’t be surprised when you slow down.
Gradually decrease your speed and turn your blinker on to indicate that you’ll be pulling to the side of the road.
Pull To A Safe Location
If you’re on the freeway and experience a flat tire, pull over as far as you can onto the shoulder. If you happen to be on the street, see if you can find a parking lot. You want to have as much space as possible when changing a flat.
Change Your Tire The Correct Way
Make sure you know the proper way to change your tire if you plan to do it yourself. If you’re unsure, it’s best to call roadside assistance to have them do it for you.
Improperly changing your tire can be very unsafe for you and your passengers, and you would never want to put your family in danger.
Although a full-size spare tire is more reliable and longer-lasting than other spare tires, it’s best not to press your luck if you experience a flat tire.
Remember always to check your vehicle’s manual to see the maximum distance and speed recommended for your spare tire. You won’t need to drive directly to the service center on a full-size spare, but for your safety and the safety of others, you shouldn’t put it off either. If you like to see how long you can drive on other spare tires, check out our other post.