Every driver dreads getting a flat tire, hoping it’s a fate that never befalls them (or their car). But it’s still one that smart drivers must be prepared for. Luckily, most cars come equipped with a spare tire. It comes in handy, and it’s absolutely one of the things you should always keep in your car. But, should you get a flat, how long can you drive on a spare tire?
Well, there are two types of spare tires, and you should absolutely know which type you have since that makes a big difference in answering “how long can you drive on a spare tire.” Some vehicles might include a full-size tire that matches all of your others. “Older vehicles and 4Runners commonly included a full-sized, regulation tire,” explains Jake McKenzie, Content Manager at Auto Accessories Garage. If your car has this type of tire, especially if it does, in fact, match the size and shape of your car’s other tires, you should be able to drive with it for as long as you want (or at least as long as your tires normally last). But you should still make it a priority to get the flat tire repaired so that you’re not driving without a usable spare. And McKenzie still recommends switching it out for the repaired flat sooner rather than later, so that all of your tires have a similar amount of wear—that’s just a safer way to drive. And find out why tires might actually be the most important safety feature of your car.
What exactly constitutes an “older” vehicle? Well, as Richard Reina, Product Training Director at CARiD.com, puts it, “almost all cars of the last 20 years or more have gone to the ‘temporary spare tire.'” This is the type of tire you think of more commonly when you hear the words “spare tire”: a donut tire.
Today’s cars use a donut tire for a couple of reasons. According to Reina, it helps keep the overall weight of the car down, which improves fuel economy. And it’s also just less expensive. But, of course, there’s a major downside to donut tires that makes them a “spare” for a reason: You can’t drive on them for very long. Exactly how long can you drive with a donut tire?
“There should be mileage and speed limitations listed in your vehicle’s owner’s manual,” says McKenzie. So if you want to know the exact answer to “how long can you drive on a spare tire,” you should consult the manual. But there is a general range that most car experts agree on: approximately 50 to 70 miles, with 70 as the absolute maximum. To be as safe as possible, stick closer to 50. “The label on the temporary spare…will state to drive no more than 50 miles [on it],” Reina says.
And there’s also a speed guideline to follow as well. You should be driving fairly slowly—both McKenzie and Reina recommend not exceeding 50 mph with the donut tire.
The bottom line is, driving on a donut tire is definitely not ideal, and you should make an effort to have the flat repaired as soon as you can. “[The donut tire] is a different size than your other tires, [so] it will make your vehicle unbalanced and less safe,” McKenzie says. But before you can worry about how long you can drive on a spare tire, you have to know how to change a tire in the first place—it’s one of the car maintenance basics everyone should know.