Safety is paramount on the road, and tires play a pivotal role in ensuring a smooth and secure journey. But what happens when you’re faced with the dilemma of driving on a spare tire for an extended period? Is it safe, or does it pose hidden dangers?
In this blog, we’ll explore the risks and realities of driving on a spare tire for an entire week (or longer). We’ll uncover the perils that too many drivers overlook, outline essential precautions, and present alternative solutions. You’ll gain a clear understanding of not only whether driving on a spare tire for a week is safe, but also how to navigate temporary spare tire use responsibly and stay safe.
Risks of Driving on a Spare Tire for an Extended Period
Temporary spare tires, also called donut spares, are instantly recognizable by their small size. These tires have shallower treads than regular tires. Reduced tread depth can mean a smaller overall contact area with the road, potentially diminishing traction.
Increased Risk of Hydroplaning:
The danger of losing traction with a temporary spare tire dramatically increases on wet or slippery roads. Deeper treads help disperse water on wet roads, helping to prevent hydroplaning. The shallower treads of a spare increase the likelihood of skids and loss of control.
Altered Vehicle Dynamics:
Temporary spares may have different handling characteristics than your regular tires, leading to unpredictable steering and reduced stability overall.
Reduced Cornering Performance:
Increased Stopping Distance:
Temporary spares may not provide the same level of grip and braking performance as your regular tires. As a result, it can take longer to come to a stop, increasing the risk of rear-end and other collisions.
Donut spares are not as robustly constructed as regular tires, making them more susceptible to punctures and blowouts, particularly when driven for extended periods.
Higher Risk of Accidents:
Loss of control, tire blowouts, or sudden flats can all lead to serious accidents. Extended driving on a temporary spare tire can endanger you and others on the road.
Strain on Suspension and Components:
The uneven load distribution caused by the reduced size and carrying capacity of a spare tire puts extra strain on your vehicle’s components, especially the suspension.
So What Do All These Risks Mean?
Without doubt, temporary spare tires can be lifesavers in emergencies. However, with their shallow treads, reduced size, and thin construction, they are not designed for long-term use. The longer you drive on a donut spare, the greater the dangers become.
In short, never drive on a temporary spare for a full week if you can avoid it. And even if you use your donut spare for just a single day, there are some critical precautions you should take to keep your family safe.
Precautions When Driving on a Spare Tire
Do a Visual Inspection:
- Examine the spare tire for visible signs of damage, such as cuts, punctures, or bulges. Note that some cuts and punctures look like rough spots on the sidewall.
- Ensure that there are no foreign objects (rocks, glass, etc.) lodged in the tread.
Check the Tire Pressure:
- Verify that the spare tire is properly inflated to the recommended pressure, which can usually be found in your vehicle owner’s manual or on a label in the trunk.
- If the tire pressure is significantly low, do NOT use the spare before inflating it.
Follow Speed Restrictions:
- Be aware of the recommended maximum speed for your spare tire, typically around 50 mph or less. Stay at or below this speed, even over short distances.
- Exceeding the recommended top speed increases the risk of skids, hydroplaning, tire failure, loss of control, and serious accidents.
Know the Tire’s Distance Limitations:
- Temporary spares are not intended for long journeys. The risk of dangerous tire failure grows with every added mile.
- Make sure you know how far you can drive safely on your spare tire by checking what the manufacturer recommends.
Avoid Aggressive Maneuvers:
- Refrain from making sudden lane changes, sharp turns, or hard stops. These actions can strain the spare tire and affect your vehicle’s balance and handling.
- Take all turns and curves at a slower speed than you normally would.
Increase Your Following Distance:
- Allow extra space between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
- Remember, your vehicle’s stopping distance will typically increase with a temporary spare, so you need more time to react in an emergency.
Carry Necessary Tools:
- Keep a jack, lug wrench, and any other tools required to change a tire safely stored in your car at all times.
- Also carry other emergency supplies, like a flashlight, snacks, blankets, etc.
Have Mobile Phone and Emergency Numbers Ready:
- Whenever you’re setting out on the road, ensure that your mobile phone is charged.
- Have contact information for roadside assistance or towing services readily available.
Know How to Change a Tire:
- All drivers should familiarize themselves with how to change a tire. Punctures and flats can happen anywhere, including far from any roadside help.
- Knowing how to put on a spare can also make you a hero to other drivers in distress.
Alternatives to Prolonged Spare Tire Use
Carrying a Full-Size Spare Tire:
- A full-size spare tire is essentially the same as the regular tires on your vehicle in terms of size, sturdiness, tread pattern, and performance characteristics.
- Full-size spares provide the same level of traction, handling, and stability as your regular tires.
- A full-size spare typically has no speed or distance limitations, making it suitable for extended use.
- DRAWBACKS: A full-size spare takes up more space in your vehicle than a temporary spare, and may have a small effect on fuel efficiency due to its greater weight.
Tire Repair or Replacement:
- As soon as possible, repair a flat tire or replace it with a new one.
- Tire replacement or repair restores your vehicle to its original tire specifications.
- Unlike using a temporary spare, driving on a safely repaired or replacement tire helps ensure consistent handling and performance of your vehicle.
- Repair costs may vary, based on the extent of tire damage, whether replacement is necessary, and the current state of your other tires.
Owning a Tire Repair Kit:
- You might wish to purchase a compact tire repair kit, containing sealant and a compressor to temporarily fix minor punctures and re-inflate tires.
- The kit provides a quick and convenient solution for small punctures, and is easy to carry in your vehicle.
- DRAWBACKS: Tire repair kits are not suitable for all types of tire damage. They cannot be used for large punctures or sidewall damage (for example, from hitting a curb).
Purchase Run-Flat Tires:
- “Run-flat” tires are specially designed to allow limited driving even after the tire has been punctured. The image below shows an example of a run-flat tire.
- Driving on these tires can eliminate the need for a spare tire altogether.
- In many cases, you can safely drive to a repair facility even with a flat.
- DRAWBACKS: Run-flat tires may be more expensive than regular tires. They may also have speed and distance limitations after a puncture.
When considering these alternatives, weigh factors such as cost, convenience, your driving habits, and the specific circumstances of your tire issue. Make a choice that quickly gets you off a temporary spare and back onto four solid tires, to avoid extended driving on a tire that simply was not made for it.
It is not impossible to drive for a week on a donut spare tire, but the risks far outweigh the benefits. Remember that you have options for dealing with a flat tire beyond relying solely on a temporary spare. Whether you choose immediate repair or replacement, carrying a full-size spare, the convenience of a tire repair kit, or the peace of mind offered by run-flat tires, there’s a solution to suit your needs.
The key takeaway here is to be prepared. Familiarize yourself with the alternatives, understand their advantages and limitations, and keep your safety and comfort on the road a top priority. When the day comes that a tire gives out on you, you’ll know how to avoid asking more of a temporary spare than it can safely give.
A car enthusiast who knows how overwhelming the knowledge gap is between the tire manufacturer and the end customer. My aim is to simplify your tire buying process by doing the nitty-gritty research, filtering out the details which don’t matter, so you can focus on the few which do.