Everything You Need To Know About Your Car’s Spare Tires

man getting spare tire from car trunk

If you’re shopping for a new car, something you probably aren’t thinking about is what you’ll do in the event you run a flat. After all, you haven’t even purchased the car – why would you be thinking about roadside troubles already?

Well, flat tires are a pain. So you’ll want to make sure whatever car you purchase has the right equipment to deal with that situation (unless you plan to use a roadside assistance service.)

If roadside assistance isn’t your thing, there are a handful of alternatives – like the classic spare tire. Speaking of spares, have you ever heard it referred to as a “donut”?  Do you know if there’s a difference between a donut and a spare tire? Are they the same?

Turns out, there is a difference and it’s pretty sizable (you’ll appreciate the joke if you read on…)

Now that we’ve got you thinking about donuts, take a minute to familiarize yourself with the different types of spare tires:

  • Full size spares – A full size spare tire is a tire that is the same size as the rest of your tires. Because it’s the same size, the full size spare shouldn’t compromise your car’s driving performance once installed, which is one of its biggest benefits. Of the spare tire options, the full size spare will take up the most space in your car’s trunk, so you might want to consider trunk space when selecting your spare. Full size spares can be matching or non-matching.  A matching full size spare is identical to your other tires and should be incorporated into your regular tire rotation.  A non-matching full size spare has lighter-weight construction and shallower tread depth to reduce weight and make it easier to install.
  • Temporary spare – Also known as a “donut,” this tire is smaller than your car’s standard tires. Unlike the full size spares, there will be a noticeable performance difference when driving on a donut. Plus, the size difference between the donut and the rest of your tires limits the speed and distance you can safely drive. The trade-off is that a donut won’t take up as much space in your car when it’s not being used. If you’re trying to maximize your trunk space, the donut might be the better spare tire option for you.

If you have a spare that spends its time collecting dust in your trunk, it’s a good idea to periodically check its air pressure. How tragic would it be to find yourself in a situation where your tire is flat… and so is your spare?

It’s also important to remember that non-matching full size spares and donuts are temporary fixes and should only be driven on long enough to get your car safely to a service center. Once at the service center, a trained professional should replace the spare with the correct tire to match your set.

An alternative?

As car manufacturers become more mindful of things like trunk space and fuel economy, they are shying away from including spare tires in new vehicle models. To keep up with the changing times, there are a couple alternatives to spare tires for car buyers to consider:

  • Run-flat tires – Run-flat tires are made with reinforced sidewalls and are designed to keep your car going even after a tire has been punctured. While run-flat tires are a good option because you can essentially keep driving even after your wheel’s been punctured, there are tradeoffs to consider, like higher cost and a shorter tread life. Edmunds.com outlines potential pros and cons.
  • Self-sealing – Similar to run-flat tires, self-sealing tires are designed to withstand punctures and keep you going. Self-sealing tires tires are made with a sealant inside that can maintain the air pressure even after you, say, drive over a nail.
  • Tire repair kit – A tire repair kit is a nice alternative to a spare tire because it won’t take up nearly as much space in your trunk. Typically this kit will include an air compressor and sealant that can be used to fix a tire so long as the puncture is on its tread.

So while you’re shopping for your next car, remember to consider your spare tire options. Whether you end up with a full size spare, spring for some run-flats or self-sealing tires, or are prefer roadside assistance at least now you know what a “donut” is in car terms.

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