How Long Do Spare Tires Last? And Other Spare Tire Questions

A spare tire can be a lifesaver if you know how to properly care for and use it. Get answers to all of your spare tire questions here.
how long do spare tires last

When was the last time you put air in your spare tire? Be honest. It probably hasn’t crossed your mind in months – maybe years. Well, that stops today. No longer will you wonder, “How long do spare tires last?” You’ll know if yours is in good shape.

Keep reading for the best ways to care for your spare, courtesy of AAA’s Car Doctor John Paul.

How long do spare tires last?

Most full-size spare tires are designed to last anywhere from seven to 10 years, according to John Paul. That said, drivers should never use a tire with visible damage, such as cracks in the sidewall, punctures, impact bulges or irregular tread wear – all of which are dangerous to drive on.

Some drivers rotate a full-size spare with the other tires on their vehicle, but this practice is not as common as it used to be, Paul said. If your spare has been tucked away in the trunk or underneath the car for a long period of time, it has probably lost some air pressure, so test it the next chance you get and fill it up appropriately. Check the sticker on the driver’s side door jamb or the owners manual for the exact amount of air needed.

Drivers with cars toting a compact temporary tire – aka a “donut” or “space saver” – should know that these tires require as much as 60 pounds per square inch of air pressure, significantly more than a traditional full-size spare. The recommended air pressure for a donut might be branded on the sidewall, otherwise check the owners manual or the door jamb placard.

If ignored, the lack of air pressure, combined with exposure to Northeast temperatures and infrequent use, can result in dry rot. This occurs when oils and other chemicals in the rubber dry out and ruin the tire. To help maximize the life of the spare, test its air pressure every time you test the other four and add air as needed, Paul said.

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How long can you use a spare tire?

A donut tire is designed to get you home or to a repair shop – not for joyrides or full-time use. In fact, driving for too long on one of these little guys can do some serious damage to the transmission. If you have a donut on your vehicle, swap it out with a full-size tire within 50 to 60 miles and replace the spare, Paul said.

Full-size spares can be used for a longer time, since they match what’s already on the vehicle. But Paul said he’d still take the spare off as soon as possible.

“I would get a new tire and put the spare back in the trunk, where it won’t cause me any trouble,” Paul added.

How fast can you go on a spare tire?

Donut tires are not meant for highway driving. The fastest a driver should go with one of those on their vehicle is 50 mph, Paul said. You shouldn’t be traveling too far – since you should only be going home or to a nearby repair shop – so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, he added.

how long do spare tires last

What do I need to change a spare tire?

AAA members can always call for 24/7 emergency AAA Roadside Assistance if they experience a tire issue. Of course, it’s still a good idea to have tools to put on a spare in the event of an emergency (for instance, your vehicle’s tire pops in a remote area where you don’t have cellphone reception). These tools include a jack, a lug wrench, a flashlight and batteries, gloves and the key for “locking” lug nuts, if your wheels have those.

Spare tires are sometimes mounted on the back of a vehicle or underneath it. Practice lowering the tire or removing it from the back of the vehicle and make sure any parts for these systems are onboard. If you own a truck or sport-utility vehicle that carries the spare underneath, test the system once in a while to make sure it’s not rusted or stuck. You could also ask your mechanic to test the lowering system during your next oil change.

What if my car has a tire repair kit?

Instead of asking “How long do spare tires last?,” you might be wondering if you even have a spare tire.

A 2017 study found that AAA had to rescue more than 450,000 members with a flat tire whose cars did not have a spare tire. Instead, many of these vehicles were equipped with tire inflator kits, which only work in certain situations, like when a nail punctures a tiny hole in the center tread of a tire.

If you don’t know what kind of system your car has, check as soon as you can. Drivers with tire inflator kits should read the instructions ahead of time. You should also know the limitations and its expiration date (often four to eight years).

When shopping for a new car, don’t assume it comes with a spare tire. Ask. If it doesn’t, see if one can be added as an option.

Want to make sure your tires and wheels are always in tip-top shape? Check out our Tire & Wheel Protection Program

Did we answer your spare care questions? Let us know if we missed something in the comments section below.

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11 Thoughts on “How Long Do Spare Tires Last? And Other Spare Tire Questions

  1. My understanding is that a donut spare tire should only be mounted on a rear axle, never on the front steering position. If you experience a front flat, remove a rear tire & wheel, mount in front and mount the donut spare on the rear. In the real world most people frequently travel more than 50 miles before getting a proper repair. Front tires are under substantial stress in comparison with those in a rear placement. Your advise?

  2. You say “When shopping for a new car, don’t assume it comes with a spare tire. Ask. If it doesn’t, see if one can be added as an option.” Buying one from the dealer will probably be more expensive than ordering one from Amazon, Walmart, etc. or picking this up from an auto parts store. Doesn’t hurt to have one in the car even if you have a spare.

  3. Being an old timer I found it criminal to buy a brand new car that only came with a can of foam tire repair. The excuse from the salesmen that it saves weight & thus gas mileage doesn’t float with me. Next they’ll leave the backseat out.
    To get a flat tire and have only that spray can, which is often inadequate for the repair needed, is frustrating and dangerous. Some people told me their spray can didn’t even spray at all when needed.
    Right after I get home from the dealership, I always buy a new full-size spare rim & new tire (mounted & balanced) at a total cost of around $500 for what should have come with that new car. I try to buy vehicles that come with real spares but those tend to be pickups & SUVs (bigger vehicles than a retiree needs).
    I’ve had friends who have had blowouts, sidewall damage & large slices which the spray is no good for, then have to pay hundreds for new tires on the fly and take many hours waiting for a tow truck and then waiting for the repairs in a garage somewhere. Weekends, holidays, and storms can cause further delays. Having a spare, you can be on your way in minutes or shortly after the tow truck arrives if you chose not to change it yourself. The cost in money & time lost to a stranded motorist to have to buy a new tire from a local garage’s inventory, often not the ideal tire for your vehicle either, makes my $500 look like a good deal.
    Personally, I cannot imagine taking a trip of more than 50 miles from home without a spare tire, even the doughnut ones are better than nothing.

  4. Overall it is a nice and informative article.
    The biggest problem I have had many times is the force with which the garage or repair facility uses is so high with their impact wrenches, it is sometimes impossible to loosen the lug nuts without a breaker bar. Sometimes you need two people to make it work.

  5. I have a full size spare that I saved when I got 4 new tires. It does not have a wheel to be mounted on, which seems hard to find. My car gets lousy mileage to begin with, so maybe I should dispose of the tire. Is it necessary for me to keep the full size spare, given that it has no wheel? Could that be mounted by AAA assistance when I get a flat, or can I get away with a donut? 2003 Toyota Camry, XLE V6. I’m confused!

    1. Hi Susanne, thanks for the question. Here’s an answer from our Car Doctor John Paul: The full size tire would only be practical with a rim/wheel. Without the wheel it is just taking up space in your car’s trunk. Now you could always buy a factory wheel and have the tire mounted on it so you have a usable full size spare tire-which will take up more room in the trunk. If this were my car I would just use the factory temporary (donut) spare tire which takes up less space and weighs less making it easier to manage if you do get a flat tire.

      1. Our one owner 2004 Camry XLE – V6 came factory equipped with a full size spare.
        The spare tire rim is steel and not identical to the four alloy wheels mounted on the vehicle. Not a big issue, just a minor cosmetic one.

  6. The article did not differentiate how long a donut spare would last before it needed to be replaced nor did it indicate how difficult donut spares were to replace since they only have occasional and limited production runs with very small inventories of all sizes in the best of times and multi month waits for new production runs in other times.

    1. The article implies that you would purchase a new donut tire after each use. I had a donut spare shred itself because it was too flat, and when I looked to purchase a replacement, they were very expensive compared to an actual tire. So, I bought another matching rim for my car and kept the best tire when I got new tires, giving me a full-size spare that can be driven on indefinitely.

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