In the past, cars seemed to have been much easier to live with. Repairs were easy – you could even fix many issues when stranded on the road. Not to mention, every vehicle had a full-size spare in the trunk, which was a much, much better solution than today's space-saving "donut" tires or tire repair kits.
Full-size tires allowed you to continue driving at the highest possible speed without worrying about instability and for as long as you wanted. Of course, repairing the punctured tire sooner would've meant that you'll have it ready if another puncture occurred. But overall, a full-size spare will always be the most convenient fix for a puncture.
Sadly, modern cars today either come with space-saver spares, popularly called donuts, or tire repair kits. Both of these give you the ability to continue driving when having a puncture on one of your tires, but they are less convenient for the driver.
Still, they are also a much more compact solution that doesn't take up as much space in the trunk. With modern cars having ever larger wheel sizes – on some SUVs, they are reaching a mammoth 23 inches, they wouldn't have too much trunk space left if the spare was full size. Also, by opting for a donut or a tire repair kit, manufacturers lower the overall weight of the vehicle, which increases fuel efficiency and range in EVs.
All of these things are also more important for the modern car buyer. Namely, most people are ready to accept larger trunks, better performance, and lower fuel consumption for the slight inconvenience of having to drive on a donut when one of the tires is punctured.
But what is a donut, and why does it have such a bad rep? And how long can I really use it? Can I drive 200 miles on a donut? Here is everything you need to know about space-saver spare tires, how they perform, and their pros and cons!
Is it possible to drive 200 miles on a donut?
- Introduction: What Is a Donut Spare Tire?
- The Pros and Cons of Driving on a Donut Tire
- How Far Can You Safely Drive on a Donut Tire?
- What to Do When You Need to Drive More than 50-70 Miles on a Donut
- The Risks of Driving on a Donut Tire for an Extended Period
- Tips for Driving on a Donut Tire: Dos and Don'ts
- How to Care for Your Donut Spare Tire: Storage and Maintenance Tips
- Conclusion: Is Driving on a Donut Tire Worth the Risk?
Introduction: What Is a Donut Spare Tire?
A donut is a lightweight and compact spare tire designed to save space in a vehicle. These tires are only intended for temporary use, like when one of the full-size tires is punctured, and shouldn't be used as a primary solution on your vehicle. Particularly, these tires are designed to allow you to reach a tire repair station so you can fix the puncture on the full-size tire and continue driving as usual.
Donut spare tires are usually smaller in diameter and width than the regular tires attached to your vehicle, and the difference is huge. Due to them being narrower than regular tires, donuts will have a much smaller contact patch with the road, which can significantly decrease traction. Moreover, the fact that it will be attached to only one wheel, the donut, can destabilize the handling of your vehicle and make it less balanced.
As a result, space-saver spare tires are designed for limited speeds and distances, typically not exceeding 50 miles (80 km) and speeds of 50 mph (80 km/h). Therefore, it is essential to replace the temporary spare with a full-size tire as soon as possible to ensure proper vehicle operation and safety.
The Pros and Cons of Driving on a Donut Tire
Donut tires are a necessity in modern cars, and if you have one in your trunk, you need to be aware of its advantages and shortcomings. Here are all the pros and cons of having a space-saver spare tire in your vehicle.
1. Pros of donut tires:
- Space-saving: donut tires are much smaller in volume than regular tire and wheel combos but also much lighter. Thus, they will open up room in your trunk that you can use for everything that you desire but also reap the benefits of improved fuel economy due to the lower weight.
- Cost-effectiveness: donuts are much cheaper than regular tires. A full-size spare seems like a great solution until it occurs to you that you will also need to replace it with another one when it ages. Put simply – donut tires can save you money upfront when purchasing a spare tire. However, this might not be true if you often have punctures (check "How Far Can You Safely Drive on a Donut Tire?").
- Emergency solution: Donut tires provide a temporary solution that allows you to continue driving your vehicle to a nearby tire repair shop or service station, avoiding the need for an immediate tow. As such, they are very convenient when you are driving long distances.
- Easy to install: donut tires are small and light, which makes them much easier to handle and install compared to full-size spare tires. This is especially true for people that aren't that strong, like women.
2. Cons of donut tires:
- Limited distance and speed: most donut tires are designed to be used at speeds up to 50 mph (80 km/h) for up to 50 miles (80 km) before they need to be relieved of their duty as spare tires. This can be limiting in some situations, especially if you are far from an inhabited place with a tire shop.
- Reduced handling and traction: due to their smaller size, space-saver spare tires change the suspension geometry and weight distribution of your vehicle, which can negatively impact handling balance. Moreover, due to the narrower tread, donut tires have a much lower grip compared to full-size tires, meaning longer stopping distances and lower lateral grip in the corners.
- Imbalanced wear on the other tires and suspension components: due to the fact that donut tires change the suspension geometry, they can impact the wear of other tires but also the suspension components, potentially leading to premature replacement or repairs.
- False sense of security: some drivers may become overly reliant on donut spare tires, neglecting to replace them with a full-size tire promptly. This can lead to dangerous driving conditions and potential accidents.
How Far Can You Safely Drive on a Donut Tire?
This was a question I often received when I worked in a tire repair shop, and it's one that doesn't have a straightforward answer. Much like regular full-size tires, donuts come from various manufacturers, and each uses a different rubber compound and tread pattern. Thus, the wear characteristics of these tires can wildly differ from one to another.
The 50-mph/50-mile limit is more of a legal limitation that donut tire manufacturers need to follow. However, this doesn't mean that the tire will be unusable after you use it for 50 miles (80 km). In my experience, these tires can last much longer with proper care, meaning you can drive more than the recommended 50 miles (80 km) without worrying that anything could go bad.
However, this doesn't mean that you should overdo it and use the space-saver spare for a few days because you didn't find time to repair the puncture on the full-size tire.
What I meant is that you can use the donut as long as you need to reach the nearest tire repair shop – not use it daily as many people do. So, I recommend not using donut tires for a 200-mile journey.
And when you reach the shop, kindly ask the tire technician to check the donut tire for any signs of excessive wear, damage, or deterioration before storing it in your trunk for future use. If the tire appears to be in good condition, you may be able to keep it as a spare.
However, if there are visible signs of wear, such as bald spots, cracks, or other damage, it's best to buy a new one. Yup, you should treat your donut tire like any other tire you have on your vehicle.
Unfortunately, for some people that have bad luck with punctures, this means frequent replacements of the donut tire. And while these tires are less expensive than full-size tires, if you use them often, the costs will mount up, and they will be more expensive in the long run.
What to Do When You Need to Drive More than 50-70 Miles on a Donut
Ideally, you wouldn't want to exceed the 50-mile limitation for donut tires. However, if you really need to do that in order to find a tire repair shop, I have a few tips that might help you.
For starters, use your smartphone and the power of Google to find the nearest facility. Your smartphone will usually give you the shortest path to the shop and limit the wandering around.
Furthermore, I recommend driving even more cautiously if you need to use the donut tire for more than 50 miles. A good practice is to lower the speed limit to 40 mph (65 km/h), which can significantly prolong the life of the space-saver spare tire.
Since donut tires heat up more quickly than regular tires due to their smaller footprint, take frequent breaks to allow them to cool down. This way, you will reduce the risk of catastrophic tire failure and eliminate excessive wear. While having a break, it will be smart to check the donut for excessive wear, damage, or deflation.
And if you are really in the middle of nowhere, explore alternative options such as roadside assistance or towing services to transport your vehicle to a location where you can replace the donut tire.
The Risks of Driving on a Donut Tire for an Extended Period
Using your donut tire for extended periods can lead to various safety and legal issues. Here are some risks associated with driving on a donut tire for an extended period:
- Tire failure or a blowout: donut tires can overheat quickly and wear faster than regular tires. Thus, using them excessively can lead to catastrophic tire failure, like a blowout.
- Severely reduced traction and increased risk of an accident: worn-out donut tires have much less traction, which can lead to longer stopping distances and unstable handling, especially on wet and snow-covered roads.
- Invalidated warranty: driving on a donut tire for an extended period may void certain vehicle warranties, particularly those related to the drivetrain or suspension components.
- Puts stress on the suspension components: worn-out donut tires can shorten the lifespan of the suspension components. This can lead to premature replacement or repairs, potentially causing further damage to your vehicle.
- Legal issues: in most places in the world, driving on a donut for extended periods violates road safety regulations, potentially resulting in fines or penalties.
Tips for Driving on a Donut Tire: Dos and Don'ts
Many people forget that they just installed an inferior space-saver tire and continue driving as they did before. The truth is that donut tires require extra caution and attention to ensure a safe driving experience. Here are the Dos and Don'ts of driving on a donut tire:
1. Dos of driving on a donut
- Read the owner's manual: consulting your vehicle's manual will let you in on the specifics, like guidelines and recommendations on using a donut tire, including the proper inflation pressure, speed limitations, and distance restrictions.
- Check the tire pressure: donut tires are also filled with air and pressurized. Thus, it is crucial to check their pressure from time to time or before installing them on the wheel. This will help ensure the tire performs optimally and safely while in use. Regarding this, it might be smart to invest in a portable tire inflator.
- Avoid excessive loads: donut tires are designed to carry the maximum load of your vehicle by using a very high inflation pressure. However, they can't carry excessive loads, like carrying very heavy cargo or towing a large trailer.
2. Don'ts of driving on a donut
- Never exceed the speed limit: exceeding the 50 mph (80 km/h) speed limit can lead to a loss of control or a tire failure. Moreover, your vehicle will be less safe because the stopping distances will be much longer.
- Don't drive for very long distances: avoid driving more than the recommended distance for a donut tire, which is usually 50 miles (80 km). If you really need to drive more to reach the nearest tire shop, do it, but be extra careful while driving.
- Don't ignore the warning signs: if you notice unusual noises, vibrations, or handling issues while driving on a donut tire, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and inspect the tire for any signs of damage or failure.
- Don't use a damaged donut tire: if your donut tire is damaged in any way, i.e., there are visible bulges, cracks, or other damage, replace it with a new one.
How to Care for Your Donut Spare Tire: Storage and Maintenance Tips
Much like every other tire on your car, the donut also needs regular maintenance to last longer. Following these tips for maintaining your donut tire will ensure your safety but also save you some cash, as you won't need to replace them frequently:
- Check the tire pressure regularly: just like regular tires, donuts lose pressure over time, even if you don't use them. Without enough air pressure inside, the donut won't be able to do its job optimally. Thus, it is crucial to keep it properly inflated even when it's sitting for prolonged periods in your trunk. The recommended inflation pressure for your specific donut tire can be found in your owner's manual or on the tire sidewall.
- Inspect for damage and wear: while you are checking the donut tire pressure, you could also check for visible signs of damage, such as cracks, punctures, or excessive wear. If any damage is found, replace the tire to ensure it remains safe and reliable in an emergency.
- Store the tire properly: always make sure that the donut is properly fastened in the designated area in your trunk. This will prevent movement while driving and limit the damage to the rubber material.
- Keep the tire from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures: never keep your donut tire in direct sunlight, as the UV rays can damage the rubber compound and cause dry rot. Extreme temperatures can also cause dry rot and shorten the lifespan of the tire.
- Keep the tire clean and dry before storage: always clean and dry your donut before storing it back in the trunk.
- Rotate the donut occasionally if it sits upright in your trunk: if you purchased the donut tire and your vehicle doesn't have a designated area for storage, it would be smart to rotate the donut occasionally to ensure no flat spots appear.
- Replace the donut after it reaches a certain age: the rubber compound tires are made of ages over time, which significantly worsens its ability to grip the road. Even if they weren't driven and have enough tread depth left, old tires are a safety hazard due to the limited traction they provide, especially on wet roads.
I recommend replacing your donut tire after six years of its manufacturing date, even if you didn't use it once. Check the date of manufacture, usually found on the tire sidewall as a four-digit code (e.g., "2218" would mean the tire was manufactured in the 22nd week of 2018), and replace the tire if it is nearing or past its recommended lifespan.
Conclusion: Is Driving on a Donut Tire Worth the Risk?
Using the donut is definitely worth the risk if you ask me. Despite all of its disadvantages, the donut can keep you mobile in situations where you can't afford to stay stationary, which is quite often in today's age where we don't have too much time to spend.
This is especially true if you have kids. I had a puncture on my 2021 Corolla Hatchback the last summer when I went on a holiday in Greece with my wife and little baby girl. My car has a tire repair kit from the factory, which costs almost $90 if you buy it from Toyota. Still, I didn't hesitate to use it because I couldn't stand hearing my baby girl crying, and I wanted a smooth-sailing experience.
It's the same with a donut tire – you will use it if you really need to. However, make sure that you follow my tips on how to get the most out of your donut, as that will also ensure the safety of you and your family. Besides, it might also prolong the life of your tire, saving you some cash.
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.