What Is a Spare Tire?

A spare tire is an additional tire carried in a vehicle as a backup for flat or damaged tires.

The concept of the spare tire emerged in 1904, invented by Walter and Tom Davies in Wales. Their innovation aimed to simplify the tedious process of tire repair. Originally mounted on the vehicle’s side, spare tires later found a place in the car’s trunk.

During the early 1900s, some cars even featured dual side-mounted spares. Notably, during World War II in 1941, the U.S. government temporarily banned spare tires in new cars to conserve rubber​​​​.

Types of Spare Tires

There are several types of spare tires, each with unique characteristics:

  1. Full-Size Matching Spare Tire: This is an identical fifth tire to the existing set. It offers aesthetic consistency and doesn’t require immediate replacement after a tire incident. However, it needs significant storage space and involves purchasing five tires instead of four during replacements​​.
  2. Full-Size Non-Matching Spare Tire: This full-size spare doesn’t match the other tires. It provides more flexibility than a matching spare but may not aesthetically align with the other tires and wheels. It also requires as much storage space as a full-size matching spare​​.
  3. Compact Temporary Spare Tire: Known for its lightweight and shallow tread, this spare requires high inflation pressure (around 60 psi) and less storage space.
  4. Folding Temporary Spare Tire: This is an inflatable or collapsible tire. It takes up minimal storage space. However, it’s more complex to use as it requires inflation before usage and is meant for specific operations​​.

How to Perform Spare Tire Installation?

Installing a spare tire involves several steps:

  1. Check that the spare tire is properly inflated. If you have inflated your spare tire to maximum pressure, make sure to first deflate the tire to the recommended pressure. You can use a tire pressure gauge for this purpose.
  2. Look for any damages or punctures on the spare tire.
  3. Retrieve the jack and lug wrench from your vehicle.
  4. Before lifting the vehicle, use the lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts on the flat tire. Turn them counterclockwise but don’t remove them completely yet.
  5. Place the jack under the vehicle at the designated jack point (refer to your vehicle’s manual). Jack up the car until the flat tire is off the ground.
  6. Fully unscrew the lug nuts and remove them. Carefully pull the flat tire off the car.
  7. Align the spare tire with the wheel studs and slide it into place. Screw the lug nuts on by hand at first to ensure proper alignment.
  8. Use the lug wrench to tighten the lug nuts, but don’t fully tighten them yet.
  9. Carefully lower the vehicle back to the ground using the jack and then remove the jack.
  10. Once the car is fully lowered, tight the lug nuts in a star pattern to ensure even distribution. This is important for the balance of the tire.
  11. Again check the tire air pressure and make sure it is inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

Remember that you should use other spare tires, except for a full-size matching spare, only temporarily to safely reach a service station. Also, follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding speed and driving distance.

Pros and Cons of Spare Tire

Pros

  • A full-size matching spare maintains vehicle aesthetics and allows for immediate continued use without needing an urgent tire replacement​​.
  • A compact spare tire is lightweight, easy to install, and occupies less trunk space, improving fuel efficiency​​.
  • Full-size spares offer flexibility in not having to immediately visit a repair shop​​.

Cons

  • Full-size spares demand significant storage space in the vehicle​​.
  • Compact spares might impair vehicle features like ABS, traction control, and speedometer operation, and are only for limited use​​.
  • Folding spares are more complex to use as they require inflation before being operational​.

Safety and Maintenance Tips for Spare Tire

To ensure the safety and longevity of your spare tire, follow these guidelines:

  1. Choose the Right Storage Location: The ideal storage area for spare tires is cool, dry, and well-ventilated. Avoid places with extreme temperatures, humidity, or direct sunlight, as these can deteriorate the tire rubber​​.
  2. Clean and Prepare the Tires: Before storing, remove dirt, debris, or contaminants. Inspect for damage or wear, and replace the tire if necessary. Clean with mild detergent and rinse well. Ensure the tire is completely dry to prevent mold and mildew​​.
  3. Proper Storage Techniques: Store tires upright, not stacked, to avoid deformation. Use a tire rack or system to prevent flat spots and uneven wear. If a rack is unavailable, store tires on their sides but rotate them periodically​​.
  4. Regular Inspection and Maintenance: Periodically inspect for damage, maintain correct tire pressure, rotate tires to prevent flat spots, and keep them clean from dirt and debris​​.

What Is the Alternative to Spare Tire?

Alternatives to spare tires include:

  1. Run-Flat Tires: These tires have reinforced sidewalls. You can use them even with punctures and when they are flat. They eliminate the need for a spare tire but may wear out faster and are more expensive to replace​​.
  2. Tire Repair Kits: These kits contain a sealant and a portable air compressor. They are useful for minor punctures but not for major tire damage​​.

Spare Tire vs Run-Flat Tires: Which Option Is Better?

Spare Tires

  • Can be driven at normal speeds.
  • Require space for storage.
  • Need to be changed at the roadside, which can be risky​​.

Run-Flat Tires

  • Allow driving for a certain distance even when punctured.
  • Eliminate the need for changing tires at the roadside.
  • Wear out faster and are costlier to replace.

Does Every Car Come with a Spare Tire?

No, not every car comes with a spare tire. Many new cars come with alternatives such as a temporary (donut) spare tire, a sealant kit, a compressor, or run-flat tires instead of a full-size spare. This trend is influenced by factors like fuel economy and efficiency.

In recent years, about 10% of cars included a full-sized spare, while around 60% had a temporary spare. Nearly one-third of new model year vehicles didn’t come with a spare tire​​​​​​​​​​.

Is a Spare Tire the Same As a Regular Tire?

A spare tire is typically not the same as the regular tires on your vehicle, except in some cases where a full-size matching spare is provided. Most spare tires are either full-size non-matching or compact spares and have significant differences from regular tires.

These differences include overall height and width, wheel or rim material, and tread depth. The spare tire is for short-term, emergency use only. Its specifications tailor it to save space in your vehicle and provide a temporary mobility solution until you can repair or replace the damaged regular tire.

How Long Can I Drive On a Donut Spare Tire?

You should only use a donut spare tire for a short duration. The general recommendation is not to exceed 50-70 miles and to keep your speed below 50 mph when using a donut spare. This restriction is due to the donut spare’s limited durability and unsuitability for high-speed performance.

Donut tires are intended as a temporary solution to get you to a service shop for tire repair or replacement. Exceeding these limits can lead to excessive wear on the wheel and potentially cause damage to other car parts.

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