How Long Can You Drive on a Spare Tire? (Answered!)


My tire recently blew out while I was driving on the highway. I pulled to the side and changed it with a spare tire. However, as I was driving, I wasn’t seeing any repair shops.

So, I was wondering how long can you drive on a spare tire? Is there a speed and length limit on how much you can drive with a spare tire?

Eager to find out, I pulled to the side of the road and started my research. Here is what I found out:

How Long Can You Drive on a Spare Tire?

How Long Can You Drive on a Spare Tire

How long can you drive on a spare tire? Spare tires are intended to help you get to the nearest shop for a replacement and not to be driven long-term. Generally, spare tires should not be driven more than 50-70 miles, and speeds should not exceed 50 miles per hour.  

The reason behind this is that a spare tire is typically much smaller than the standard tires on a vehicle. So, when you drive with a spare tire, that tire is under increased load compared to the other tires.

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Driving too fast on a spare tire is more likely to lead to a sudden blowout. 

The spare tire has less tread and likely has a different tread pattern than the tire you are replacing it with. It simply does not have the durability your other tires do.

This is why it is strongly advised to only drive on the spare tire to get to a repair shop. There you can either fix or replace the original tire.

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Types of Spare Tires and How Long You Can Drive on Each 

While the above describes spare tires in general, there are various types of spare tires used in today’s vehicles. 

Full-Size Matching Spare Tire

Full-Size Matching Spare Tire

This type of spare tire can actually be used just like a regular tire, so it can be driven at normal speeds and for the length of time you would expect the original tire to last.

A full-size matching spare tire is most often found in trucks and SUVs. They obviously provide the advantage of a spare tire that functions as an actual replacement tire. However, the downside is the added weight and space taken up to store this tire.

An important caveat is that these tires are replacements for the original tires installed on the vehicle from the factory.

If you have replaced tires and are not running the original specifications from the factory (for example, maybe you have modified the vehicle and swapped out the wheels and tires, fitted larger tires, exchanged all-season tires for summer tires or vice versa, etc.), the spare tire could actually be a hindrance if used long-term. 

If your vehicle has the same tires from the factory or if replaced, the same specifications and tread pattern as the original tires, the full-size matching spare tire can be used as a replacement tire.

You can have a shop mount the spare tire on the wheel that had the flat/damage and use it normally.

If the tires are different from the factory set up, however, you will want to replace the full-size matching spare with a tire that matches the other three you have on your vehicle for optimal performance, safety, and efficiency.

Get a new spare tire here.

Full-Size Non-Matching Spare Tire

A full-size non-matching spare tire does not match the other three tires, even if full-sized. It cannot be driven indefinitely and should be taken to the nearest repair shop rather than used as a substitute. 

This is because mismatched tires can lead to issues like uneven wear. This can put a strain on your suspension, pull your car out of alignment, etc. It also impacts braking, which is both a wear and tear and safety concern. 

To avoid damaging components of your vehicle as well as reducing the overall safety of driving it, non-matched full-sized spare tires ought to be replaced with a matching tire as soon as possible. 

Full-Size Temporary Spare Tire

The full-size temporary spare tire should be driven just like a typical spare tire: Drive to the nearest repair shop, drive cautiously, and do not drive fast.

The temporary designation of this tire indicates that it has less tread than a regular tire.

This reduces the longevity of the tire, and can also lead to problems on the road. For example, the tire will not perform as well on rough pavement as a tire with more tread.

This can make it harder to control the vehicle. This is why you should drive slowly while running a temporary spare and minimize the total distance traveled on it. 

Compact Temporary Spare Tire

The compact temporary spare tire matches the idea of a spare tire that most often comes to mind. These types of tires should be driven a maximum of 50-70 miles. Ideally, you would not necessarily drive that far, either.

The compact temporary spare tire is smaller in diameter and overall width. It has reduced tread compared to the standard tires mounted on the vehicle.

Compact temporary spare tires save space and weight in the vehicle’s trunk. However, they are truly only intended for short trips to get another tire mounted on as soon as possible. 

Folding Temporary Spare Tire

Like the majority of spare tires, the folding temporary spare tire should only be driven to the nearest repair shop to be replaced. Follow the general rule of thumb of 50-70 miles. 

A folding temporary spare tire is one that is not kept inflated. Before installing, you have to inflate the tire yourself.

This means you will also need to have a device to inflate the tire before using it.

This type of tire is also going to be more compact and save space. But, there is the added step of having to actually inflate it. 

Is it Safe to Drive on a Spare Tire?

Is it safe to drive on a spare tire? It is safe to drive short distances at reduced speed on a spare tire. However, it is not safe to replace your original tire with a spare tire that does not match the other three and drive as usual. 

You should not substitute a full-sized tire with a spare tire for your everyday driving needs. This is because of chances of a blowout are increased and you are limited in the top speeds you can safely reach.

Also, using a spare tire extensively can damage the vehicle, including the suspension and transmission. 

Even when full-sized (with the exception of full-sized matching spares, which essentially function as the 5th tire for your vehicle), the tire will have reduced tread. Other spares are smaller and pose their own hazards.

The danger of spare tires comes with ignoring recommendations on top speeds and driving distances.

Your vehicle owner’s manual should have details about the spare included. Also, information can also be found on the spare tire itself.

If your spare tire has a warning that speeds should not exceed 50 miles per hour, do not go over said speed.

The warning is there because the spare tire is under increased load relative to the other tires and is more likely to blow out.

Additionally, the spare tire will result in a poorer handling experience; it will be harder to control the vehicle on a spare, so driving more slowly will help mitigate this problem. 

The reduced tread poses a hazard both in terms of how long the tire will last and overall handling.

Tread depth and patterns are important, they help your vehicle traverse surfaces easily, whip away rainwater, etc.

The spare tire cannot do this as effectively and will simply wear out faster than the original tire.

Try to drive, if possible, on smooth roads to get to the nearest repair shop. 

What Happens If You Drive on a Spare Tire Too Long? 

What happens if you drive on a spare tire too long? If driven on too long, the spare tire will leave you in the same situation that necessitated the tire in the first place.

You will be stuck somewhere on the side of the road when the spare tire eventually fails.

Additionally, you might sustain damage to your vehicle from prolonged use of the spare tire. 

Two potential sources of damage lie in the suspension and transmission. It might be fairly obvious how the smaller spare tire would put a strain on the suspension, such as causing the vehicle to lean toward the smaller tire. However, the transmission problem deserves further explanation. 

The transmission damage concern really involves two components: the transmission itself as well as the differential.

The differential controls the spinning rates of your tires, with the same number of rotations in a straight line and alternating the speeds as needed in turns.

However, the spare tire, being smaller, will need to rotate at a different rate than the other tires even in a straight line, which is hard on the differential.

This can cause wear of the differential itself, such as metal being shaved off and accumulating in the fluid contained within it, or overheating and damaging the fluid. 

This same fluid is used in the transmission, and if contaminated, can lead to transmission damage or failure. This is why a spare tire ought to only be used for carefully and slowly driven trips to the nearest repair shop. It shouldn’t be used as an actual replacement for the original tire. 

In other words, not only can driving too long on a spare pose the safety hazard of a blowout on the road, leading to an accident at worst or pulling over to the side of the road and being stuck at best, there is also the risk of sustaining serious damage to the vehicle.

Transmissions are expensive. They cost a lot in terms of just buying the transmission. Then there is the paying for the expert. Also, extensive labor is involved in pulling the old one to insert the replacement.

Often, owners sell or trade-in their vehicles when a transmission failure occurs. They rather not invest the thousands of dollars needed to replace them.

Can I Reuse a Spare Tire? 

Yes, as long as it has not already been used for long distances or improperly. For example, if you had a flat, threw the spare on, and drove it 5 miles to get replaced, you can reuse it. If, on the other hand, you had to drive 50 miles before getting it replaced, you are better off not reusing the spare. 

Also, be sure to inspect the spare tire prior to reuse. If the tread is worn, do not reuse it. Be sure it is still inflated properly before reusing as well. 

Can You Leave a Spare Tire on Overnight? 

Yes, a spare tire can be left on a vehicle overnight. This short period of time is not enough to cause damage to the car’s suspension or the tire itself while it sits idle. If you cannot get to a repair shop and need to park the car but already installed the spare tire, rest assured that it will be perfectly fine to let it sit until the next day. 

Be sure to take into consideration the context, however! If the car is on the side of a highway, make sure the vehicle is parked off the road.

If you have safety cones, set them out to help alert other drivers that your car is parked there. 

How Fast Can You Go on a Spare Tire?

How fast can you go on a spare tire? 50 miles per hour is the maximum speed you should drive when on a spare tire. Please note that simply because the tire’s sidewall has a warning stating not to exceed 50 miles per hour. This does not mean it is a good idea to maintain a speed of 50 miles per hour!

For example, if you are traveling along a road full of potholes and other uneven surfaces, it is much better to drive more slowly than you would without a spare tire (if you would normally go 30, for example, consider going down to 25, 20, or even slower). 

The goal of a spare tire is to safely transport your vehicle to get repaired. There is no reason to push the limits of the spare tire, and doing so is unlikely to be an enjoyable process, as the vehicle’s handling is negatively impacted by the spare tire.

Instead, go slowly, try to keep the car straight, and get to your destination without problems. 

Is it Better to Have a Spare Tire on the Front or Back? 

It is better to have a spare tire on the back of a vehicle than the front. The reason for this is that the front of the vehicle usually weighs more (with the exception of the rare rear-engine vehicles, most engines are located in the front) than the back, meaning a spare tire will be put under even more strain if placed in the front than the back.

It also reduces your braking effectiveness because most braking work is done in the front.

This means that if you have a flat in the front, the ideal course of action would be to take one of your rear wheels off and put it on the front and put the spare tire in the rear.

Many vehicles have identical tires all around, making this an easy fix. It is no different than rotating the tires, essentially. 

If you are not able to put a spare tire in the rear and have to use the front, be sure to maintain caution and only drive very short distances.

If you can get to the repair shop in a mile, it is likely to be fine to use the spare in the front.

However, If you have to travel much further, it becomes even riskier. The spare is going to be strained and your handling with be worse than it would be if the spare were in the rear. 

In Conclusion

With the exception of full-sized matching spare tires, it is advised to replace a spare tire as soon as possible. Make sure to limit speeds (not over 50 miles per hour), and distances driven (up to 50-70 miles generally).

It is not safe to use a spare tire as a long-term replacement. However, it is safe to carefully drive on one to get to a repair shop.

Carefully means adhering to the recommendations on speed and distance to avoid a blowout, accident, and/or damage to the vehicle.

Note that serious damage to your vehicle’s suspension and even transmission failure are possible outcomes of driving too long on a spare tire.

If you have to leave the spare on overnight, this is safe to do provided the vehicle is parked in a safe location.

It is also okay to reuse a spare tire if it has been used for only a few miles and has not sustained damage.

Be sure to visually inspect a spare tire prior to installation (even if it is the first time you are using it) for damage, tread wear, and inflation levels. 

Try to only use the spare tire in the rear of the vehicle if at all possible. This way you minimize the potential for damage and make the vehicle easier to drive overall. 

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Hi there. I am a certified Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) mechanic since 2018 and a car detailer for 10 years.

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