How Far Can You Drive On a Donut?

And by donut, we mean spare tire.

A four-way lug wrench sits on a spare tire in the middle of the road.
Depositphotos

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Getting a flat tire is a quick way to ruin even the best of days, but getting stranded might be only part of the problem if you treat the spare tire carelessly. Many modern vehicles have a compact spare, sometimes called a donut, that are designed to help you limp to the next available service station in the event of a flat. “Limp” being the key word here.

Compact spare tires are not designed to be driven on for more than a few dozen miles, and aren’t going to keep you safe driving at highway speeds. You’re busy, we get it, but this isn’t a job to let slide.

After all of that, you probably still have questions about what you can and can’t do with a donut on your car. How fast can you drive? How long can you wait before replacing the tire? The Drive’s team of professionals is here to help you work out the best path forward when you have a flat tire. Stick with us.

What Happens If You Drive On a Donut Too Long?

Your vehicle was designed to work with a specific wheel size. You know, normal sizes like 17 or 18 inches. Your vehicle was not designed to run for an extended period of time on a donut. Doing so can damage other parts, such as the transmission, suspension, and brakes. That’s on top of the fact that donut tires are only meant to take you to the closest tire repair shop, and are nowhere near as durable or safe as a standard tire and wheel.

Is It Ok To Put a Donut On the Front Tire?

It’s a bad idea to drive even a short distance with a donut for a front wheel. Many vehicles weigh more in the front due to the engine being housed there, but the front wheels also do the bulk of the braking, turning, and acceleration. There can be big problems in short order if you drive extended periods of time with a donut on the front wheels.

A man wrenches on lug nuts before installing a spare tire.
Depositphotos

Spare tires are often located in the trunk.

How Long Do Tires Last?

Tires usually come with tread wear ratings and an expected tire mileage, but there are many factors that can cause those numbers to change, sometimes drastically. In general, tires last anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 miles, but driving aggressively, off-roading, and driving over rough roads can shorten that lifespan considerably. Even if you’re not driving that much, tires can still “expire” as the rubbers and materials start to degrade.

Can You Go Faster Than 50 MPH Using a Donut? 

Look, we’re not going to tell you that it’s impossible, but we will tell you that it’s a very bad idea to play Speed Racer with a frail strip of rubber wrapped around a small piece of metal that has been hand-bolted onto your car.

Donut Tire Maintenance

If you’re lucky, you’ll only need to use your donut once or twice over the lifetime of your vehicle. That means your spare will be sitting, alone, in the trunk of your car for quite a while in between uses. A good rule of thumb is to check your spare once a month, but at the very least it’s good to check the tire at least every time you go in for an oil change. If you’ve just purchased the vehicle, check the tire’s tread and inflation to ensure the previous owner or the factory didn’t miss a quality issue with the spare. You’ll want it to be in proper working order when you need it unexpectedly. 

Get Help With Tires and Tire Changes From a Mechanic On JustAnswer

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs.

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

A flat tire sits on brick pavers.
Depositphotos

Don't drive on flat tires, if you can avoid it. 

Pro Tips For Safely Driving On A Donut

We’ve had our fair share of flat tires over the years, and can say confidently that having a blowout doesn’t have to ruin your day. Fooling around with a wimpy spare tire can ruin your day, though, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are some of our tips to get you safely to the tire shop:

  • First, make sure the tire and wheel you removed are stowed safely in your vehicle. The trunk or cargo area are ideal spots
  • Make sure you’ve cranked the lug nuts tight using your body weight. This will ensure the donut stays in place
  • If you’re able, use a smartphone or in-vehicle infotainment system to locate a nearby tire shop. You’re not going to want to road trip with the small spare
  • If it’s at all possible, do not drive more than 70 or so miles on your donut. Its smaller size will cause excess wear on wheel bearings, brakes, and transmission gears. There’s also a much higher chance of a blowout or tire damage because of the spare’s lightweight design
  • Remember that your spare is only meant to get you to the repair shop, so avoid driving over 50 mph to prevent more damage

Featured Products 

Autown Tire Repair Kit

Road Instant Fixes Flat Tire Kit

EPAuto 12-Volt DC Portable Air Compressor Pump

Slime 50107 Smart Spare Emergency Tire Repair Kit

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com