Driving with a Donut – What You Need to Know

Driving with a Donut - What You Need to KnowIf you drive enough, at some point you are going to experience a flat tire. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to drive much to fall victim to a flat. It can be as simple as taking a turn too sharp and running into a curb, popping your tire. If it happens, there are a few important things you are going to want to know about driving with a donut, aka your spare tire.

So can you drive with a donut? Yes, but keep these tips in mind:

  • A donut is not really a spare tire - it's different from your regular tires and is only a temporary fix.
  • Your donut tire is smaller than your regular tires, which affects your driving.
  • Avoid high speeds when you are on a donut and head to the shop to get a proper new tire.

This is it in a nutshell, but there is a lot to know about using a donut if you have a flat. Keep reading for all the details, as we'll explore the difference between a donut and a regular tire, why they're there and how to overcome them.

Is There a Difference Between a Spare Tire and a Donut?

My Honda Donut | Photo by frankieleon

Yes. A real spare tire can be found with certain car models but it's relatively rare. This is just an extra tire, it is the same size and width as the other tires on the car. Having a spare tire essentially just means that you have 5 tires. If you get your tires rotated regularly, for example, you can also rotate the 5th tire to increase the duration of the tires. You can proceed as usual when you are driving on a spare, making no adjustments to the way you are operating your vehicle.

Donuts are completely different. These are temporary tires and they are a lot smaller than standard, full-size tires. As soon as you put on a donut, the clock is ticking. You will want to replace that as soon as you can with a full-size tire.

Make sure that you are only traveling short distances on a donut and not going for a big trip. You will want to avoid the highway completely if you can, driving at high speeds on a donut can be quite dangerous and do damage to the vehicle.

You will want to get the donut looked at every now and then even if you have never used it. Sometimes it runs out of air. Also, if you leave it in your trunk for too many years the rubber might become hard. In that case, replace the donut because if you try to use it the tire might burst. If that happens the issue that you are going to have will be a lot worse than a simple flat tire.

Why is the Donut Smaller?

The main reason is money. When providing you with a donut, the manufacturer is giving you a temporary solution that costs them around 20% of the cost of a real tire. This allows them to push down prices by dozens of dollars at the time of purchasing the vehicle.

Also, the donut is intended to take up less space than a full-size tire when placed in the bottom of the trunk. Car companies are always looking for ways to reduce the weight of their vehicles, even if only by a few pounds. They hope that this will improve the car’s performance and efficiency. Putting a smaller tire in the trunk saves them a few pounds overall.

The smaller, lighter wheel might not perform nearly as well on the road, it makes it a lot easier for people to install them when they need to.

Do all cars come with a donut or a spare?

No. Many new cars don't have any spare tire, of any kind. Instead, they come with a kit that helps you apply a temporary fix to your flat and inflate it back to the point where you can use it the same way you'd use a donut. This trend started with electric vehicles, where the place taken up by a spare - or even the smaller donut - was needed for the large battery. Since this is also a cheaper solution, it's something more and more manufacturers are turning to.

What Happens if You Drive Too Fast On A Donut?

Removing a flat front tire. Putting on donut | Photo by Jen Russo

Generally speaking, you want to keep your speed under 50 miles per hour if you are driving on a donut. Now, if you happen to drive over that, the wheel probably won’t blow up or fly off the car, but it is still dangerous.

When the car is on a donut, the entire metrics of the vehicle are off. Cars are built with precision, and everything needs to be balanced in a certain way. Driving on a smaller tire is bad for so many aspects of the vehicle. It can damage the vehicle for one thing, but it can also throw you off as a driver. You won’t be used to the dynamics of a car and that could put you in danger.

With that being said, the car is not in a good position and you are not going to be able to have perfect control over it...you can see why driving fast could lead to a bad outcome.

What Happens if You Drive Over 50 mph on a Donut?

Driving over 50 is going to reduce the lifespan of the tire even more than it already is. Most donuts are designed to take you a total distance of about 100 miles. If you are driving fast, over 50 miles per hour, for example, you will cut that lifespan down to about 50 miles or maybe even less.

Can you Drive 70 mph on a Spare Tire?

This goes back to the earlier part of the article. If it is a full-size spare than driving 70 mph is no problem, so long as that is the speed limit.

If your spare tire is a donut, then you absolutely should not drive 70 mph. Donuts are relatively safe for temporary use but at that speed, they are not.

Can I Drive on the Freeway with a Spare Tire?

If you are on a full-size spare then you have no reason to stay away from the highway. You may drive the same way you do with your regular tires.

If you are on a donut, you should stay away from the freeway. Some people are unable to stay away from the freeway, which is understandable. If that is the case, you will want to explore alternative routes throughout the duration of your donut experience.

If you absolutely need to use the freeway, then you ought to get a new tire as soon as you possibly can. The more time you spend on the freeway, the more dangerous it is for you and the more harmful it is to your car. When driving on the highway, stick to the right lane and use your emergency lights to indicate that you are driving more slowly than other vehicles.

Can You Drive on a Donut for a Week?

Well, yes you can but only if you are not driving much.

As has been mentioned, these tires are intended to go for about 50 to 100 miles, that’s it. If you are only to be driving a minimal amount during the particular week where you have a donut, then that should be no problem.

However, if you drive 30 miles to and from work every day, no you cannot drive on a donut for a week.

Can You Drive with a Donut on the Front?

There are several reasons why you do not want to put that smaller spare tire on the front of the car.

For one thing, plenty of cars are heavier in the front than they are in the rear. You do not want the donut to be supporting the larger proportion of the weight of the vehicle.

Since the donut is smaller, putting it in the front is going to impact two things pretty dramatically: braking and handling. Most of the time, the front tires are doing most of the work in terms of braking. It makes sense, what happens to the car when you slam on the brakes? It leans forward. Plus, braking relies heavily on the surface area of the tires. Donuts have about half the surface area as regular tires.

With the handling, the smaller wheel is going to mean that one tire is turning more sharply than the other. This is going to make things pretty awkward in terms of maneuvering your vehicle. Also, the alignment will no longer be lined up and so the car will veer on its own.

Plenty of cars are front-wheel drive, and so the power is being generated by the two front tires. Losing that much surface area from one of the two front tires is going to mean the car will generate less power and less acceleration.

Finally, since the front tires do all of these things that the back tires do not, you are way more likely to do serious damage to the hardware underneath the car if you drive on a donut in the front.

Can a Donut Tire go Flat?

Of course a donut tire can go flat. It is still a tire. This is why it is important to regularly inspect your donut tire. Many people will go years without even thinking to look at their donut to ensure that it is in good condition. Then, when they pop their tire and they actually need it, they take it out of the trunk to find that it is flat!

How Long do Spare Tires Last?

Full-size spares, sometimes referred to as ‘5th tires’, are going to last as long as standard tires.

Generally speaking, donuts are only intended to last between 50 miles and 70 miles, with an absolute upper range of 100 miles. As for how long they last inside your car, most last between 7 and 10 years.

In terms of how long they last in your trunk, and when you will need to start thinking about a replacement, that depends on the vehicle. You do not need to check on your donut every three months to make sure the rubber is okay and the tire is still filled with air. However, it would probably be a smart idea to check on the donut once a year or so to ensure that everything is in order.

How Much Does a Donut Cost?

Honda Fit donut | Photo by Paul Sullivan

Eventually, if you have your car for long enough, you are going to need to replace the donut.

The prices vary and some donuts are made better than others, but for the most part you are going to see prices that range from $50 to $100. That is just for the tire, but every car comes with a spare tire kit. The kit includes a wrench that will allow you to get the bolts off the tire. It also includes a device that will allow you to lift the car. If you need to replace the entire kit, that will be more like $250.

In Conclusion

If it’s ever an option you are going to want to get a regular, full-size spare tire in your trunk. Unfortunately, this is an option that is only available with certain vehicles. Otherwise, you are going to be stuck with a donut.

Now, the donut is good for what it is intended to be: a temporary solution. Some people will put on a donut and they will go for a month before they get it replaced. Perhaps it is a money issue, and that can happen. But here’s the thing, if you avoid spending the money for a new tire and you continue to use a donut, you are going to damage the car. The repairs that you will need to make if you want to fix the issues that were created by the donut will cost a lot more than a new tire.

If you need to use a donut, try to put yourself in a situation where you can put it on the back of the car. This might mean that you need to take one of the back tires and move it to the front. It is a worthwhile investment of your time because it is so much less harmful to put a donut on the back of your car.

Once the donut is on the car, drive as carefully as you can. The highway is not your friend, you should stay away at all costs if you can. If you really need to go on the highway, stay in the right lane and try to stick to about 50 miles per hour.

Be sure that you are keeping an eye on your donut from time to time to ensure that it doesn’t become flat or the rubber isn’t hard. If you need to replace a donut, it is not too expensive to do so but good maintenance could mean that you avoid that expense. And remember, when in doubt, always consult a qualified professional!

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