"Expecting the unexpected" is part of being a safe driver and a smart car owner. Other drivers are going to do things you never imagined, road conditions will surprise you, and tires will go flat. With a little preparation, though, a flat tire doesn't have to mean waiting for a tow truck to come to your rescue. If you can "spare" a moment, read on for everything you need to know about spare tires, including the difference between a full-size spare and a compact spare, plus what your other options are, like flat tire repair kits or a set of innovative run-flat tires.
The Long-Term Solution: A Full-Size Spare Tire
Having a full-size spare means buying a set of five tires for your car, instead of four, so you have a normal tire ready to go if something happens. The major advantage to having a full-size spare is that it’s not a temporary fix. You can put on a full-size spare to replace the flat and continue with your day.
However, keeping a full-size spare in your car does require having the space to store it. And ideally, you'd rotate the full-size spare into your scheduled tire rotation so that it wears in the same way and at the same rate as your other tires. This can reduce strain on your car and help ensure balanced handling when/if that tire is promoted to a permanent position!
When you check the tire pressure and condition of your other tires, you'll want to check your full-size spare too. After all, it could be put into rotation as soon as your next trip to the grocery store!
The Emergency Fix: A Compact/Donut Spare
A compact (or donut) spare is a lightweight, special purpose tire that's meant to save the day when one of your everyday tires calls it quits. The biggest advantage to using a compact spare is in the name: it’s compact! You don’t need to devote an excess amount of trunk space to it and it won’t weigh your car down.
However, this type of spare tire is a temporary fix. It's only designed to be driven a certain number of miles at lower speeds, and doesn't have sufficient tread depth to perform well when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Like full-size spares, compact spares need to be checked for proper inflation as often as your everyday tires. Replacing one flat tire with another one won't do you much good!
The Quick Fix: Flat Tire Repair Kits
A flat tire repair kit is a tempting alternative to a full-size or compact spare since a kit generally costs less and takes up less space. From tire sealants to plugs and patches, these kits use a variety of methods to repair the “problem area” without having to replace the tire on-the-spot.
Like compact spares, flat tire repair kits are short-lived fixes. Kits vary in what they include, but most pump a sealant into the flat tire through the tire's air inflation valve, plugging punctures from the inside. Tire sealant kits can help repair small holes and even re-inflate a flat tire, but only to a certain degree.
"No attempt should be made to repair a hole larger than 6 mm in diameter or a cut or hole in a sidewall," writes Consumer Reports. And if you use a tire sealant, "you should get the tire professionally repaired or replaced as quickly as possible."
Even though you'll still need to replace the flat tire with a full-size tire, a repair kit is a handy solution for helping you reach your nearest tire shop in a pinch!
The High-Tech Route: Run-Flat Tires
DriveGuard tires fall into the category of "run flat tires" and are an impressive alternative to traditional spare tires. Unlike other flat tire solutions, this one helps ensure that you won’t be stuck on the side of the road changing a tire, repairing a leak, or waiting for a tow truck.
Thanks to DriveGuard's run-flat technology of high-tech cooling fins and reinforced sidewalls, these tires can be driven up to 50 miles at 50 mph after being punctured, even after a complete air loss. Unlike many other run-flat tires, DriveGuard tires handle smoothly, provide grip in sharp turns (without screeching), and drive quietly and comfortably—all thanks to their advanced technology.
Plus, they're just plain convenient. After Consumer Reports installed DriveGuard tires on a 2010 Chevrolet Cruze to test the tires' run-flat capabilities, they wrote that "In all, the tire worked well and seems like the perfect choice for anyone who doesn't want to change a tire on the side of the road." If that sounds like you, DriveGuard tires could be your perfect spare tire alternative!
Take Care to Be Spare Aware
Whether you’re carting the kids to soccer or heading out for a visit to grandma’s house, your family deserves a smooth, safe ride. When the road throws an unexpected bump your way, be prepared with the flat tire solution that's right for your DIY comfort level and driving style, whether it's a full-size spare, compact spare, flat tire repair kit, or set of run-flat tires. Visit your nearest Firestone Complete Auto Care to learn more about flat tire fixes, Bridgestone's DriveGuard tire, or to get your flat tire repaired—fast. When you're ready, you can even buy tires online and schedule an installation appointment online!