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A spare tire is probably the last thing you think about until such time as you absolutely need it. When you blow a tire in the middle of a winter night in Ottawa, all you want is for that spare tire to slip on easily and securely so you can get yourself home and out of the cold. 

So it may surprise you to learn that, according to Consumer Reports, about a third of new cars today no longer come with a spare tire. As automotive specialists, it’s a trend that we’re noticing is continuing to increase. 

The reason that’s often cited for this has to do with ever-changing fuel mileage regulations due to government pressure to find increasing opportunities to decrease fuel consumption. And, while dropping the spare tire and jack will save about 40 to 50 pounds, it’s unlikely to help very much with milage. However, it does save the automakers a bunch of upfront costs, which is probably nearer to the reason they’ve been leaving them out.

Now, the good news is that when a car company deletes the spare tire from a particular model, they will most often outfit it with run-flat tires. These rubbers will usually manage to get you safely another 80 kilometres after a puncture, though you do need to keep the speed under 80 kilometres per hour. Automakers have also taken to including a puncture kit with models where they’ve opted out of a spare. While it’s a nice-to-have option, it’s not going to do you much good if the sidewall gets sliced or you end up with a very large puncture. This is why we recommend to any of our clients that have found themself without a spare tire that it’s probably worth making a small investment and buying one for your vehicle. Usually, there is a space ready and waiting in the trunk for it to slide right into. 

Now, whether your vehicle comes with a spare tire or you have to purchase one, it’s worth understanding a little bit more about this essential piece of safety equipment. Especially here in the National Capital Region, where our winters make it very unpleasant to be caught outside waiting for a tow truck. The faster you can swap out a blown tire and keep moving, the better it is for you and all of your passengers. 

Types of Spare Tires

Depending on your vehicle, you may have some choice in what sort of spare tire you can carry. And while there are various benefits to each type, the most important thing is that you have one when you need one! 

A Full-Size Spare Tire

As the name suggests, this is a spare tire that’s the same size as the four other tires on your car. If you drive a Jeep or any other vehicle that prides itself on its off-road prowess, you likely have one of these full-size spares mounted to the back tailgate. The advantage of having a full-size spare is that it’s not a temporary fix. You can swap out the blown tire with the spare tire and continue on your way. Just be sure to get yourself another spare in short order. The other thing to keep in mind with a full-size spare is that they should be worked into your regular tire rotation. By rotating all five tires, you ensure they all wear evenly. Of course, this means, if you’re doing it properly, you should have five winter and five summer tires, adding an additional expense in the tire budget. And, while full-size spares do look cool mounted on the back of your Jeep, they are also the heaviest variety of spare, meaning the least fuel-efficient. Although, Jeeps, in general, aren’t usually known for being easy on the petrol. 

Temporary Full-Size Spare 

While these spares are the same size as your regular tires, the difference is that wheel is only made to get you through to the next service station. Even though it looks like the other four tires, the tread depth is shallower, and rubber compounds are quite a bit lighter. This means you don’t want to be driving on this sort of tire any longer than you have to in an Ottawa winter. Of course, when it’s mounted on the back of the vehicle, it still looks proper, and it’s actually a touch easier to lift and install. You also don’t need to worry about rotating it in with your tires as you would never use this tire for more than 80 kilometres. 

Compact Temporary Spare Tire

These are tires that we affectionately refer to as a donut. Small and pre-inflated, donuts are usually tucked away neatly under the floor of your trunk. They are the perfect little, lightweight, in-case-of-emergency tire that is easy to pull out and pop on at the side of the road. That said, for all their convenience, the donut can be a problem for winter driving here in Ottawa. As these emergency spares are made as a one size fits all solution, they are devoid of any sort of ice gripping treads or flexible winter rubber compounds. For this reason, you don’t want to delay getting to a service station if a puncture has required you to put on the donut, especially in the winter.  

Folding Temporary Spare 

This sort of spare is like a two-step donut and often found in smaller vehicles where space is at a premium. Unlike the donut, the Folding Spare needs to be inflated before it can be used. Depending on the car, this could be by way of an included air compressor or a canister of compressed air. However, much like the donut, this sort of tire is only suitable for short trips to the next service station. And again, getting this tire replaced is extra critical during the winter months. A Folding Spare is not a winter rated tire, and the less time you spend driving on it, the better. 

Spare Tire Safety

No matter what kind of spare tire you have, it’s essential to make it part of your winter maintenance. Even with temporary compact spares, you want to ensure your tire specialist inspects it when putting on your winter tires. As we mentioned above, you don’t want to spend any more time than you need to driving on a donut. However, it can become a lot worse if that donut has deteriorated and is not ready to be deployed in the event of a roadside flat. And, when you get that new tire put on, your automotive technician should double-check that your emergency wheel is still in top shape and ready in the event you have any other tire problems on the road. 

It’s also worth mentioning the importance of having a Winter Emergency Roadside kit. While it’s generally a good idea in the event of a flat tire to make the change and get to a service station, it’s not always possible. If you suspect the spare is not up to the road conditions or it’s not safe for you to change the tire yourself, having the right supplies so you can sit tight and wait for help can make all the difference. 

When Packing your emergency kit, you want to think about it in two parts. First, things for your car, and then supplies for self and passengers.

For your car:

booster cables, windshield washer fluid, lock de-icer, ice scraper, roadside flares or safety triangles, a shovel, and a bag of salt or gravel. 

For Yourself:

water, snacks (nuts or granola bars are great), a blanket, glove and boot warmers, a flashlight, and a portable cellphone charger.

As with your spare tire, it’s always better to have your emergency supplies and never have to use them than to find yourself stuck out in an Ottawa winter, waiting for help, unprepared.

At Sipan Tire and Rims, we take spare tires seriously. Our technicians regularly inspect our client’s spare tires, whether compact little donuts or full-size rotated alternates. If you have questions about your spare tire or want one of our trained professionals to have a look to ensure yours is ready to go as we move into the winter season, give us a call or make an appointment to drop by. We love to talk to shop.