With the summer driving season right around the corner, the arrival of spring makes a great time for a quick spare tire check up. A few minutes now could save you from kicking off vacation or a weekend road trip stuck by the side of the road with a useless spare, or one that can't be removed because the hardware securing it is rusted.
All tires lose pressure over time, which is why we recommend including your spare as part of a monthly tire pressure check. If it's been a while since you last had a look at your spare, chances are it is low or even flat. (See our tire pressure gauge buying advice and Ratings.)
If you drive an SUV, minivan, or pickup with the spare stored under the vehicle, the mounting hardware is probably exposed to the elements, road debris, and corrosive salt from winter roads. Check to make sure any nuts, bolts, brackets, or chains holding it can be loosened, and that you can get the spare out. Penetrating oil can help with stubborn fasteners. Even if the spare is in the trunk, the related hardware used to secure it can be subject to corrosion. Check all fasteners, and pull the tire out to clean any debris or dampness underneath it.
Once you have the tire out, give the tread and sidewall a quick inspection. Don't use a spare with tread worn beyond the wear bars, chunks taken out of the sidewall, or other damage. Ask your mechanic to inspect it if you have any doubts.
Don't forget to check your jack to make sure it is functioning properly, and make sure you have all the pieces and parts you need to use it, along with a lug wrench.
If you've never changed a tire on your present vehicle, consider a dry run in your driveway or other safe place to ensure you're comfortable doing it and have all the necessary components.
Consult your vehicle owner's manual for tire care and instructions for safely changing a tire.
Many new cars use run-flat tires and don't have a spare, or have only a compact or temporary spare. Some just carry a small air compressor or can of aerosol sealant for emergencies. Make sure you know what equipment is on your car, and how to use it. Also be aware of any safety limitations. Run-flats, compact spares, and temporary spares all have distance and speed restrictions. Check your owner's manual for details.
If you have an older vehicle, know that tires effectively expire after a decade, as suggested by many tire manufacturers, even if the tires appear new. Those tires protected from the elements in the trunk, cargo area, or covered on the back will last longer than an exposed tire mounted under the vehicle. Should you plan to hold on to a car much longer, consider replacing the spare with a new tire.
Flats can occur in inconvenient, and even dangerous, locations. Be sure to have an emergency kit when traveling that includes road flares and/or reflective triangles.
The most import tool to have with you may be a charged cell phone, along with a number for roadside assistance, either through the automaker or membership club, like AAA.