By on March 15, 2013

The car companies say that those little “donut” spares shouldn’t be driven at highway speed, and that they shouldn’t be driven for long distances… but they also say that you shouldn’t use a Vise-Grip as a steering wheel! Just the other day, I watched a Mazda 323 with two space-saver spares (on the left side, of course) dicing with a tippy-looking Wrangler at 105 MPH on I-25 in Denver, and I remembered this A6 with three not-so-high-speed-rated wheels, spotted during the coldest Half Price Junkyard Day I’ve ever experienced. Let’s admire it!
This ’97 Audi A6 was once a pricey, sporty sedan, and the engineers that designed its suspension almost certainly debated the benefits of various tire sizes in meeting after meeting. Hell with that, said the car’s final owner, I’ve got a whole set of perfectly good wheels and tires that will save me a couple hundred bucks over some Dae Yung Radical Radials!
We’ll never know if this Audi was shod in a complete set of space-savers, because one corner of the car was wheel-less. It was too snowy for me to check for the other sign of imminent junkyard residence— many Little Tree air fresheners— but I’m sure there was at least one New Car Scent tree in there.
So what’s worse: this car on three or four space-savers, or a 1973 Buick Century Luxus wagon with just one?

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38 Comments on “Clues That a Car Is Junkyard Bound, Part XI: The Space-Saver Spare...”

  • avatar

    I’m guessing there were four space savers and the car had custom wheels or the stock wheels and tires on it were still so nice that they took them off before sending it to the yard.

    • 0 avatar

      I was about to say the same. The last time I went to the yard, I encountered a Dodge Daytona with angle iron bolted in place where struts used to be. People will go to great lengths to make things as easy as possible for the flatbed driver (you don’t get the full $3-400 from the JY for an incomplete car. A donut spare counts as a wheel.

      I have a fun story about donut spares. I took my highly modified 240sx on a road trip from Chicago to Florida one winter. I soon discovered from the unusual long drive in this car that the alignment was shot. As soon as I passed through “The tail of the dragon” on the way back, the front tires started to complain and shed parts. It was late on Sunday, no tire shops were open, and I had to get to work the next day. So I limped it down the highway with the right front accurately sounding which layers were being stripped off. Due to the stiff and lowered suspension, and low profile tires, the likelihood of loss of control from a blowout at 50mph was minimal. It was actually pretty funny.

      After passing Indianapolis, a hole wore through without drama, and I limped into a gas station. I put the donut spare on and discovered that the frame was on the ground. Then a tornado came…really. In the swirling debris, I adjusted the coilover to raise that corner, and got the hell out of there. Since the car had a widebody modification, the small black wheel at night made it appear that it was missing entirely. I got a lot of stares. Made it back to Chicago by aiming the right tire at snowy patches to conserve rubber. That part was actually scary, but there wasn’t anybody else around for me to take to the grave at 4am. By the time I got it home, the donut was down to the steel, and a softball sized wad of rubber was in the wheel well.

      I’m waiting for Part XII: The sagging headliner.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. When I sent my Omni to the junkman, I had taken off all of the tires. The guy who hauled it away had two mini-spares that he installed for the final journey. One had a different hole pattern, so out came the 5 lb hammer and the studs on the car were “moved” slightly to accomodate the tire.

  • avatar

    Long before Dae Yung Radical Radials showed up to these shores – someone imported bicycle tires into the US from Dae Yung Chemical. When asked by the guy behind the counter at the bike shop what price range tire were you willing to spring for, it was fun to reply with – “I want a Dae Yung.” –

    You know space saver donuts usually come out of the trunk looking pristine. Where I live, the owners of the older Mazda 626 are prime offenders with regards to driving on a space saver spare that looks to have been worked hard for more than a few weeks.

  • avatar

    I’ve always wanted to see a road test of a car with 4 space-saver tires on it, compared to standard tires.

    • 0 avatar

      Video Option or Drift Tengoku took a bunch of Pro Drifters, made them put donut spares on their 600hp+ cars, and had them try to drift a course in the rain.

      The results were very entertaining.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember seeing this video a while back by DriveTV where they took a ridiculously powerful AMG Benz and replaced the stock rubber with space-savers. Pretty entertaining. Includes some pretty questionable math (I’m no mathematician…) regarding the size of the contact patch–reducing the contact patch to 1/4 of it’s original size effectively quadruples the perceived power to the road in terms of grip…or something.

      I looked up the link for you:

  • avatar

    I helped a stranger who drove her econobox home ON A FLAT 2 MILES so her son could help change the tire with their space saver. After watching them struggle for about 20 minutes, I walked over & asked if they needed help.

    The son (late teens, early 20’s) told me “I think I got it…”. I then asked him if they had checked the air pressure. The lady asked me “isn’t it filled from the factory with the correct amount of air?” I said “Maybe…but when did you buy the car?” She told me the car was 9 years old, and that she’d never used the spare before.

    I asked her if she had any way to fill the tire and she said no. I asked her if she had any way to check the tire pressure, and she said no. I asked her if she knew what the tire pressure should be, and she said no.

    So I checked the pressure & added air after I got my portable, battery powered inflator and filled it to the recommended 60 pounds and told her NOT to go more than 50mph on it and to buy 2 new tires at the same time. She said she’d take it to the dealership the next day (Saturday).

    I now understand why some manufacturers no longer include spares — because PEOPLE DON’T KNOW HOW TO CHANGE A TIRE, MEASURE THE AIR IN IT, AND FILL IT APPROPRIATELY.


    • 0 avatar

      IIRC BMW now includes a can of Fix-A-Flat, and they have a red button up by the rear view mirror that you can push to call roadside assistance.

      Maybe that’s an acceptable solution for a dainty Sex in the City type who ventures past the high-end shops. But can you imagine losing a tire on I-80 in the middle of nowhere at 3 AM. No spare tire. No phone service. That can of Fix-A-Flat won’t save you now.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Ahhhh, the first car purchase I made after college. All the other cars I had owned were hand-me-downs except the 1987 Sentra I bought as a second car for winter mode.

    I was on my way to the uppity used car dealer to pick up the ’97 328i I had been test driving and lusting after for about 3 weeks. I pulled up and see it sitting awkwardly in front of the showroom. My sales guy comes out and announces it had just sold. I was crestfallen. So I take a quick glance around the lot to see what else they had and I spotted a silver ’97 Audi A6 Quattro. I bought it and it was my daily driver for about 3 years.

    It was, without a doubt, the least reliable car I’ve ever known. The list of things that broke was staggering. It was slow, heavy, got bad MPG, and the headlights were useless (when they actually worked) in the rain/snow.

    Murilee mentioned the meetings for wheel sizes, I had 17″ 5 spoke optional wheels. The ride height made it look like a 4×4 – very Eagle Wagon-like. I put 2″ lowering springs on it and it looked like a normal car, but rubbed a bit on the inner front spring perch.

    It has made me never want to buy another Euro car, and I haven’t. It lost me $10,000 in depreciation in 3 years. But, God how I loved AWD. It saved my butt several times. And it made it certain that I would one day own a Subaru Legacy GT wagon.

    And I do, so thanks crappy Audi!

  • avatar

    That was the best pearl color. My 90S was that color!

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The only thing worse than a donut is a non speed rated donut. Case in pont, last August we loaded up the Oddy and drove our son and his gear to his apartment near the University of Pittsburgh. As bad luck would have it, the passenger side front tire failed at the side wall while it was parked overnight. I whipped out the donut spare and pumped it up with my inflator expecting to make the 300 mile trip home until I saw the lettering on the sidewall stating “not to exceed 45 mph” which rendered the tire useless for my needs. Luckily, we found a Goodyear shop that was open, and got an identical replacement tire.
    While the donut did not solve the problem by iteself, it enabled me to get to the tire shop.

  • avatar

    Once witnessed a 97ish Z28 Camaro driving down the road on 4 donuts. I think it had an R plate on, so it was probably being moved to another shop or something but it was a site to behold.

  • avatar

    In high school there was a guy who drove a Chevette with four donuts on it. It was terrifying to ride in.

  • avatar

    While this is not a story about a spare, it is about a person who did not have a spare. As a poor, starving (metaphorically) grad-student, I was wallowing in self pity, so I figured I would walk down the middle-eastern market to pick up a fresh baked spinach pie. As I neared the shop, I heard a terrible clattering from behind me, so I turned to see what was making such a god-awful sound. I saw a rusted-out station wagon driving down the street: the driver’s side front tire was flat; the exhaust pipe was not only dragging on the street, but a thick blue smoke poured from the tailpipe. I suddenly knew that I had nothing to complain about, that the owner of this car was way worse off than I was.

    When the car passed me, it pulled into a hast station, and I watched as the driver struggled to get out of the car. When he emerged, I could see the cast on his right leg. Yup, I had nothing to complain about. This poor SOB had far more difficulties than I had to face.

    • 0 avatar

      “They” always say that if everyone in a room wrote down their problems and threw them in a hat, and everyone drew someone elses problems, we would instantly try to get “our” problems back. They are probably right, as through hardship comes growth. Thanks for the reminder :)

    • 0 avatar

      I once worked with a guy who ran over a 6×6 post on the highway (in a snowstorm), sending his car airborne.

      He needed two front tires. Amazingly, he had two spare tires in the car at the time.

      Unfortunately, he had NO JACK. So it had to be towed.

      Yeah, he took some abuse at the office.

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        The last time I had a flat, it happened to one of my summer tires (which are on aftermarket aluminum wheels – no, not grossly oversize; my car is a regular Jetta TDI and the summer wheels are the same diameter and offset as a GTI/GLI uses).

        When I swap between summer and winter wheels, I always use a 17mm socket from my big toolbox at home.

        I neglected to check that the 17mmm wrench that comes in the car’s tool kit would fit in the clearance holes to access the wheel bolts. Turns out it wouldn’t go in. I couldn’t undo the wheel bolts to change the wheel.

        CAA, make sure your roadside assistance driver brings a 17mm socket. He did, and I was out of there without needing a tow.

        Upon getting home, I filed the corners off the wrench so that it will now fit in the holes for the wheel bolts on those wheels … and I haven’t needed it since!

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve actually been in this situation… drove to a small-town restaurant for breakfast, came out to a flat. Had to call AAA, and after a half-hour wait, all I needed to do was borrow the driver’s beefy hydraulic jack and hand it back to him…

        • 0 avatar

          I’ve kept a floorjack in my daily driver for 20+years. Only weighs about 50 lbs, sets up quickly and is infinitely faster & safer than any scissors or bumper jack (ha! now there’s an age-revealing anachronism). Its steel frame digs into trunk carpeting and stays put nicely.

          Biggest problem is finding a liftpoint on these $&#@% unibody popcans that my jack won’t damage.

  • avatar

    “…the engineers that designed its suspension almost certainly debated the benefits of various tire sizes in meeting after meeting.”

    You’ve touched on one of my pain points here. I cringe every time I see a car riding on over-sized aftermarket wheels. Just try to wrap your mind around the research and engineering that goes into evaluating the handling, driveability, comfort, design-continuity, and safety aspects of OEM wheels and tires. Then some dummy goes and ruins it all by putting “dubs” on it.

    It’s even more startling on inherently less-stable trucks and SUVs, with their higher center of gravity.

    • 0 avatar

      I also cringe every time I see a car riding on excessively large OE wheels! Though they’re certainly not as bad as the worst aftermarket ones. Or runflats.

      • 0 avatar

        A lot of the “lower it!” guys on the car forums also buy cheapo wheels that aren’t durable enough for track use. All show, no function.

        A few of them are dumb enough to take those cheapo wheels onto tracks, and occasionally you’ll hear that the wheels feel apart on the track due to the extra load.

  • avatar

    I also recall seeing a car or two riding on four donuts after the oil crisis of the 1980s; I think they were trying to “hypermile” them.

    FYI for anyone with a older car; Discount Tire has started stocking the donut tire sizes last year. They are starting with the most popular sizes, and added more over time. Prior to that, a junkyard or the dealer were your only options.

    Had one of the new tires on the ’95 Taurus blow out last December. I limped it to a Ford dealer (I was very fortunate, it blew right before the dealer exit) aired up the bald donut, and I limped it 20 miles back home. Discount Tire replaced the tire under warranty, and I bought a new donut tire; so all five gum balls are good.

  • avatar

    Or maybe the owner was just performing crazy-easy drifts with it, Chris-Harris-in-an-AMG style?

  • avatar

    I remember catching a new Beetle with donuts all around (on all four wheels), I couldn’t help but laugh, at the same time the poor bum probably used up their money keeping that New Beetle going with how reliable they tend to be.

    Dohnut wheels on 4wds are just dumb, I know someone who had their Wagoneer trashed after running a dohnut for a little to long (just one day of driving), ruined the whole drivetrain.

    • 0 avatar

      Truth. AWD and donuts don’t mix. My mum’s A4 quattro ships with a 5th 17″ aluminum rim mounted spare. I was impressed that it wasn’t just a steelie.

      • 0 avatar

        Why do car companies ship dohnuts with 4WD? Don’t they know that people often abuse steelies?

        I am aware of the whole weight and space saving stuff, but frankly if a car companies going to talk with me about space then I could point out so many modern stylistic flaws that get in the way of space.

        I can see weight saving since these are the days of buying Daewoods and driving appallingly slow to save gas, but at the same time we could cut weight by not having standard wheels as huge alloys, not cluttering up the interior with huge center consoles, etc, now I’m just ranting.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Check out HAMB forum sometime. The misguided and sheeplike denizens there love the look of space saver wheels on their hotrods. Thankfully most of these cars are never actually driven beyond the rear of a trailer so they are not going to fly off the highway at some insane speed(I hope)

  • avatar
    19 Pinkslips

    I worked at a tire shop in the 90’s. One day a Mercury Sable wagon taxi-cab pulled in. It had THREE donuts on it and they were all nearly bald, but the real kicker is all three had HUGE flats spots on them, worn right down to the belts. That had to be one exciting ride for whatever patron was dumb enough to get into a cab with three spares on it!!

  • avatar

    Space saving tires frighten me, I need to go to the junkyard and replace it with a steely full size (lil truck)

    On the other hand, my other trucks are much more stout with fullsize spares and for the HMC4 I have the runflat inserts in them, so I really don’t even worry about flats in those, even though I’ve never had one (knock on wood) I’ve pulled many a nail out of my tires the majority of the time the wall is so thick it doesn’t leak, rarely though I’m not so lucky and have to take it in.

    I wouldn’t be able to stand the no spare deal, I am self sufficient and the last thing I want is worrying about someone else having to save my butt.

  • avatar

    I had to use the donut tire on my daily driver Honda recently… It was embarrassing.

    Now I also have two Jeeps both with full size spares, which with any new car I ever by again, I’ll insist on the dealer throwing in a full size spare in with the deal. Tire rotations are easier with five tires, and the spare will always match the the wear of the other tires (should you completely lose a tire). And of course no donut tire. :)

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Sometimes the right sized tires simply aren’t available . Recall one time I was about 50 miles east of Amarillo in my Saturn when I had a flat tire. I had checked the temporary spare for air pressure before I left Houston , seemed alright . When I pulled it out however it had a huge chunk out of it on the underside – looked like a dog or a wolf or something had bit a huge chunk out of it . I thought lucky me as I noticed a tire store in some hick town maybe a mile away . Limped into that , but the guy at the store had mostly pickup truck tires , nothing near the right size . Luckily he had some similar temp spare in a wrecked car behind the store , and sold it to me for $10 , pointing out to me that the other rear tire didn’t look so good but told me I probably wouldn’t be able to get the correct size tire until I got to Oklahoma City , hundreds of miles away .Only got another 75 miles before the tread came off the other tire – luckily by some other hick town in Oklahoma with a junkyard , where I bought another temp spare from a Honda and drove slowly to ” The City ” as the Okies call it and stayed in some ghastly motel , which was right next door to a tire store. The motel was a dump , the Indian proprietor’s wife told me how horrible it was , being full of hookers and somebody offered to sell me crack as I was unpacking but I didn’t want to risk going another mile further, as the handling was truly frightening with two donut tires and I didn’t want to drive over 50 miles an hour , a real detriment on the interstate in that area .Next morning I was able to get the tires next door . When you are in a rural area where everybody has a truck it isn’t easy to find passenger car tires .

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My Grand wags came with mini spares. I scrounged up a full size. The 528e has a full size 5th wheel. Ranger has a same size steelie. All my vehicles carry a real spare and the tools to change it. That includes a chock and some wood for a pad. I will also drive the car to a safe spot before I change out the tire. I can change a tire and be on my way in 10 minutes.

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