Using a Temporary Spare Tire on an AWD Vehicle

Yes, actually, the owners manuals do say that, in both my 91 CRX and my 07 TL. And they said it in my 88 CRX, my 90 CRX, my 89 Caravan, my 84 Tercel, my mother’s 09 CRV, and my SO’s '01 Intrepid.

I’m not sure why this has you so angry. How often over the life of the car do you plan to change a flat tire? It’s pretty rare for them to just suddenly go flat. Even if they get a nail in them, they take a long time to lose all their air. So unless you’re not paying attention to the condition of your tires, this statistically shouldn’t ever be a problem for you. I can’t even remember the last time I had to change a tire, because I replace them on-schedule and get them repaired/replaced on the rare occasion that I run over a nail. And that rarity is why they’re not going to invest a lot of R&D time or materials in making a convenient tire change setup for you. I’d wager most customers would rather pay less and get a donut than pay for a whole nother wheel and full sized tire that on average they’ll use maybe once.

Thanks for your response.

Wow - rapid fire! I had to keep my head down - LOL.

I’ve read the owner’s manuals of all vehicles which I’ve owned over the decades, and I don’t recall ever seeing this addressed (admittedly - I could be wrong! my powers of recollection aren’t infallible).

The issue disappoints me, because I believe it detracts from an otherwise very fine vehicle - and - I found out about it after the fact (and I did do research).

Also - I believe many, many drivers out there are not aware - and I believe they should be informed.

I take care of my tires - frequently check inflation, rotate on schedule etc., and I realize that nowadays - statistically the problem will arise infrequently. However - when it DOES happen, it is apparently very important to follow the correct procedure, and I don’t feel the driver is sufficiently informed, just because there’s an entry in the manual. I believe this is a departure from what the populace is accustomed to, so: Put a sticker on the donut (hit 'em between the eyes with it) - if failure to do the right thing may cause such serious damage.

Also - look at the size of a '99 VW Passat - not big. They did, however - come stock with a full sized spare (even a mag wheel) - the very same as on all four wheels. They still managed to do this and have a large trunk. I think Subaru could have done the same, and specified a five-wheel rotation regimen. Sure - weight and mileage is an issue - but the difference can’t account for that much. I suspect cost-cutting for the manufacturer is probably a major factor, and it’s sold to the public by stressing weight & mileage (by the industry at large).

Thanks for the interesting comments - agree with many of them.

Yes - it’s a trade off. Outstanding traction, but potentially expensive if you don’t follow a procedure which surely is widely unknown and insufficiently promulgated.

I think this is a great vehicle for the Upper Midwest , but I’m confident that a great many of the numerous Subaru drivers which I see daily - are unaware of this factor.

I wish they would be more ‘up front’ about it, in the sales process.

Well, you read the manual. You know about it. If someone else fails to read the instruction manual to their 30-thousand-dollar investment, I say that’s their fault. They can’t put a sticker on everything that might break the car if you screw it up - or would you also advocate a big sticker on the dashboard telling you to check your oil at every fillup, and a big sticker on the windshield telling you to check the washer fluid, and a big sticker on the seat telling you not to have sharp objects in your pocket lest you cut the leather? :wink:

Stickers are generally reserved for actual safety issues. “airbag equipped,” and “SUV might roll over if you drive like a moron,” and such. They aren’t going to reprint the owners manual on stickers and wallpaper the car with them.

As for knowing about the size of the spare, I think you’re blaming the wrong party. If not having a donut is so important to you, you should have asked the salesman to show you the spare tire before you gave him money.

BTW re: the 5 tire rotation scheme - that works great until you get directional tires and start wearing everything unevenly if you try to rotate all 5.

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the importance of reading the manual, and regarding stickers and the amusing examples you provide to support your point - but changing oil & filling the windshield wiper fluid reservoir etc., are not procedures which are a departure from the norm. These are things which are a “given” and generally understood by the public, while the flat tire procedure - for a lot of people - is a big departure from what is generally expected.

Having a donut wasn’t a major factor with me - until I found out that it could never be used on the front, and I would have to change two tires if I had a flat on the front. That changed the picture entirely.

As to your comment on the directional tires: Good point - thanks.

Why saddle yourself with a Subaru??? If you enter “Subaru” in the search window of this board, you will find over 2500 threads where hapless Subaru owners spell out their laments…In this regard, it’s one of the worst car brands on this board…A genuine, certified POS automobile…They command less than 10% of the U.S. market but manage to be #2 on this board when it comes to horror stories and mechanical nightmares…Their shortcomings far outweigh the the benefits they provide to their owners…

Interesting - I’m surprised to hear that, as I had an '88 Accord and I don’t recall seeing that in the manual. All I remember are limitations on mileage (only use the donut temporarily). Now i’m curious and I’d like to lay my hands on the manual again. Did it say never to put the donut on the front? Or - did it say to limit its use to not more than so & so miles, because use beyond that may cause this sort of damage?

This thread got me curious about running a compact spare on the front of my front drive GM car so I checked the owner’s manual. It is ok to run the compact spare on the front. A high performance model of my brand (Chevrolet Cobalt) can not use the compact spare on the front because the larger brake disk will interfere with the compact spare wheel.

Oh, stick around these forums for a couple’a weeks and you’ll see that checking oil level is NOT a given, the norm, or generally understood by the public. At least twice a week someone comes on here absolutely shocked that the car died because they were out of oil. Often times they even have the oil light as a helpful hint, but they keep driving around anyway.

And I never see ANYONE at a gas station with the hood up unless there’s also smoke coming from the engine. No one checks their oil on a regular basis anymore, and most don’t do it at all.

OK, I misunderstood your objection to the donut. As I said, it’s the same for FWD cars as it is for AWD - -the only difference is that even a full sized spare isn’t all that helpful with AWD because it’s not getting the same wear as the other tires. I’ll go with the others who recommended AAA. They will change the tire for you so you don’t have to worry about it. I’ll also reiterate that this is not a problem you’re ever likely to face, as modern tires don’t just pop suddenly except in very rare circumstances, usually involving hitting sharp debris at high speeds.

The reason for not running a T-type tire on the front of a Subaru is because of the ring and pinion gearset in the transaxle. (Generally referred to as a transmission although transaxle is the proper term. Same thing as an old VW air-cooled.)

Subarus also roll through the service department doors at the same rate the posts on this forum appear… :slight_smile:

Thanks - I realize that many people don’t, and that’s so … unwise. I assure you that I will follow the manual to the letter, in this regard. I would be happier had I known about it, before - still - I might have made the purchase anyway, because of the great traction and reliability.

I have owned 8 front wheel drive cars and two of them were Mopar minivans. all had donut spares and the only caution I ever saw in the manual was not to drive more than 50 miles on them.

I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill.

Regarding the difference between the VW and the Subaru:

I believe that Germany has different laws about tires than the US does.
I don’t believe that it is legal to install a temporary spare tire in the Germany highway system, and drive the car. Hence why the Passat came with a full size spare tire.

Another car that has warning about using the spare tire on the drive wheel is the Chevy Corvette. If you use the spare tire on the drive wheel, it will damage the limited slip differential. I believe the same warning came with the Camaro and Firebird, too.

My Porsche Boxster has an Open differential, but staggered tire sizes from to rear. The overall diameter of the two tire sizes is the same, so one size spare tire fits both front or rear. Since the differential is open, no mechanical damage can result from its use on the drive wheel.


What you are describing is a driving skill issue.

AWD vehicles are targeted to people who don’t want to think about driving.
They just want to get into their car, stomp on the gas, and get where they are going, regardless of the weather conditions.

Typically, these cars are driven by bad drivers, who then use the AWD as the crutch that gets them through the bad weather conditions. They tend to drive faster than safe, make stupid maneuvers in traffic around other vehicles, and find their way into ditches quicker than the drivers taking it easy in their FWD cars.

Its no surprise that they then neglect car maintenance, and tire rotation requirements.


Andrew, Your Statement, “The key I have learned with winter driving is no sudden movements(turn/braking) and applying braking is a delicate balance.” Is Right On The Mark !

I learned this (or had it reinforced) years ago in flight training while working on my pilot’s license and have been trying to instill this in my 16 (next week) year-old daughter.

This technique is also a good one for any season or weather condition. If you find yourself having to make quick moves, then you’re following too closely, driving too fast for conditions, or driving beyond your ability level, etcetera.

I think a good winter driver has to be able to relax, too. The worse the conditions, the greater need to be calm and attentive, no distractions. White knuckle drivers are no match for adverse conditions. Panic is never a good driving technique (It leads to the situation that you say must be avoided).

Good Chat,

I see nothing in my 2004 Legacy owners manual regarding the temp spare. Maybe they added that in the latter models. Unlike other blessed individuals, I have had several flat tires in my lifetime of driving. All 4 from road hazards which would have been difficult to avoid without sweeping the road before I drive on it. For that reason, I always replace the temp spare tire with a full size tire. It fits just fine in my wheel well, and has come in handy as I mentioned before. Finding the wheel in a junk yard was the hard part, and not too cheap either. I know that all 4 tires must match, but I didn’t know that driving even for a short time on unmatched tires would damage the AWD. I am glad to have that information. Re: rotating tires, the second set of tires I needed to put on my car were unidirectional, meaning that I could only rotate from front to back, not left to right. I read the manual for most procedures that I perform, I keep up with the scheduled maintenance, AND I have AAA premium. Flats happen. Flats suck. Flats are dangerous when they happen on the road. My advise is to get a full size spare (I hope it fits in your wheel well). Replace the flat only on a safe location–or call AAA, and get home safely. Worry about the effects on the car only after you have made yourself safe. All cars, and everypart on them are replaceable.

I had an '02 Subaru Outback broke a front spring which sliced open the tire. Went to purchase a tire after repairs completed, I was told by the dealer they wouldn’t sell me 1,2 or 3 tires. He went on to explain the potential damage to the transfer case. I went home and got my set of snow tires and had them put on. Next I went on the internet, wonderful invention/source, and googled "tire size transfer case problems " or some such set of terms. The list of vehicle manufactures and all the potential problems was astounding. I took the car and traded on front wheel drive sedan, put snow tires on and drive happily now that I don’t travel to work and hockey games around snowy western New York.

You just need to use four of them…

Yup… I live in a part of the city with all one-way roads and parking on both sides of the street. As a result the plows cannot fit down the road. I was helping a neighbor dig her car out once and a young gentleman from a nearby college went to get into his legacy. Since I had just finished getting her out and was still dressed in my winter gear I offered to help him.

He replied “No I have all-wheel drive, I’ll be okay.”

I said “If that suits you.”

He pulled forward and tried to make it over the hard packed snow from other drivers going down the center and got stuck. You could rock his car like a rocking chair. He then got out and asked for my help. I tossed him the shovel and said I was too cold now and he could leave it on my porch when he was done.