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Guide to Spare Tire Options for the Jeep TJ

Not carrying a spare tire or any way to repair or air up a tire off-road is foolish in most cases. But the aftermarket has solutions.

I have a donut spare tire for my '99 Jeep TJ Wrangler, as sometimes you want just the bare-bones Jeep and shed all the weight. I know people sneer at donut spares, but they are tough little buggers and can get you down the road if you get a flat. It's better than nothing. My newer '11 Rubicon has a wider bolt pattern, so the TJ donut will not fit. I can't seem to find a donut with that pattern, so what can I do? Please keep in mind that it would be pretty rare that the little tire ever gets used. Could I buy a bolt pattern adapter to change to a TJ lug pattern? Is there a donut from a minivan that could be used? I would sure like to leave that big, heavy spare tire at home.— Charles Duryea, via email, editor@fourwheeler.com

Spidertrax and Quadratec Wheel Adapters

It's always been recommended that 4x4s used off-road should carry a fullsize spare tire. Some off-road events require a fullsize spare tire for every participant. But, you are right, spare tires can be heavy and hinder both on- and off-road performance. Many hardcore off-road enthusiasts avoid carrying a spare tire because of the added weight, but they usually have a backup plan. Not carrying a spare tire or any way to repair or air up a tire off-road is foolish in most cases. Fortunately, you have a few options. Your '11 Jeep JK Wrangler Rubicon has a 5-on-5 lug pattern. The TJ Wrangler has a 5-on-4.5 lug pattern. Companies such as Spidertrax (spidertrax.com) and Quadratec (quadratec.com) offer wheel adapters that allow TJ wheels to fit the JK wheel bolt pattern. You could simply carry one adapter and the dinky TJ spare tire. You could also just purchase a dinky used stock-sized JK spare tire from the local want ads or from a wrecking yard.

Don't Run a Small Spare Tire

Running a tiny spare tire may seem like a viable solution to save weight on a 4x4, but there are some problems with it. Among other issues, running two different diameter tires on the same axle causes the axleshafts to spin at different speeds. A small-diameter tire has to spin at a faster rpm to cover the same ground as a larger-diameter tire at a given speed. This can be a problem for some differentials. It could result in some minor handling quirks, or it could result in extremely erratic handling and catastrophic axle failure. This mostly depends on the differential in the axle. You might be able to get away with this scenario at lower speeds for a little while on an open differential, but a limited- slip differential will be damaged quickly in this environment. The limited-slip differential clutches will wear out in a few miles because of the wheel speed difference. Locking the Rubicon locker with one tiny spare tire installed is extremely problematic. It will put a lot of stress on the axleshafts and differential components. Other aftermarket locking differentials can also be susceptible to damage from mismatched tire sizes. To avoid these differential issues, some enthusiasts choose to carry a narrow spare tire of the same diameter. For example, if you are running a 33x12.50 tire on a 10-inch-wide wheel, you might consider using a 33x9.50 tire on a narrow wheel as a spare. This combo will save weight and keep the tire diameter similar.

On-Board Air and Tire Repair Kits from ARB, Power Tank, and Safety Seal

If you spend most of your time on-road well within cell service and AAA range, then carrying a fullsize spare is less of an issue. However, cell service can be spotty off-highway, and an off-road tow can be costly. The option many weight-conscious 4x4 enthusiasts take is to carry onboard air and a tire repair kit. Companies such as ARB (arbusa.com), Power Tank (powertank.com), and Safety Seal (safetyseal.com) offer quality tire plug kits that can be used to repair everything from a nail in the tread to a torn sidewall. Some enthusiasts even carry a properly sized inner tube, which can be used to retain air pressure in a severely damaged tire. Once a damaged tire is repaired, you'll need an air source to fill it back up to street or trail pressure. ARB, Power Tank, and other companies offer portable air sources that can be used to refill a deflated tire. If you off-road regularly, you should add an air source and tire plug kit to your gear, regardless of whether you carry a fullsize spare tire or not.

The laziest method of ensuring you always have a spare tire comes from using the buddy system. If you always bring a buddy that has a 4x4 with the same size tires with the same lug pattern as your 4x4, you'll never be without a spare tire. That is as long as you can convince your pal to always carry a heavy spare. Hopefully you and your buddy don't both need a spare tire on the same trip.

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