It is almost general knowledge by now that you should regularly replace the oil and oil filter in your car. This quick and easy operation ensures that your engine is always well-lubricated and runs efficiently, thus lasting much longer. However, there is another simple operation that drivers often overlook that is equally important – tire rotation.
This simple yet crucial practice can make all the difference in the longevity of your tires and overall road safety. And it is perhaps the operation that you can do most easily at home – it's even more straightforward than changing the oil and oil filter on your car.
Failure to rotate tires can lead to uneven wear, compromised performance, and even dangerous blowouts. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire-related issues contribute to approximately 11,000 crashes in the United States each year. The good news is that proper tire rotation can help you avoid becoming part of that statistic.
Still, although tire rotation is simple and quick, you will need some previous knowledge to do it right. For instance, different rotation patterns are necessary for different vehicles, and you should also keep an eye on the frequency. Not to mention, it's crucial that you always inspect the tires for wear and damage.
In this article, I'll give you all the answers to your hunger for tire rotation knowledge so you can do it right the first time. So, buckle up and join me as I reveal the secrets to extending your tire life and ensuring a smooth, safe, cheap, and enjoyable driving experience.
- Tire Rotation Basics
- How Long Does It Take to Rotate Tires and How to Do It
- Tire Replacement Warning Signs
Tire Rotation Basics
Here is everything you need to know about tire rotation, including why you should do it, rotation patterns, and rotation frequency.
1. Why Rotate Your Tires
Rotating your tires is an important aspect of vehicle maintenance, almost as important as fluid changes. And like oil changes, for example, tire rotation should be performed regularly to ensure even tire wear, extend the lifespan of your tires, and maintain optimal vehicle performance.
Basically, with tire rotation, you ensure that different tires on your vehicle that wear at different rates wear evenly. See, not every tire on your vehicle is under the same load simply because the weight of your car is not evenly distributed.
Moreover, most vehicles have only one pair of driven wheels (front or rear), and those with AWD usually drive with one axle most of the time and only engage the second axle when needed. Not to mention, the front wheels also need to turn, which puts additional stress on the outer and inner edges of the tread. Thus, by regularly rotating your tires, you can ensure that each tire wears more evenly, thus prolonging its life.
But tire rotation won't only prolong the life of your tires – it will also ensure your vehicle performs at the highest level. Evenly worn tires contribute to better traction and handling, which results in improved overall vehicle performance. Meanwhile, unevenly worn tires can lead to reduced grip, especially in wet or slippery conditions.
Evenly worn tires also contribute to better fuel efficiency, as uneven wear can create higher rolling resistance. On top of that, unevenly worn tires create additional mechanical stress, particularly on the suspension components. Thus, by rotating your tires, you are ensuring they last longer, and you avoid expensive repairs down the line.
Lastly, evenly worn tires provide a smoother ride without vibrations, which is another reason why you would want to rotate the tires.
2. The Right Rotation Pattern for Your Vehicle
Modern cars come in different configurations. For starters, you have tires with the front wheels driven (FWD), rear wheels driven (RWD), and all wheels driven (AWD). But also, the position of the engine and transmission has an effect on the weight distribution, i.e., how much load each tire receives.
On top of that, not all tires are designed in the same way. Some have a non-directional tread pattern, while others have a directional tread pattern, and each necessitates different rotation techniques and patterns.
It is always recommended that you check your owner's manual or online forums for the preferred tire rotation pattern for your particular car and type of tires, or ask your tire technician. With that said, I'll give you all different tire rotation patterns with an explanation to lead you in the right direction.
- Front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicles
On front-wheel drive vehicles, the front tires receive most of the load, both from the engine's weight and the wheels turning. As a result, they wear faster than the rear tires. Thus, I recommend moving the front tires to the rear on the same side and moving the rear tires to the front while crossing them (right rear to left front and left rear to right front). Please notice that this is only true for non-directional tires.
- Rear-wheel drive (RWD) vehicles
Rear-wheel drive vehicles put most of the load on the rear tires, though this depends on where the engine and transmission are located. Also, the front tires carry the steering duties. Still, it is safe to say that the rear tires carry most of the load and wear faster.
For RWD vehicles with non-directional tires, I recommend moving the rear tires to the front while crossing them (right rear to left front and left rear to right front) and then moving the front tires straight back to the rear on the same side.
- All-wheel drive (AWD) or Four-wheel drive (4x4) vehicles
For cars, crossovers, and SUVs with AWD or 4x4 drivetrains, the wear is evenly distributed across all tires. However, not all of these vehicles use all wheels – most of them actually only drive the front wheels (crossovers) or rear wheels (SUVs and trucks) 90% of the time and only use the other axle when slip is detected. This improves fuel economy but also leads to uneven tire wear.
But regardless of that, for non-directional tires, I would recommend the "X" pattern for AWD and 4x4 vehicles. With this procedure, the front tires are moved to the rear on the opposite sides, and the rear tires are moved to the front on the opposite sides (right front to the left rear, left front to the right rear, right rear to left front, and left rear to right front).
- Vehicles with different tire sizes, front, and rear
For RWD performance vehicles, sports cars, and supercars with different non-directional tire sizes on each axle, you can't move the tires between the axles. As a result, you should only rotate the tires within each axle, i.e., rotate the tires side-to-side in a straight line (right front to left front and right rear to left rear, or vice versa).
- Directional tires
Directional tires don't allow for the tire rotation techniques I mentioned before, and there is only one way you can rotate them, regardless of the vehicle – front-to-rear and rear-to-front on the same side.
3. How Often Should I Rotate My Tires?
Tire rotation will be most effortless if you do it at each oil change, i.e., at each 5,000-8,000 miles. That way, you will ensure that you don't lose additional time, as the mechanic can rotate the wheels while the oil drips in the pan, saving you time and money. This range is a general guideline that works for most vehicles and is a good starting point for determining your tire rotation schedule.
However, you could accelerate tire rotation if you frequently drive on abrasive surfaces, like dirt and gravel. Also, if you often tow or carry heavy loads in the bed will accelerate the wear on the tires, sometimes even after 2,000-3,000 miles. In that case, rotate your tires every 2,000 miles to prolong their life and ensure a safe ride.
The tire rotation frequency also depends on the type of tire. Some tires, like max-performance summer tires, wear much faster than others and necessitate more frequent rotations. Winter tires also wear faster, so make sure you rotate them after each season, even if you have covered only a few thousand miles.
How Long Does It Take to Rotate Tires and How to Do It
1. DIY Tire Rotation – Tools You Need and Techniques
You can rotate your tires if you have a garage or a driveway, and it shouldn't take more than an hour. However, you'll need some tools to carry out the procedure, including a lug wrench or a tire iron, a jack, four jack stands, wheel chocks, gloves, and safety glasses.
If you want to carry out the procedure perfectly, you could also invest in a torque wrench, which will ensure that you tighten the bolts at the factory-recommended settings. Consult your vehicle's owner's manual for the correct torque.
Once you have acquired the necessary tools, here is the procedure you should follow:
- Choose a level surface on which to carry out the procedure. This is crucial, as an uneven surface could lead to your vehicle being unstable when lifted. Also, make sure you have enough space to move around.
- Engage the parking brake on your vehicle and put a chock behind every wheel to ensure your vehicle stays stationary.
- Use the lug wrench or tire iron to loosen the lug nuts before lifting the vehicle. However, make sure you don't remove them completely.
- Position the jack (hydraulic or scissor) under the jacking point of your vehicle. Consult the owner's manual for the appropriate lift point, as otherwise, you might do expensive damage to the chassis or bodywork. Start lifting your vehicle.
- Put a jack stand underneath near the jack before lowering the jack. Repeat the same (lifting and positioning a jack) near each wheel so that every wheel is above the ground.
- Rotate the tires according to the rotation pattern that best suits your vehicle (FWD, RWD, or AWD) and your tires (non-directional or directional).
- Once you place each wheel in its new position, hand-tighten the lug nuts and make sure the wheel is seated correctly on the hub.
- Raise the vehicle slightly to remove the jack stands, and then lower it back onto the ground. Repeat the same for each wheel.
- Optional: tighten the lug nuts in a star or crisscross pattern using a torque wrench, following the manufacturer's torque specifications. This ensures even pressure and prevents the warping of the brake rotors.
- Double-check lug nut torque: After driving for about 50 miles, recheck the lug nut torque to ensure they are still tightened to the proper specification.
2. Professional Tire Rotation Services
Rotating your tires at home is cost-effective, and for some of us enthusiasts, it is fun. However, it requires tools that cost money, and not everybody lives in a house with a driveway/garage. Thus, for most people, a professional tire rotation service is the way to go.
Professional tire technicians utilize lifts that will jack your whole car in under a minute, and powered tools, both significantly speeding up the process. You won't even have time to finish your coffee before the technician finishes the rotation procedure. In other words, it shouldn't take more than 30 minutes.
Moreover, the tire technician will be familiar with various rotation patterns and might also carry a balancing procedure, which you can't do at home. Not to mention, you will be 100% safe if a professional mechanic carries out the procedure for you.
But the biggest reason why you would want to visit a shop for tire rotation is tire inspection. The technician will know what to look out for and will tell you if your tires have any issues.
Moreover, the technician will use the opportunity to check other parts of your car, such as brakes, suspension, and steering systems. If any issues are detected, you can address them promptly, ensuring your vehicle remains in optimal condition.
Lastly, some tire manufacturers require you to carry out tire rotation at specific shops (mainly where you bought the tire) so you can keep the treadwear warranty. Additionally, using professional services helps you maintain accurate service records, which can be beneficial when it comes to resale value and verifying that your vehicle has been properly maintained.
Tire Replacement Warning Signs
Tires wear and age over time, which is why you should monitor their health at least once every month. Here is what professional tire technicians look out for when rotating the tires on your car.
1. Low Tread Depth
Monitoring tread depth is crucial for any driver. Tires have tread to ensure maximum performance in a variety of driving conditions, like, for example, wet and snow-covered roads. The tread ensures that water/snow is taken away from the contact patch, ensuring higher traction.
By channeling water out of the contact area, the tread pattern limits hydroplaning. Without enough tread, the water would stay beneath the tire, and your vehicle would basically float over the water. As a result, you will lose control of your vehicle, even when driving in a straight line, which can be dangerous if it happens at higher speeds.
Thus, it is important to always have enough tread depth left on your tires. It is generally accepted that the minimum legal tread depth is 2/32 inches (1.6 mm). Thus, every tire is equipped with wear bars that sit into the grooves of the tire, which become flush with the surface when the tread reaches 2/32 inches of depth.
However, for usable snow traction, it is recommended that your tires have at least 5/32 inches (4 mm) of tread depth left. Unfortunately, most tires don't have indicators that would tell you when the tread reaches that point, which is why I strongly recommend getting a tread depth gauge. This tiny and inexpensive tool will let you measure the tread depth accurately and give you peace of mind before every season.
For higher safety, though, I would never wear the tires to the lowest 2/32 inches of depth, especially if it rains regularly in my area. Sure, the tire will still have some "teeth" to bite into those water puddles, but hydroplaning will still be an issue at higher speeds. So, replace your tires sooner to ensure maximum safety!
2. Uneven Wear Patterns
The main reason why you would want to rotate your tires is to minimize uneven wear. Excessive wear on one part of the tread can minimize traction, reduce your vehicle's stability, and increase road vibrations.
Thus, it is important that you check for irregular wear each time you rotate your tires. You can use the tread depth gauge I mentioned previously and place it on different parts of the tread. If there is a big discrepancy between the depth of the various grooves of the tire, it means that it wears unevenly on that part.
Most often, uneven wear is caused by misaligned wheels, but suspension issues can also lead to unevenly worn tires.
3. Bulges and Blisters
Bulges and blisters are surface defects that cause a weak spot in the tire's structure. Basically, at the point where you'll notice the bulge, the internal components of the tire (like the belts and plies), are damaged. As a result, the tread rubber, which is more elastic, will start to bulge.
Tire bulges are very dangerous, as they can lead to tread separation and potential blowouts at higher speeds. Moreover, they are not repairable, meaning you'll need to replace your tire immediately to maintain a safe ride.
4. Cracks and Cuts
Aging or external factors like UV rays and high-temperature changes can cause cracks on the tire's surface. This is also a dangerous issue that could compromise the tire's integrity, leading to air leaks or blowouts. Moreover, cracked tires are much more brittle, which means less traction, especially in wet conditions.
Meanwhile, damage from road hazards can cause cuts on the tire's surface. These can also be dangerous, but in this case, it depends on how deep they go. For surface-level cuts, you can continue driving, but anything deeper than a few millimeters might mean you should replace your tire.
5. Persistent Vibrations While Driving
You can also notice if your tires need to be replaced when driving your car. Namely, if you notice unusual shaking while driving, it might mean there is external or internal tire damage. However, misaligned wheels and damaged/worn suspension components could also cause unwanted vibrations while driving.
6. Decreased Traction and Hydroplaning Issues
Worn tires don't have enough tread depth left, leading to hydroplaning issues and reduced traction. Thus, if you notice your vehicle wandering around the road when it rains, you should immediately invest in a new set of tires.
Tire rotation might be quick and simple, but delve deeper, and you will learn about the different rotation patterns, how tire wear affects the performance of your car, and other related things. For that reason, I tried to cover as much information as possible so that even experienced DIYers would find the reading useful.
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.