Why You Should Rotate Your Tires

What is tire rotation?

To start, tire rotation is when you change the location of each tire.  You keep the same tires and just move them around.  This helps extend the life of each tire.

Why should I rotate my tires?

The short answer is that your tires wear at different rates.  Relocating tires that experience more wear to spots where they’ll experience less wear (and vice versa) can give you the maximum life out of each tire.  That’s better than letting an individual tire wear out quickly, requiring you to replace it more often.

Why do tires wear at different rates?

You might think they would wear out at the same rate, since they go the same distance over the same roads.  Well, actually, they don’t necessarily all go the same distance.  In a turn, the outside wheel covers more distance.  Since we drive on the right hand side in the United States, left hand turns take longer.  That means our left tires cover more distance than the right ones, so they wear faster.  If you live somewhere where driving on the left side is the norm, your right wheels will wear faster.

The other factor affecting tire wear is the weight on top of the tires.  The engine is the heaviest thing in your car, and in the vast majority of cars, it’s located at the front.  That means the front tires get pushed harder against the road than the rear tires.  That also wears them faster.

The front wheels also have the duty of steering.  When steering, the tires turn across the ground, which scrapes off some of the rubber surface.  That also speeds up the wear on the front tires.

If you have front-wheel drive, the power sent to the front wheels, and the occasional tire slipping that goes with it can also exacerbate front tire wear.  In rear-wheel drive cars, this factor affects the rear wheels (although weight and steering will still affect the front).

Alright, you convinced me.  So how do I rotate my tires? 

Different tire rotation patterns work best depending on your vehicle, depending on the type of your tires, and the design of your car.  Your owner’s manual will likely recommend a certain pattern for your car, but the following patterns are fairly typical.  The most important thing is to always use the same pattern for your car to make sure each tire gets equal wear over its lifetime.

Front-Wheel Drive

For front-wheel drive cars, move the front tires straight back.  The left front goes to the left rear, and the right front to the right rear.  Move the rear tires diagonally forward.  The left rear goes to the right front, and the right rear to the left front.

Rear-Wheel Drive

Rear-wheel drive cars will use the opposite pattern.  The rear wheels go straight forward.  The left rear goes to the left front, and the right rear to the right front.  The front wheels go diagonally backwards.  The left front goes to the right rear, and the right front to the left rear.

All-Wheel Drive

For four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, swap the sets of wheels diagonally.  The left front goes to the right rear and vice versa.  The right front goes to the left rear and vice versa.

Five Tires

Many cars now don’t have a real spare tire.  The spare is just a “donut” to drive on until you can get off the road and patch your tire.  If you have a real spare tire, you should add it to your rotation so all five tires get equal wear.

Follow the pattern above that fits your vehicle.  Take the tire that would normally go to your right rear and make it the new spare. Put your spare on the right rear.

Unidirectional Tires

Tires can be unidirectional, or non-directional.  Unidirectional tires have the tread cut in such a way that they’re only meant to roll one way.  They have a V-shaped tread, instead of the typical criss-cross.  Non-directional tires have their treads designed so that the tire goes equally well either way.  The above patterns are all for non-directional tires.

Unidirectional tires can’t be switched from one side of the car to the other, because then they would be facing backwards.  For unidirectional tires, just switch them from the front to the back (and vice versa) on the same side.

You could also take your unidirectional tires off of their rims and mount them to new rims if you want to switch them side to side.  Then you’ll simply follow the normal pattern for you vehicle’s drive system.

Different Size Front and Rear Tires

Some cars use different size wheels for the front and rear.  In this case, you can’t switch tires front to back, so simply switch the tires on each axle left to right.  The patterns mentioned above are for cars with all four tires the same size.

How often should I rotate my tires? 

Again, your owner’s manual will have a recommendation for your specific vehicle.  Typically, though, you’ll want to rotate your tires somewhere between every 3,000 to 7,000 miles.

Written by Dan Smolinsky.

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