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Everything You Need to Know About Tire Rotations

How Often You Should Rotate Your Tires Tire Rotation Image

What is a tire rotation, and why is it important?

Rotating your tires just means switching their positions on your vehicle, and there are a couple different patterns for doing that. Tire rotations at regular intervals are one of the best ways to get the most miles out of any set of tires. Chances are you may have heard that before, but why is it so important? How do you know how often to rotate tires?

No vehicle has a perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution. In addition, when you corner or hit the brakes, inertia shifts your car’s weight forward (which is why front brakes always wear out before rear brakes). As a result of these forces, tires will wear unevenly and it’s essential that their positions on the vehicle be changed regularly to even out that wear.

How Often You Should Rotate Your Tires?

You probably heard your dad years ago tell you “always get your oil changed every 3,000 miles!” Since the vehicle was going to be off the ground and up on a rack anyway, that was the perfect time to go ahead and have a tire rotation performed.

Well, when it comes to motor oil, the 3,000 mile rule is pretty much a thing of the past, since synthetic motor oil can easily go 10,000-12,000 miles between oil changes without breaking down or sludging up the engine. That doesn’t mean that you should go that long between tire rotations, though. Most manufacturers recommend a 5,000-6,000 mile interval for rotations. It’s a good idea to keep a log of when your rotations were performed -- some shops will give you a windshield sticker as a reminder of when the next one is due.

Tracking tire wear

Tire rotations are intended to equalize wear and ensure that all four tires wear down at the same rate. Your tires can be an excellent indicator of any problems that are starting to develop with your car, so it’s important to inspect them regularly and keep tabs on how they’re wearing down, since uneven wear can point to alignment, suspension, or wheel balancing issues.

It’s pretty easy to measure tread wear; there are various methods for using a penny or a quarter as a rough tread wear gauge, or shops can use a tool that will give you a more precise reading. Most tires are also designed with tread wear bars that are molded into the base of the tread grooves. If you can see these bars clearly, it’s definitely time to retire those tires.

How to rotate tires

Different tire types have different rotation patterns. Some tires can be rotated front-to-back, while other tire manufacturers call for an X-shaped rotation pattern, with the front driver’s side going to the rear passenger side and vice versa. You’ll need to refer to your manufacturer’s specs for the rotation instructions for your set of tires.

There are other considerations for tire rotations as well:

  • Some vehicles (usually sporty ones) have a staggered fitment, with different tire sizes in front and back. This makes front-to-rear rotation impossible, so the only option is to rotate tires right-to-left on each axle.

  • One-ton trucks with dual rear wheels should have the inside rear wheels moved to the front, then front wheels rotated to the outside rear wheel.

  • Tires designed with a directional tread pattern should be rotated front-to-rear and not diagonally.

  • Some manufacturers call for a five-tire rotation that includes the spare; in these patterns, the spare should go to the front passenger side, with other tires being changed in an X pattern with the front driver’s side tire ending up on the rear driver’s side.

How to rotate tires at home

There’s nothing to stop you from rotating your tires at home, as long as you have four jack stands to support all four corners of the vehicle, but don’t rely on a floor jack to hold your vehicle up, at any time. If you do decide to rotate your own tires, don’t forget to make sure all the lug nuts are torqued to OEM specs, and to re-torque them after every 100 miles or so. Re-checking torque should be done whether you do the job yourself or have it done at a shop.

Let’s just say that considering how long it takes to rotate tires, this is a job that most drivers prefer to leave up to the guys at the tire shop. In addition, it’s important to have your wheel balance checked at tire rotation time; a tire’s balance changes slightly as it wears down, losing rubber and mass, and there’s no way to check balance without special equipment.

TPMS sensors

Another thing to bear in mind when it’s time for a tire rotation is your tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) sensors. As of model year ‘07, TPMS has been mandatory on new vehicles, to alert you to an underinflated tire. Some TPMS on older vehicles just indicate that a tire is low, without telling you which one; newer vehicles use a different system and the specifics of that system can change by year/make/model.

Along with wheel balancing, resetting the TPMS sensors is now part of the tire rotation process, making it yet another good reason to leave the job to a professional tire shop.

Why rotate tires?

In case you need more convincing for why you should rotate your tires at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals, there are two other things to bear in mind: Tire rotations are a requirement for tire warranties to protect your investment and get the most miles out of your tires.

Rotating your tires will immediately change your car’s road manners for the better, something you’ll notice right away.

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