Everything You Need to Know About Tire Rotations

As a vehicle owner or driver, it's necessary to occasionally perform routine maintenance tasks in order to keep a vehicle in optimal working order. Most people have heard the recommendation of changing oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles. Most drivers are able to follow the advice of their vehicle owner's manual when it comes to maintenance under the hood. However, it's also necessary to have routine maintenance done to your tires in order for a vehicle to perform to its fullest potential.

A tire rotation is one of the necessary, routine maintenance tasks that should be performed on a vehicle every 5,000-6,000 miles in order to experience even wear and maximized mileage before tires need to be replaced. Generally speaking, it's easy to schedule a tire rotation, or simply request a tire rotation from your dealership every other time you get your oil change. Of course, this is based on the recommendation that oil be changed routinely every 3,000 miles. Some newer vehicles require oil changes less frequently than every 3,000 miles. Drivers of these vehicles can stick to the every-other-oil-change recommendation for tire rotations if they want their tires and vehicles operating at peak performance.

Rotations are quick and easy, and most often, don't cost much. Regular tire rotations also allow for a qualified tire technician, or mechanic to have the best look at the tire condition. When rotating tires, all four tires can be thoroughly inspected before they are remounted on the vehicle.

What Is a Tire Rotation & Why Is it Needed?

Routine tire rotation is necessary due to the difference in treadwear that occurs on the front and rear tires. The front tires are used in steering and maneuvering on the road while the rear tires remain relatively stationary in terms of lateral movement. The act of steering, carving, or guiding a vehicle through traffic and on roadways causes more stress for the two front tires due to more demands put on the tire portion touching the road, known as the contact patch.

While vehicles are well balanced for performance, the front of a vehicle in most passenger cars and trucks is significantly heavier than the rear due to the engine compartment and all that it contains. This additional weight will put more stress on the front tires. Ultimately, steering and vehicle weight combine to wear the tread faster on the front tires.

In order to fight this front tire wear and keep the tread levels on all four tires as similar as possible, it's necessary to rotate the tires every 5,000 - 6,000 miles. Most tires used on modern vehicles are of a radial construction design, and many have directional patterns. This means that proper balance and alignment are also very important in prolonging tread life. Tire rotations for radial tires will consist of moving the front tires to the rear and the rear tires to the front.

Tire rotations differ slightly for bias tires, which possess a different internal structure and matching tread patterns regardless of which direction the tire rolls. These tires are often tracked when rotated. For example, the left rear can be rotated to the front right and the right rear to left front. If tire shoulder wear is on bias tires, they can also be rotated from front to back.

Beyond increasing the life of tires, a tire rotation also allows for other key aspects of tire safety. With a tire rotation, a qualified tire technician will also check the inflation pressure of the tires while visually inspecting the tires for any issues and potential hazards. Ultimately, a tire rotation provides for the most thorough examination of a tire.

When to Rotate Tires

Rotating the tires every 5,000 - 6,000 miles ensures their treadwear won't become significantly uneven. For example, if a vehicle is allowed to travel on a set of front tires for 15,000 miles, the treadwear increasingly becomes uneven. The rear tires would then need the same mileage in similar driving scenarios to match.

Other problems may arise from uneven treadwear, such as minimal tread on the front, switched to the back. This could easily give way to the driving dynamics known as over-steer and under-steer, especially in wet weather driving. Ultimately, the front tires may hold with excellent traction but the rear may steer loosely.

The opposite scenario may develop when excellent tread exists on the rear but little on the front. The tires may not "grip" the road effectively in a turn. This is especially true in wet weather. The vehicle could simply continue traveling in the direction it's moving as opposed to responding to the direction of the tires.

Variances in Tire Rotation

Most tires manufactured for vehicles built in the 21st century possess very unique tread patterns. Most often, the tread pattern can be rotated 180 degrees and it will be identical. In these cases, no matter which way the tires roll, the tread will hit the ground in the same way.

With tires like these, they will be switched from the front wheels to the back and from the left side to the right side and vice versa. This ensures the most even wear to the tires possible. In some cases, this can't be done. Tires that have directional tread patterns must be mounted on a car in a specific direction. Tires with directional tread pattern will only be switched from front to back or from back to front.

Who Should Perform a Tire Rotation?

The process of rotating tires can be much more efficient when you take a vehicle to a dealership. Dealerships employ automaker-certified technicians for their service departments. They'll best be able to ensure that your tires are rotated to the precise specifications for your particular make and model. In addition to performing the tire rotation as your manufacturer intended, they'll also conduct a thorough safety inspection of your tires.

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