A tire rotation is a simple task that involves switching the locations of the tires on your vehicle. Many drivers have a mechanic or dealership perform this service for them, but it’s easy to do on your own. All you need is a car jack and jack stands or a car lift. As long as you know the right pattern to rotate your tires, you can save some money by doing this simple maintenance in your own garage or driveway.
Why Do You Need to Rotate Your Tires?
Rotating your tires ensures that they’re all wearing evenly. Because the front wheels of a car are used for steering, those tires wear differently than the rear ones. Plus, the driven wheels (whether they’re in the front, rear, or both) also get more wear. By moving them to a different location, you can prolong the life of your tires.
Tire Rotation Patterns
There are different tire rotation patterns for each type of drivetrain. It’s best to check your owner’s manual to see what your manufacturer recommends. Otherwise, there are standard rotation patterns for FWD, RWD, and AWD/4WD vehicles. If you have a full-sized spare tire, you should include that in the rotation as well. In that case, you’d use the five-tire pattern.
Some types of tires (mostly performance) are directional and can’t be switched from side to side. Check your tread to see if it’s only designed to go in one direction. If there’s an arrow pointing one way on the sidewall, it’s a directional tire. In this case, you can only switch the positions of the back and front tires on each side.
Different Size Tires
Most tire set-ups are “square,” meaning they’re all the same size. However, some tires can’t be “rotated” to the front or rear because they’re different sizes. This is common for RWD performance cars or if you’ve upgraded to aftermarket wheels.
If your front and rear tires are different sizes, you’ll only be able to switch the tires from side to side (left to right).
If your tires are different sizes and directional, you can’t rotate your tires at all. Instead, you’ll have to buy a new set once the tires have worn out.
FWD Tire Rotation Pattern
Tires on front-wheel drive cars are usually rotated in a rearwards cross pattern. The rear tires are moved up on the same side, while the front tires move back to the opposite side.
RWD Tire Rotation Pattern
Tires on a rear-wheel drive car are generally rotated in a forward cross pattern: The opposite of FWD. The front tires are moved back on the same side, while the rear tires are moved forward to the opposite side.
AWD and 4WD Tire Rotation Pattern
With an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle, you can rotate your tires with the same pattern as a RWD car. Alternatively, you can use an X-pattern, bringing the front-left to the right-rear, and so on. Either of these will work, but you should check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Five-Tire Rotation Pattern (4WD with Spare Tire)
The five-tire rotation pattern is similar to the 4WD pattern, but you also rotate in the full-size spare. This is important for off-road vehicles to keep the wear even for every tire. You shouldn’t use this pattern if your vehicle only has a compact spare tire (or donut).
Step-by-Step Tire Rotation Guide
Once you know the correct tire rotation pattern, you can begin rotating your tires. Basic tools are all that are needed. However, you can make the job quicker by using a car lift or impact wrench.
- Jack and Jack Stands
- Lug Wrench
- (Optional) Car Lift
- (Optional) Impact Wrench
Step 1: Loosen All Bolts
While the tire is still on the ground, loosen the bolts enough to unscrew by hand. You won’t be able to get enough torque to loosen the bolts if the tire is in the air.
Step 2: Lift Car
Use a jack to raise the car until the tires are off the ground. Follow your owner’s manual instructions on which jack points to use. Use jack stands to safely keep it in the air, or a lift if you have that option.
Step 3: Take Each Tire Off Carefully
Now that all of the bolts are loose, take them all the way off. Each wheel and tire should be ready to come off easily. Don’t excessively wiggle the wheels as you slide them off. Try to be gentle and keep them as aligned as possible to avoid any damage.
Step 4: Move Tires to Appropriate New Location
Pick up or roll each wheel and tire to the place where it will now be mounted. Be sure to follow the correct rotation pattern for your vehicle.
Step 5: Put Each Tire/Wheel Back On
Mount each wheel/tire in the new location. Gently tighten the bolts, but not all the way.
Step 6: Take Car Off Jacks
Safely bring the car back down off the jack stands using your car jack. If you’re using a lift, simply lower the car back to the ground.
Step 7: Fully Tighten Bolts in Star Pattern
Tighten down the bolts all the way, working in a star pattern. This means starting with one bolt, skipping the next and tightening the next after, etc. It’s recommended that you use the torque spec stated in the owner’s manual.
How Often Should You Rotate Your Tires?
Generally, you should rotate your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles or every 6 months (whichever comes first). This will vary depending on manufacturer guidelines, the type of tire, and your driving behavior.
Some people like to do an oil change and tire rotation every 5,000 miles, even if the oil interval is longer (e.g. 10,000 miles). This means you’ll spend more money, but it can be worth the peace of mind.
You can’t rotate your tires too often. But if you don’t rotate your tires often enough, they’ll wear out more quickly.
Do You Need to Balance Tires When They’re Rotated?
No, there’s no need to balance your tires after they’ve been rotated. You only need to do so if you’re taking them off the wheels or if they’ve been damaged by something like a large pothole. For the most part, rotating your tires is a quick and easy maintenance task.
Sources: Tire Rotation: How and Why to Rotate Your Tires, Bridgestone | Tire Rotation, Michelin
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