How to Rotate Tires, Why Bother, and How Often to Do It

To the uninitiated in car maintenance, tire rotation is a bit of a confusing term, and can easily be misunderstood.

After all, tires are supposed to rotate, aren’t they?

However, it isn’t about rotating each tire on its individual wheel. Instead, it’s about switching the position of each tire on the vehicle and is an essential part of maintenance.

Read on to learn why.

Mechanic removing the wheel from a jacked up car

In this article, we’re going to discuss how to rotate tires, why you want to do it and the benefits it brings, how often you should be doing it and what happens if you don’t.

We include step by step how to perform the task on different vehicles, and hopefully, teach you all there is to know on the topic.

Skill level: Intermediate.

Time to Complete: 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how many tires are being rotated.

Tools Needed:

First of all, What is a Tire Rotation?

As mentioned, rotating your tires is the practice of changing the positions of a vehicle’s individual tires, swapping the front and rears for example.

If done regularly, this prevents them from wearing down unevenly.

Uneven wear can result from several different causes. These include the type of vehicle being front, rear or 4-wheel drive, different road conditions as well as the habits of the individual driver.

Rotating them is a sensible and practical method to combat uneven wear, and keep the vehicle well balanced.

Why Should You Rotate Your Tires? What are the Benefits?

It’s primarily undertaken to offset the uneven rate at which they tend to wear down, thereby lengthening the life of all tires as a whole, meaning more time between replacements and saving you money.

The position of each individual tire will determine the way it wears down. As most vehicles have the engine and the transaxle located at the front, more weight is usually carried by the front tires, which in addition are subject to extra stress due to steering and braking.

Turning the car in traffic will also cause uneven wear. This is because the outside front tire is worn disproportionately to the inside one.

In countries with left-hand traffic, left turns are lighter than right turns. Interchanges and parking ramps will involve left-hand curves so that the right front tire will wear faster than the left.

The opposite is true in countries where driving is on the right. In either case, tires on the inside of a turn always cover less ground than those on the outside. This means that they will naturally wear down at a lower rate.

Another cause of tires wearing down unevenly is mechanical dysfunction. This can happen when the wheels are misaligned with each other or with the vehicle’s axis.

No matter the cause, rotation improves the wear quality. This is measured by a standard known as uniform tire quality grading. It takes into account the wear of the tire tread, temperature resistance, and traction.

Another benefit to rotation is it also improves pattern noise. These are the sounds generated by air passing through tread grooves as they make contact with the ground. Noise occurs more often when the tires are uneven or are incorrectly chosen for the terrain they’re being driven on.

For a set of tires with evenly-distributed tread depth, the traction and handling of a vehicle will be improved. It enhances performance when cornering and braking, and improves the overall safety of the car.

Having a set of tires that wear at an even rate allows you to buy a complete new set of four. You can avoid buying them individually or in pairs. Purchasing a full set often comes with a discounted rate.

This means you can kill two birds with one stone by changing all your tires at once. You can upgrade your vehicle and potentially save some money at the same time.

How Often to Rotate Tires

Car or tire manufacturers often recommend the frequency of rotation. It can potentially vary from one model to the next, just as each particular pattern of car rotation will vary. On average, tires should be rotated every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, or every four to six months.

For those living in wintry conditions, it’s a good idea to change to seasonal tires before and after winter. This presents a good opportunity to do the rotation. When you put your summer or winter tires on, change the positions from where you previously had them.

How to Rotate Tires

This is a task often carried out through a professional service. The main reason for this is because the entire vehicle or each wheel needs to be raised to be able to remove the wheels. The right tools are also required, some of which the average car owner may not possess.

However, this can also be done pretty easily at home. With the right equipment, good knowledge, and enough time, you can take charge of this process. This will give you a great sense of satisfaction and save you from paying someone else to do it.

Step-By-Step Guide

For those willing to get their hands dirty and save a trip to the garage, we’re here to guide you. As we mentioned earlier, you will require a block of wood or other solid material to prevent the car from rolling.

You will also need one type of jack or another to raise the wheel off the ground. You should have 2 jack stands to keep two wheels raised at the same time while the tires are changed. Finally, a lug wrench to remove the lug nuts so that the wheels can be removed.

The procedure for replacing any two tires is as follows:

  1. Block the wheels that are not undergoing rotation to prevent the vehicle from moving.
  2. Use the lug wrench to loosen the nuts of the wheels being replaced
  3. Use the jack to raise the car next to the first wheel to be replaced.
  4. Completely remove the lug nuts and remove the wheel.
  5. Put the jack stand in place to keep the area around the wheel raised.
  6. Use the jack to raise the other wheel intended for rotation.
  7. Remove the wheel in the same way and keep the area raised with the jack stand.
  8. Replace each removed wheel with the other.
  9. Fasten the lug nuts to secure the wheels back on to the car.
  10. Raise up the jack to remove the jack stand, then lower the car back to the ground.
  11. Tighten the lug nuts using the torque specification found in the car’s manual. Be careful not to overtighten the lug nuts.

Here is an instructional video that makes clear how the process can be carried out at any location.


Tire Rotation Patterns

There are a variety of different patterns for tire rotation. Which one you need to follow will depend on several different factors particular to each vehicle.

Firstly, it will depend on the type of vehicle you are driving. Is your car front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or 4-wheel drive?

Your tread pattern will also affect how you rotate the tires, as tires are either directional or non directional.

As the name implies, directional ones are those that are only intended to move in one direction. In this case, the tread will point forward in a ‘V’ shape.

The pattern of tire rotation will also be affected if you choose to include the spare in the process. Have your tires been rotated before? Were they purchased all at once or at different times? This also needs to be taken into account.

The common patterns for wheel rotation are explained below. Please refer to our accompanying diagrams to help you understand each one.

Forward Cross

For cars that have front-wheel drive and non-directional tires.

The two front tires replace those directly behind them. Each back tire then replaces the one in front and at the opposing side.

Rearward Cross

For rear-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles with non-directional tires.

This is the exact opposite of the forward cross. Here, the rear tires are moved forward to replace the two directly in front of them. The front pair then move back and to the opposite side.

X-Pattern or Cross Pattern

For cars that have front-wheel drive and non-directional tires.

For this pattern, the tires on the front are moved back to replace those on the opposing sides. The back tires are moved forward to replace those on the opposing sides.

Including Your Spare in the Rotation

If you wish to include your spare tire in the rotation to keep its tread in sync with the others, the above patterns will not be possible.

Before deciding to use it, check that your spare is not intended for temporary use only.

If it is, you don’t want to incorporate into the mix. If it’s fine, we show how to do it with either forward or rearward cross patterns.

Forward Cross With Five Tires

As with the forward cross with four tires, this pattern is also for vehicles with front-wheel drive.

Before proceeding, make sure your spare is non-directional.

In this pattern, the spare will replace the back right. The two back tires will replace the front ones on opposing sides. The front right will replace the back left, and the front right will become the spare.

Rearward Cross With Five Tires

Again, this pattern is used for rear-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles, with non-directional tires.

In this pattern, the two rear tires are moved forward to replace the front pair. The front right moves back to replace the back left. The front left becomes the spare, and the spare replaces the back right.

Front to Rear

This is for cars that have directional tires. These can only be moved forward and back on the same side of the car. Shifting them to the opposite side is not possible.

In this case, the only rotation possible is exchanging the back tires with the front ones directly in front. It is necessary to repeat this action every time the tires are rotated.

Side to Side

Sometimes a vehicle has directional tires, but with different sizes on the front and rear. In this case, you will exchange them in a side-to-side pattern.

The front-right will need to change positions with the front left. Likewise, the back-right will need to change positions with the back left.

In some cases, the tires are of different sizes across the axel but are also directional. These will need to be removed from the wheels and then mounted again on the opposite wheel.

Six Tires

One further complication when doing rotation is when vehicles have dual rear wheels. In such cases, there are six wheels in total.

Vehicles with directional tires will be able to rotate all of the six tires.

The three on the right side replace each other in a circular direction. Then the three on the left side do the same.

Vehicles with non-directional tires can also use this same rotation pattern. Alternatively, replace the two front ones with the other. Then rotate the four back tires in a motion that ensures that each receives an equal amount of wear.

Final Thoughts

Following a steady and informed routine will contribute to the overall wellbeing of your tires, and ensure that the rate of wear is evenly distributed across your tires to help maintain their life.

It will also make your vehicle safer to drive, and reduce your visits to the mechanic. And of course, it will save you money.

It is relatively easy to do the rotation yourself, and hopefully this article on how to rotate tires has shown you the way in an easily digestible manner. We hope that with the guidance we’ve provided, you’re ready to rise to the challenge.

If you have any questions, please do let us know in the comments below.

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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