Tire Rotation | Everything You Need to Know

Everything you need to know about swapping those tires (and why you should do it).

Tire Rotation complete guide to rotating your tires

It might be time to rotate your tires. But why? And when is tire rotation a good idea? We provide a 6-step guide to swap your rubber yourself, and touch on different tire rotation patterns and the costs.

by Kelly Taylor

Your tires are the only things holding your car on the road, and they do that with a combined contact patch of about the size of a standard magazine cover.

Each tire grips the road with, typically, no more than an average-sized hand’s worth of contact, so keeping that patch pristine is key to how your car handles, stops, steers and deals with water.

One of the simplest techniques for getting the most out of your tires — something you can do at home, too — is tire rotation.

rotate tires meme

What is Tire Rotation Exactly and Why Do It?

Simply put, it’s the act of moving tires (and usually their accompanying wheels) to different spots on the car. Tire and car manufacturers recommend rotation as a way to deal with uneven wear on the tires and to prevent excessive wear on one or two particular tires.

Tire Loads

Tires are under different loads depending on their positions, so uneven wear is inevitable irrespective of any structural issues. Front tires typically bear more weight — both because they’re under the engine and also because weight effectively transfers forward during braking.

drivers make more right turns than left turns, which is also reflected in greater wear on the left.

Tire Placement

As well, tires on the outside of corners wear differently than tires on the inside of corners. The outside tires have both farther to travel and bear more weight, as turning a corner shifts weight to the outside of the corner. Statistics suggest drivers make more right turns than left turns, which is also reflected in greater wear on the left.

Benefits

Rotating your tires is a way to equalize wear and tear over the life of your tires. It also puts your tires front-and-centre in the eyes of a technician, who can identify not only worn tires, but also potential mechanical issues from the tread wear.

How Often Should You Rotate Your Tires

Your vehicle’s owner’s manual is the best source of information on everything maintenance-related, and rotation schedules can differ, but most recommendations are to rotate every 5,000 to 7,500 miles or 8,000 to 12,000 kilometres.

U.S. News agrees that typically tire rotation is called for every 5,000 to 7,500 miles, though there are exceptions.

In many parts of North America (and pretty much all of Canada unless you’re on the Vancouver coast), winter tires are a necessity. If you experience long periods of temperatures less than 45 F or 7C (yes, seven above zero) and or snow, you need winter tires. For many drivers, the changeover from winter to summer and back provides an excellent rotation schedule at the same time.

Each tire grips the road with, typically, no more than an average-sized hand’s worth of contact, so keeping that patch pristine is key to how your car handles, stops, steers and deals with water.

New tires wear the most quickly for the first few thousand kilometres of life, so for that first rotation, it’s recommended to rotate closer to the 5,000-mile or 8,000-kilometre mark than latter. For subsequent rotations, follow the manual:

How to Rotate Your Tires

Here’s our quick guide below. Digital Trends also has a comprehensive piece here on how to rotate tires.

Recommended tools:

  • car jack (the one supplied with the car will do)
  • jack stand
  • torque wrench with appropriate-sized socket
  • tire iron
  • air compressor
  • wheel chocks
  • wheel lock key (if you have wheel locking nuts)

Step-by-Step Tire Rotation Guide:

1. Read the owner’s manual

This will tell you the recommended rotation pattern, which depends on the drive layout (front drive, rear drive, all-wheel drive) of your vehicle, as well as whether your vehicle employs directional tires. Directional tires are only supposed to be mounted to rotate in the direction of forward movement.

2. Find the spare tire

If your vehicle uses a full-size spare — in other words, it’s the same size and make of tire, mounted on wheels identical to the other four and is not marked “for temporary use only” —  take it out of the trunk and place it near the rear, passenger-side wheel.

3. Check all wheels for tire pressure

Check all wheels for tire pressure, including the spare. Top up or deflate slightly any that are off-spec. (The correct pressures are listed in the manual and on a placard on the driver’s side door jamb.)

4. Chock the other wheels and apply the parking brake.

Loosen the rear passenger lug nuts but do not remove. Using the car’s jack and recommended jacking points (again, in the manual), lift the car at the rear passenger wheel until it’s off the ground. Completely remove the lug nuts and take off the wheel. Replace it with the spare tire. (See below for reinstallation instructions.)

5. Got a full-size spare?

If your vehicle employs a full-size spare, replace the wheel just removed with the spare. Move the removed wheel to near its recommended rotation partner (see below). If your vehicle uses a temporary spare, place a jack stand in the recommended location at the passenger rear wheel and lower the vehicle onto the stand.

6. Rinse and repeat

Move to the removed wheel’s partner and repeat the process to loosen, jack and remove that wheel. Continue following the rotation pattern until you’re ready to replace the rear passenger wheel that you started with. If your full-size spare is already in that location, place the last tire in whatever location holds the spare tire in your vehicle.  

Below: just a random photo of a super cool tire dude wearing a leather jacket and shades. We’re pretty sure he rotates with his buddies.

cool tire

Reinstalling wheels

  1. Place the wheel on the wheel bolts and double-check it’s facing the right way, and if directional, the rotation direction is to the front of the car (clockwise on right-side wheels, counterclockwise on the left). Replace the lug nuts and snug them by hand. Lower the tire to the ground.
  2. Now, starting with any particular lug nut, tighten that nut and then make the last tighten with a torque wrench to the recommended torque. (Torque specifications change from vehicle to vehicle and in this case, an internet search engine is your friend.)
  3. Next, move to a lug nut opposite the first and tighten it. In the case of a four-bolt pattern, move to the nut at the opposite corner. If a five-bolt pattern, move to a nut two away from the first, in either direction. Repeat crossing over until all nuts are tight.
  4. The next day, re-torque the nuts again. Metal relaxes after the first tighten and can leave nuts loose.

Tire Rotation Pattern

If your vehicle uses directional tires, the pattern is simple: back tires move to the front and front to the back, without crossing sides.

If your vehicle uses different sizes on the front and rear, there’s also a good chance it uses directional tires. In this case, you need a shop, as the tires need to be dismounted and remounted on their corresponding partner’s wheel. (Front right goes to front left, rear right goes to rear left.)

There’s a chance you have different sizes front and back but not directional tires. This staggered placement means you can swap rears and fronts side-to-side without dismounting and remounting.

tire rotation patterns
Resource courtesy of rma.org

If your vehicle does not use directional tires, move the rear tires to the opposite side at the front and the front tires to the opposite side at the rear.

If your vehicle uses a full-size spare — meaning it’s the same size and mounted on a wheel identical to the others — put the spare on the right passenger side and put the front driver’s side wheel in the spare-tire location.

Tire Rotation Costs

The cost will depend on your local shop’s shop rate, as it’s primarily a service that requires no parts. Quora has a discussion here on how much tire rotation should cost with varied price points.

Look for rates between $60 and $100, more if your tires are staggered and directional and must be dismounted and remounted. Blend rotation into the summer-winter changeover to save some money.

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