You may heard it a million times before- rotate the wheels on your vehicle to extend the useable life of all your tires, especially if they were used tires, but it bears repeating nonetheless. Rotating tires to run on different corners of a vehicle remains one of the most effective ways to make tires last longer, which can save you a ton of money over the life of your vehicle. However, there is a right, and wrong way to rotate tires, and getting it wrong can cause premature, if not catastrophic tire failure. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to rotate your tires.
Read this before you rotate tires
- All manufacturers recommend a rotation pattern that is specific to some vehicles. Details of this pattern will be in the user manual, so be sure to always follow these recommendations. Failure to do so could cause tire failure, and a potentially fatal crash.
- If there is significantly more wear on the front tires than on the rear, place the tires with the most tread on the rear wheels. However, due to factors such as tire construction, tire diameter / tread width, and others, this is not always possible.
- Bear in mind that while rotating tires can make them last longer, tire rotation cannot compensate for worn steering and suspension parts, incorrect tire pressures, or problems with the suspension geometry, such as poorly aligned wheels. In these cases, tire rotation will only destroy good tires on the wheels that do have issues, so be sure to watch out for signs of uneven tire wear, and have all problems corrected or fixed as soon as they appear.
So, are you ready to rotate your tires?
The image above shows the most common tire rotation patterns, but bear in mind that there are some cases where these patterns don’t work, and should not be tried. Let us look at some tire types that should not be rotated in the patterns shown above.
Directional tires are designed with an asymmetrical tread pattern to increase traction while cornering, reduce road noise, and provide improved steering responses. These tires can only be rotated by moving them between axles on the same side of the vehicle. For instance, the left front wheel can only be placed on the left rear; putting the left front wheel on the right rear means the tire will rotate in the direction it was not designed to rotate in, which will cause the tire to overheat and fail within a few miles. Not to mention the fact that a tire rotating in the wrong direction loses almost all traction.
Tires of this type will always have some indication of the direction they are meant to rotate in. Common indicators are arrows molded into side wall, or words like “OUTSIDE”, or a combination of arrows and words. Do NOT disregard these indicators- doing so could cost you your life.
There are not many vehicles that have unevenly sized tires as a stock feature, but it should be obvious that the tires on such a vehicle can only be rotated from left to right, or from right to left on the same axle. However, this assumes that the tires are not directional; if they are indeed directional, the only way to rotate the tires safely is to have them dismounted from the rims and switched around, so that the direction of rotation remains the same.
How to rotate the spare wheel
Tire rotation should include the spare wheel, so if you have a full-sized spare wheel, keep the following in mind-
- If you have off-road or all-wheel-drive vehicle, it is important to rotate the spare in such a way that it wears at about the same rate as the other tires. It also depends on what tires you’re running for off-road activities. The drive trains on some all-wheel-drive vehicles are very sensitive to difference in wheel diameter, and in some cases the difference between the diameter of a new, and a partially worn tire is enough to cause serious drivability and/or mechanical issues.
- The same goes for off-road vehicles that use viscous clutch couplings to vector torque to the front and rear differentials. If the tires are not all the same size, these couplings can overheat and fail.
- It is very important to remember that safety systems such as ABS brakes, traction control, and stability control assume that the wheels are the same diameter. Even slight differences in the diameters of the wheels can upset the programming, and hence the functioning of these systems if some wheels rotate at different rates. Safety systems are typically not programmed to compensate for these differences, so do not forget to include the spare wheel in a tire rotation program