How to Rotate Tires
Time Required: Under 2 hours
As part of basic car maintenance, rotating tires should be completed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. This ensures that the tires wear evenly. While many people choose to have this maintenance professionally done, you can learn how to rotate tires and complete the task as a DIY project at home.
This guide will teach you how to rotate tires and show you the tools you need to get the job done.
With daily use, the front and rear tires on your car typically endure different rates and patterns of wear. Both front tires wear faster than the rear tires due to the most of the car’s mass being at the front. In addition, typical turning patterns as we drive can cause one or the other front tire to wear down faster.
In all, rotating tires is essential to balance out these wear patterns and extend the life of your tires, which mitigates the cost of tire replacement. It also helps maintain the car’s traction and handling, which can be life-saving in inclement weather from rain to snow.
Rotating tires is made much easier when you get the right tools for the job:
A lug wrench is essential for loosening and tightening the nuts that secure the tire to the car. A four-sided wrench is versatile enough to use on a variety of nut sizes and also provides a good grip to get the leverage you need to turn nuts when tightening.
Most cars come with a small jack packed along with the spare tire kit. This jack is only intended for quick roadside repairs. If you intend to perform DIY maintenance on your car regularly, you should invest in a hydraulic car jack. It provides a reliable lift and can securely hold the weight of the car provided you buy one in the correct size.
It is unsafe to allow the car to rest only on the lip of the hydraulic jack as you work on the vehicle. You must place jack stands under the car to provide the proper stability. Jack stands are usually sold in sets of two. When you purchase a set, be sure the jack stands are the correct size to support the weight of your vehicle.
Directional tires have a uniquely designed tread pattern and are made to only rotate in one direction. They have an arrow on the sidewall to point in the correct way the tire should turn, and the tire can only be mounted correctly on the corresponding side of the car. The most significant advantage of directional tires is that they offer better handling in wet conditions and they are optimized to be more fuel efficient.
In terms of tire rotation, directional tires can only be rotated front to back. As shown in the diagram, the front right tire will be switched with the rear right tire; the front left, with the rear left.
While this simplifies the process, this also mean that directional tires tend to have a shorter tread life than normal tires. Also, in some cars there may a slight difference in tires size between the front and rear tires. In that case, you will not be able to perform tire rotations at all.
The tread pattern in non-directional tires is designed to perform generally well in all conditions, and while they are not as aesthetically flashy as non-directional tires, they are durable and economical. Non-directional tires have a longer tread life due to their ability to be rotated around the car; uneven tread wear is much easier to eliminate, and the tires don’t need to be wholly replaced as often.
As shown in the diagram, the standard rotation pattern moves the tires in a figure like a horizontal hourglass:
- The front left tire rotates to the right rear position
- The right rear tire rotates to the right front position
- The right front tire rotates to the left rear position
- The left rear tire rotates to the left front position
If the car is a model with front-wheel drive, reverse this pattern, beginning with the front tires:
- The front left tire rotates to the left rear position
- The left rear tire rotates to the right front position
- The right front tire rotates to the right rear position
- The right rear tire rotates to the left front position
- Place the vehicle in park on level ground.
- Engage the emergency brake.
- Place a tire block or a wedge of scrap wood under one of the tires.
- Loosen the lug nuts on all the wheels, but do not remove them completely.
- Check your vehicle’s manual for the proper placement of a jack. Using a hydraulic jack, put it into position under the car frame next to the first tire to be rotated.
- Place the handle into the body of the jack and pump the handle smoothly to raise the jack until it contacts the car frame.
- Raise the car until the first tire just clears the ground.
- Remove the tire.
- Continue to raise the car until is just clears the height of the jack stand.
- Place the jack stand into proper position under the car frame.
- Slowly lower the car to rest on the jack stand and lock the stand in place.
- Repeat the action on the other side of the car, lifting the side of the car next to the tire that will be rotated into the first position. Remove the tire once it has just cleared the ground, then position the jack stand as described.
- Place the second tire into the first position, and fit it securely over the wheel bolts.
- Replace the lug nuts, but only finger tighten. Then use the lug wrench to slightly secure the bolts, but do not tighten them snugly.
- Using the jack, raise the car until it clears the top of the jack stand, and then remove the jack stand.
- Lower the car back to the ground.
Use the lug wrench to tighten the nuts, following a star pattern:
- Starting with the bolt at the top, apply medium steady pressure to the wrench and tighten until firmly in place. Be careful not to over tighten.
- Move the wrench to the bolt directly across from the one you tightened. Repeat the action.
- Move to the bolt to the direct left of the one you began with and repeat.
- Move to the bolt to the direct right of the one you began with and repeat.
- Finish on the last bolt and complete the tightening.
- Continue the process as described for each tire in the rotation pattern.
- Be sure to move your wheel block to a different wheel when you begin to remove the tire under which you first placed it.