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What is Tire Rotation?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Tire rotation is the practice of swapping the front tires of a car with the back tires at regular intervals. The basic idea behind this is to extend the life of the tires by allowing more even treadwear. Some specialty tire manufacturers do not recommend the practice for their customers, but most cars benefit from it. Some tire stores even include tire rotation as part of their service contract.

The front tires of a passenger car or truck have to perform several different tasks. In conjunction with the rear tires, they provide traction through direct contact with the road surface. They must also respond to steering commands by altering the car's momentum in one direction or another. The result of all this friction is a gradual loss of tread. Front tires simply take more abuse than rear ones while the car is moving.

In order to prevent the front tires from wearing out much faster than the rear ones, a periodic tire rotation becomes necessary. Some experts suggest it be done after 7,500 miles (or about 12,000 km) have elapsed. Others say the procedure should be timed around every other oil change. The tires may also have to be rebalanced at the same time, a procedure often included in the service at a commercial automotive center. Some mechanics may suggest a front-end alignment as well, since a misaligned car can create even more uneven treadwear.

Car owners with some mechanical know-how and enough jacks can rotate their tires at home. The trick is to keep track of each tire's original location and its new destination. If the spare tire is in good repair and full-sized, it may also be included in the rotation. The process begins with jacking up the entire car evenly with four jackstands or a hydraulic lift.

Once the car is securely lifted, the right front tire should be removed with a lug wrench and muscle power. If a spare tire is included in the process, the spare should replace the front right tire. Otherwise, the right rear tire should be moved to the front position and the original right front tire should be attached in the right rear position. All lug nuts should be tightened securely in a criss-cross pattern to ensure a balanced fit.

The same procedure should be followed on the left side tires. The left front tire becomes the left rear tire and the left rear tire is now in the front position. Once all of the lug nuts have been secured and the spare tire stored away, the car can be lowered to the ground and test-driven. If the car seems to pull in one direction or feels wobbly while in motion, the tires may need to be professionally balanced and the front end may need a realignment.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By ValleyFiah — On Aug 17, 2010

The recommended tire rotation technique for vehicles with staggered or asymmetrical tires is different from vehicles with symmetrical tires.

Staggered wheels are wheels that are wider in the rear than they are in the front. Some rear-wheel drive vehicles have this tire configuration. In these instances, tires can only be swapped between axles, not front to back.

Asymmetrical and unidirectional tires on the other hand can only be swapped front to back, not across axles. If these types of tires are swapped across axles, their performance will be greatly decreased. Care also must be taken when rotating in a spare asymmetrical or unidirectional tire, ensuring that the tire is rotating in the proper direction.

By Amphibious54 — On Aug 17, 2010

@ Submariner- If you are performing a car or truck tire rotation at home you should also remember to block off the wheels on the ground, jack the vehicle on a level surface, and loosen the lug nuts while the wheel is on the ground. You probably know this, but for people who want to save a few bucks, these are important tips for keeping their vehicle on the jack stands and off the ground (or worse yet, off their body). Safety is always paramount when you have a two-ton vehicle balanced on a few square inches of pavement.

By submariner — On Aug 17, 2010

Honestly, you only need one jack and a jack stand, or two jacks when performing a car tire rotation. Jacking up one side of the vehicle will not throw off your alignment as long as the tires stay on the same side of the vehicle (swap right rear with right front, etc.). The wear pattern of the tires from the same side should be about the same.

I would also like to point out that you should use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts, especially if you are rotating aftermarket or alloy rims. Over-tightening your lug nuts will result in damage to your wheels, and under-tightening them can create a safety hazard.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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