How to Rotate Your Tires

You're supposed to do it every 3,000 to 8,000 miles. Here's how.

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Ezra Dyer

Tires are expensive. You want to make them last as long as possible. To do that, you need to rotate your tires every once in a while (different guidelines range from 3,000 miles to 8,000 miles).

Why is this so important? No matter what kind of car you drive, the tires at each corner are all doing a slightly different job, which means they wear differently. Front-wheel-drive cars in particular make their front tires work a lot harder than the rears—the front pair bears all the burden for accelerating and turning, and most of it for braking. In addition, front-wheel cars carry most of their weight on the front end.

But you're not off the hook if you drive a rear- or all-wheel-drive vehicle. Any car will wear its tires in different ways just because of the peculiarities of that particular car's suspension or alignment. So you want to rotate them—if you can.

The Most Important Step: Making Sure You Can Rotate

Don't skip this step! The first thing you need to do is figure out whether your car's tires can be rotated at all. Many performance cars use staggered sizes, which usually means the rear tires are wider than the fronts (though not always, as demonstrated by the wider front tires on the Audi RS3). In this case, you can't slap your wide rear tires on the front.

Performance cars also sometimes use directional tires, meaning the tread pattern is designed to work in one direction (denoted by an arrow on the sidewall, or more generally by a V-shaped tread pattern). You can't swap these tires side to side at the front or rear end, since changing sides would flip the tread pattern in the wrong direction.

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A Goodyear Eagle F1—a directional tire.
Goodyear

One more variable: wheel offset, which means how "deep" your wheels are relative to the car's body. Some cars might have the same size tires on all four corners, but different wheels. For example: If you're lucky enough to own a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro z/28, the tires are all the same size but you'll have to take them off the wheels to rotate them, because the rear wheels are wider than the fronts. Check your owner's manual on that one, since it won't be obvious just by looking.

How to Rotate Your Tires

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Got a full-size spare on a matching wheel? Showoff. But you can put that in the mix when you rotate tires, too.
Ezra Dyer

First, make a plan about where each tire will be rotated.

If all your tires and wheels are the same size and nondirectional: You can swap diagonally front to rear, or move the fronts to the rear diagonal corner while moving the rears forward on the same side. If you have a full-size spare on a matching wheel, you can get really anal retentive and add that to the mix, too.

If you've got non-staggered directional tires: Move the rears to the front and vice versa on the same side of the car. With nondirectional staggered sizes, you can just trade sides at the front and rear.

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Tire Rack
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Tire Rack

Okay, let's get started. The first thing to do is take a grease pencil and mark each tire with its appropriate corner. It may sound silly, but if you lose track of which tire is which then you defeat the whole purpose of this exercise. Take a moment to mark them up.

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Ezra Dyer

Then loosen the lug nuts. Always do this when the car is on the ground, because you don't want to be torquing a sticky lug nut while the car is on jacks or jack stands. Make sure your car is in gear, with the parking brake set and the tires chocked. You don't want the car moving.

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Loosen the lug nuts before you jack up the car.
Ezra Dyer
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Tools of the trade: tire iron, jack, jack stand.
Ezra Dyer

Find your jacking point (usually just behind the front wheel opening at the front, and just ahead of the rear wheel opening at the rear) and jack the car up. Then slide a jack stand under that point, assuming there's room for both the jack and jack stand. If there's not, you might have to jack the car from another solid spot, like under a differential or subframe inboard of the suspension.

Lower the car onto the jack stand. Remove the tire. Then repeat the process at the corner that you're swapping.

On the question of whether you should speed up this process by using four jack stands simultaneously, the answer is probably not. Generally speaking, it's best to have as many wheels as possible attached to the car while you're working on it. And even then, you may as well be paranoid and place something—one of the tires that's not on the car, or blocks of wood—under one the wheel-less corners just as some extra insurance in case a jack or jack stand fails. Also: There's no reason to be under the car in any way for this.

Once you've rotated the tires, hand-tighten the lug nuts and lower the car. Then torque the lug nuts properly and you're done—until the next time.

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