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Anyone who's owned a car for a few years knows that tires aren't cheap. They're robust and sturdy, but thousands of miles of concrete and gravel take their toll. Tire companies would prefer that people believe their tires must be replaced every six months, but other options exist.

Tire rotations are a form of preventative maintenance for vehicles. Rather than waiting for tires to become unusable, vehicle owners are encouraged to switch the ordering of their tires and redistribute the wear.

However, this must be done before the tread is too far gone, which requires strong attention to detail. Getting it right will extend tire lifespan, save on maintenance costs, and enhance your vehicle's overall performance.

What is a Tire Rotation?

The tires on your car are like the students in a class project. They're not working equally. While one tire cruises through your morning recruit, the others tear themselves apart at every turn.

A tire rotation relieves the burden on certain wheels by switching them with wheels that aren't under as much pressure. Basically, it reassigns the harder jobs to wheels that are in better condition and averages out the overall wear.

So, even if your front tires are approaching an unusable point, you can buy more time by swapping them with the rear set.

This inequality occurs for many reasons. Some relate to your habits behind the wheel, but many others are inevitable across a vehicle's lifetime. The most common reasons for uneven tire wear include the following:

Unbalanced Wheels

Balanced tires spin smoothly on the axle, and consistent motion maintains an even tread over time. However, wheels that shake or bounce while driving will wear unpredictably, causing the set to deteriorate at different speeds.

Damaged Suspension

The suspension keeps your ride smooth rather than feeling like a bouncy house on wheels. It's vital to your comfort and safety but also plays a massive role in protecting your car's parts and letting them go the distance.

Parts like the ball joints, control arms, and wheel bearings keep the tires in place. If they're damaged, the wheels wobble, creating uneven tread wear.

Low or High Tire Pressure

Incorrectly inflated tires can cause isolated parts of the tire to sag while rolling. These divots deteriorate less quickly due to limited contact and develop an uneven tread. This problem is relatively easy to spot because you'll notice significant differences in wear between the tire tread's center strip and its outer edges.

Driving Style

Your driving quirks can affect how quickly and evenly your tires wear out. Even the paths you take to the office or the gym can affect your tires if you make an imbalanced amount of turns in one direction.

Habits like taking abrupt turns, braking too hard, or drifting are the more likely culprits. These sudden, less controlled movements put uneven pressure on one side of the vehicle, leaving that side in poor condition.

How To Rotate Tires

Tire rotation isn't complicated, but it's not as straightforward as randomly swapping tire placement. Various options are available to maximize the longevity of the wheels, and some vehicle models have recommended patterns to follow.

You can decide whether you want to DIY this task or leave it to a professional mechanic. However, we recommend trying it at least once on your own. Not only will it save on maintenance costs, but you'll learn more about your vehicle and gain satisfaction through the process.

The first step is to decide where each wheel will go preemptively. You don't want to think about this with a lifted car and four tires in front of you.

Front, Rear, and 4-Wheel Tire Rotation Patterns

Your tire rotation strategy depends on the vehicle's transmission layout, tire sizes,types, and whether the tires are directional. Things will also change if you have a spare, full-size tire available for switching in and out.

The primary tire rotation patterns include the following:

Rearward Cross: Move the rear tires to the front axle without changing the side they're on. Then, move the front tires to the rear while switching to the opposite side. This pattern is recommended for rear-wheel drive (RWD) vehicles that grip the road with the rear wheels.

Forward Cross: This pattern is typical in front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicles where steering and braking occur at the front axle. It shifts the front tires back in a straight line while the rear tires move forward diagonally, crossing over to the other side. 

X-Pattern: This method moves all tires diagonally. It's recommended for 4-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles, which split acceleration equally. Swapping to the opposite sides also means they're turning against a different tire edge.

The above are the recommended patterns for non-directional wheel sets. However, it's best to consult your vehicle's owner manual or online resources for the manufacturer's suggested patterns.

Many all-wheel vehicle owners also keep a spare, full-size tire in their trunk. Integrating the spare into the rotation will guarantee a more even spread. In most cases, you'll replace the tire that would generally move to the right rear position with the spare.

Other rotation patterns are reserved for high-performance cars or vehicles with highly specialized uses.

The first is Side-to-Side, which switches tires to the opposite side of the axle. The second is Front-to-Back, which swaps the front and rear tires on the same side. Your owner manual will most likely mention these methods if necessary.

How to Remove The Wheels For a Tire Rotation

How to Remove the Wheels for a Tire Rotation

Knowing the patterns doesn't help if you can't remove the tires. Many people already know how to change a tire, but there are a few differences during a tire rotation. The most significant change is that you're not swapping out one tire but moving all four around.

Your first job is to gather the right tools. There aren't a lot of requirements, but you'll want the following prepped:

  • Jack
  • 4 Jack stands
  • Lug wrench or impact wrench
  • Wheel chocks
  • A penny
  • Tire inflator (optional)
     

Preparation and Checking the Tread

Don't start by jacking up the vehicle. When the car is suspended off the ground, you can do a few things to make the process safer and more manageable.

Start by putting on some gloves unless you're fine with a thick coating of rubber particles on your hands. Take your penny and insert it into each tire's tread grooves. If you can see all of President Lincoln's head, then the tire is too far gone and should be replaced.

If the groove depth is acceptable, take your lug wrench and loosen the tire nuts. Do NOT remove the lug nuts yet. You are only loosening them, so you won't need to apply overt pressure on the nuts while the vehicle is suspended and less stable.

Lifting the Car

Next, you're going to elevate the vehicle. Professional garages usually have a car lift, but you can make do with a standard jack and some stands.

If you're not on a perfectly flat surface, place wheel chocks under the tires to prevent the vehicle from rolling away. Lift one corner at a time and place a stand underneath each time.

The vehicle's manual should state the most supportive spot for a jack stand, but most cars have a dedicated, reinforced point called a pinch weld you can use.

Removing and Rotating the Tires

This process is the same as what you see in the YouTube videos you watch after getting a flat tire on the highway. Use your lug wrench to completely remove the pre-loosened lug nuts and keep them in a level place. Lug nuts tend to roll away and disappear into thin air.

The wheel should easily slide out of its hub. Lay the wheel on its flat side next to the axle from which you removed it. Once all the tires are in place, execute your chosen rotation pattern or the manual's recommendation.

Here's a brief recap of typical rotation patterns:

  • Rearward Cross: Used for rear-wheel-drive vehicles
  • Forward Cross: Use in front-wheel drive vehicles
  • X-Pattern: Used in 4 or all-wheel drive vehicles

Follow the previous process in reverse to reinstall the wheels in their new positions. Once again, don't feel required to fully tighten the lugs until the vehicle is safely back on the ground.

Safely Lowering the Vehicle

People don't typically lift the entire car at once and may not know how to lower it. The easiest method is to place the jack lift at the center of each axle and lift the car a little higher. This breathing room lets you simultaneously slide out both jack stands at the front and rear ends.

However, only do this if your manual designates the axles as safe jack points. Lowering the corners one at a time with the jack is also perfectly acceptable.

Once the vehicle is back on all four wheels, tighten the lug nuts the rest of the way. Ensure you're not overtightening, which can damage the brake rotor over time.

Is Tire Rotation Necessary?

Tire rotations are necessary for getting the whole life out of your wheels. Replacing tire rims costs around $350 per wheel on average. This cost adds up quickly, and performing regular tire rotations will significantly reduce the number of times you have to spend big.

Vehicle owners also get the functional benefit of more efficient wheel placement. Uneven tires have greater resistance against the road, which decreases the vehicle's MPG.

Additionally, rotated tires are far safer since they are less likely to have incorrect tire pressure or fail in hazardous conditions. The tires are moving you forward, and you must be able to rely on them in any situation.

How Long Does a Tire Rotation Take?

Performing a DIY tire rotation can be time-consuming. You must lift the car and remove and reinstall all four tires. Anyone doing this for the first time can expect a multi-hour chore. However, this time can be reduced to under an hour once you get familiar with the process.

A professional garage can finish a tire rotation in 15 minutes to an hour. Their speed depends on their workload, tool availability, and general skill level. In any case, tire rotations are a basic task that shouldn't keep you holed up in their office for long.

How Much Is a Tire Rotation?

According to the Kelley Blue Book, a tire rotation costs up to $72 on average. If you add a tire balancing, the average cost rises to about $120.

Some mechanics will offer a free tire rotation when you come in for other maintenance tasks, such as oil changes or inspections. It might be a long shot, but asking doesn't hurt.

Note that the KBB cost is average, and the price will vary depending on where you live and the difficulty of the rotation. Some cars have harder-to-remove tires or other abnormalities that would raise the price. Regardless, the price of a tire rotation is a far better option than a full replacement set.

How Often To Rotate Tires?

Rather than a specific timeframe, rotating tires every five to seven-and-a-half thousand miles is better. You can reference the owner's manual for specific information, but remember that the listed estimates are for the stock wheels. You'll have to adjust your rotation schedule if you buy aftermarket or different OEM wheels.

Conclusion

Tire rotations are a crucial part of a vehicle maintenance. It brings several benefits beyond extending tire lifespan and is a comparably cheap alternative to purchasing a set of new tires. Several factors can force a quicker rotation, such as if the vehicle has underlying structural damage or the driver has reckless habits.

The good news is that the rotation process is an easy DIY project, even for novice home mechanics. With just a few essential tools, just about anyone can complete a tire rotation in under a few hours.

However, understand that a tire rotation isn't enough if you've waited too long and your tires are in a poor state. This method only prolongs the tire's life. It doesn't magically bring them back to a working state. At the end of the day, it's the same four tires on your car, and judging the right time to do a replacement versus a rotation is crucial to everyone's safety.

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