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How to Rotate Your Tires to Get as Much Use as Possible Out of Them

Do this routine maintenance regularly, and your tires—and automobile—will thank you, not to mention last quite a bit longer.

how to do a tire rotation at home
Trevor Raab

Tires are expensive, so it’s in your best interest to make them last as long as possible. To extend their lease on life, you’ll need to rotate them periodically.

The process involves periodically swapping your tires between axles to promote even treadwear—manufacturers generally say to rotate every 3,000 to 8,000 miles. However, it’s worth checking your tires before the scheduled interval to look for uneven wear. Keep an eye out for flat spots within the peaks and valleys of the tread. Ideally, treadwear should be consistent enough that you’ll have to measure the tread depth to even notice any discrepancies.

      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 much harder than the ones in the back. The front pair bears all the burden of accelerating and turning as well as most of the forces of braking. Front-engine front-wheel-drive cars also carry most of their weight on the front end, which adds a bit more load onto those tires. That’s why you’ll want to rotate—if your vehicle’s tire and wheel setup allow for it.


              The Most Important Step: Making Sure You Can Rotate

              how to do a tire rotation at home
              Trevor Raab

              Let’s start simple. The first thing you need to do is figure out whether you can even rotate your tires.

              Cars sometimes use directional tires where the tread pattern is designed to work in, you guessed it, one direction. This type of rubber will generally have an arrow on the sidewall that points in the direction the tire rotates—or in our case, an “outside” label that denotes proper orientation. You can swap these wheels and tires from front to back yourself with relative ease. However, you can’t swap these tires from side to side without having someone dismount the tire from the wheel, since changing sides as-is would flip the tread pattern in the wrong direction.

              Many performance cars also use staggered tire sizes, which usually means that 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. You can only rotate tires to the other side of their given axle, which means you’ll need someone to dismount and remount the tire to fit on the wheel on the other side.

              Another issue is wheel size—particularly, the measurement for the wheel’s offset. Offset refers to the distance from the centerline of the wheel to the mounting hub. This determines whether a wheel clears vital braking and suspension components, or if it works with the suspension geometry at all. Some cars, such as the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, might have the same size tires on all four corners, but slightly different wheels with different offsets.

              In this case, you may be able to swap wheels from side to side if the tires aren’t directional, however, you will have to dismount and remount tires to swap them from front to back. Check your owner's manual on that one since it won't be obvious just by looking.

              Go Time: How to Rotate Your Tires

              how to do a tire rotation at home
              Trevor Raab

              The Tools You’ll Need:

                First, make a plan about where each tire will be rotated. If all your tires are non-directional and your wheels are the same size, you can move them around without any worries. However, you’ll see that this depends largely on your vehicle’s drivetrain—ie: front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, etc.

                If you’ve got non-staggered directional tires but can’t get to a machine or a tire shop that can dismount tires, you can buy some time before having to swap sides by moving the rear wheels to the front and vice versa on the same side of the car. Likewise, with nondirectional staggered sizes, you can just trade sides at the front and rear.

                See below for a helpful guide on best practices for tire rotation for your specific vehicle.

                Tire Rack
                Tire Rack

                The first thing to do is take a grease pencil or paint pen and mark each tire with its appropriate corner. I prefer to write left front (LF), right front (RF), left rear (LR), and right rear (RR)—yes, this is how Formula 1 teams label tires. 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, and if looks matter, you may want to put this on the interior sidewall of the tire.

                how to do a tire rotation at home
                Trevor Raab

                Then loosen the lug nuts. However, before you start buzzing the lugs off like a NASCAR tire changer, make sure your car is in gear, with the parking brake set and tires chocked in place. Always do this when the car is on the ground, as it provides resistance on the wheel that makes it easier to loosen the lug nuts. We used an impact wrench, but the tire iron in your trunk is also perfectly fine. Then loosen each nut to where it’s relatively easy to spin off once the car is off the ground, but leave the nuts on the studs for now.

                how to do a tire rotation at home
                Trevor Raab

                Find a jack point (usually just behind the front wheel opening at the front, and just ahead of the rear wheel opening at the rear) and raise the car up. If you don’t know where this is, your owner’s manual should be able to point you to the right place. There are often multiple jack points on a car, too. You can slide a jack stand under that jack point, assuming there are spots 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.

                how to do a tire rotation at home
                Trevor Raab
                how to do a tire rotation at home
                Trevor Raab

                Carefully lower the car onto the jack stand, making sure that the bottom of the stand is making even, solid contact with the ground.

                If you don’t have a full-size spare so there’s an extra wheel to swap onto each corner as you work, and you’re rotating all four tires diagonally across the car, it is easiest to put all four corners on jack stands to do so. However, it’s always safer to have as many chocked wheels still on the ground as possible. If you’re swapping wheels from front to back or side to side, just jack up one side or axle at a time. It’s also a good idea to put something substantial (such as a wheel or a heavy block of wood) under one of the corners where you’re working, just in case a jack stand fails. You can never be too careful.

                how to do a tire rotation at home
                Trevor Raab
                how to do a tire rotation at home
                Trevor Raab

                Once the car is solidly up on stands, remove the wheel at the first corner, moving the wheel where it needs to go. Then repeat the process at the next corner. After you’ve rotated the tires to their final positions, hand-tighten the lug nuts and lower the car. Then use a torque wrench to torque the lug nuts to the amount specified by your owner’s manual and you’re done—until the next time.

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