Car Ownership 101 — How and Why Should I Rotate My Tires?

September 9th, 2022 by

It may seem like a simple operation that can be put off until later, but tire rotation is extremely important. Cars, trucks, SUVs, and other road vehicles that do not have their tires rotated regularly run the risk of causing expensive but easily preventable damage. Let’s take a look at what tire rotation is, why it has to be done for the proper upkeep of any road vehicle, and how it is carried out.

Tire Rotation, Balance, and Alignment: Definitions and Schedules

Three terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably regarding wheel and tire maintenance. The first is tire rotation, which is the switching of tires into a predetermined position to reduce the prevalence of tire wear. The second is tire balance, which is balancing the weight of the tires in relation to the wheels. The third is wheel alignment, which is the adjustment of wheel angle to ensure that the vehicle moves straight down the road when the steering wheel sets the drive system in that direction.

We’ll be talking about rotation here, but the other two play important roles in ensuring that a vehicle is safe to drive and unlikely to wear its tires out too quickly. Regular driving will eventually throw off proper rotation, balance, and alignment, so all three of these operations need to be done regularly.

Tire rotations should be carried out every 7,500 miles or every six months, whichever comes first. Tires should be rebalanced every 12,000 miles or once every other rotation, whichever comes first. Tire alignment should be restored every 60,000 miles or every other oil change, whichever comes first. If your vehicle gets exceptionally heavy use, especially off-road, all these maintenance operations will need to be done more often. The more stress put on the related systems, the more quickly their rotation, balance, and alignment are thrown off.

Why Should I Rotate My Tires?

Rotation prevents tire wear and increased stress on the rotors and other connected components by setting the tires into an ideal position based on engineering specifications. These specifications vary between drive and tire types, but shop mechanics are well-trained in the procedure, and the steps to rotate every drive type are readily available for reference.

If tires go without rotation for an extended period of time, their treads will wear out more quickly. For front-wheel drivetrain vehicles, it will cause more severe wearing on the front two wheels. For rear-wheel drivetrain vehicles, it will cause greater wear on the rear two.

When regular rotations aren’t done on vehicles with all-wheel or four-wheel drivetrains, all four tires will wear more quickly, but their tires will wear evenly in contrast to the uneven wear for two-wheel drive tires. If a vehicle runs for an extended period without rotation of its tires, the tires may lose enough tread and base rubber to cause a blowout.

Tires with worn-out treads will hydroplane far more easily than those with solid ones. A tire that bursts in the middle of driving can have expensive and serious consequences, so make sure to get your tires rotated on schedule. There is no reason to take such a major risk when a simple maintenance task can prevent it.

How Should I Rotate My Tires?

The simplest and easiest way to have them rotated is to take your vehicle into a certified service center, but we’re glad to detail the process here if you’d rather handle it yourself. You’ll need a few sturdy tools to do this properly. The first is a car jack. Many are available on the market, but make sure you get one with the correct rating to handle your vehicle’s weight. The measurement in the owner’s manual used for this is known as curb weight. The other tools you’ll need are a jack stand and a lug wrench.

You’ll need to find out whether your tires are directional or non-directional. Directional tires are meant for one side of the car or the other, so they aren’t meant to be switched to the other side. Directional tires are rotated by switching the front right with back right and front left with back left.

Non-directional tires can be changed to any position. To rotate non-directional tires on a rear-wheel drive vehicle, move the front right tire to the rear left, the front left tire to the rear right, the rear right tire to the front right, and the rear left tire to the front left. If you have a front-wheel drive system, the process is the same.

If you have a full-size spare tire, you can add it to the rotation to extend the tread life of all five tires, but make sure you replace all of them after they wear down. A nearly bald spare tire isn’t just near useless — it’s dangerous. The entire operation should take no more than 20 minutes after you get set up.

First, engage the parking brake, then loosen the lug nuts on all four wheels. Lift one wheel with the jack and put the jack stands in place. You can use the jack stands on all four tires at once to do the work, or jack each tire up separately as you move around the vehicle. Either method is valid. Remove the tires and rotate them according to the above patterns.

Screw the lug nuts in by hand until you can turn them no further. Finally, lower the vehicle onto the ground and tighten the lug nuts with your lug wrench. Make sure all lug nuts are tightened evenly on each tire. Unevenly tightened lug nuts can cause rotor damage over time.

If you want your tire rotation done quickly and correctly and to have your vehicle inspected for safety, bring your vehicle into Applegate Chevrolet. The expertly trained and highly experienced crew at our shop will have the work done in no time. Feel free to contact us and set up a time for your tire rotation at your convenience. We’ll be glad to handle all of your vehicle’s maintenance work.

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