A general guide to rotating tires

Believe it or not, rotating tires is an important part of car maintenance. Even modern vehicles with all-wheel drive bias most of the power delivered from the engine to one set of wheels most of the time, with the secondary wheels only receiving a large portion of the torque when needed. As such, the primary drive tires will inevitably wear more than the tires that free-spin or receive little torque most of the time. So, to get the longest life out of all tires, the tires should be rotated every 12,000 miles or so. For most modern cars, rotating the tires at every oil change is ideal.

The recommended method for most cars is now to rotate the rears to the front and the fronts to the rear, always on the same side. But, each car is different and yours may call for a different method, like crisscrossing the tires. This is usually noted in the maintenance section of your car’s owner’s manual as well, but if you’re unsure, contact your local dealer before attempting this procedure. If you routinely take your car to an oil change shop or your local dealer, they’ll normally rotate the tires free of charge or for a small fee (typically around $10 - $20, depending on your location.) But, if you change your oil yourself, it’s also time to tackle the tire rotation too, but don’t worry, it’s much easier than you think and will ultimately save you money in the long run.

With that said, let’s dive on into the basic procedure and what you’ll need to get the job done right.

Disclaimer

Each year, make, and model of a vehicle is different, so never assume that the process is the same for your vehicle. This is to serve as a general guide to tire rotation only, and you are responsible to verify lifting points and fastener specs via your owner’s manual, a repair manual, or your local dealer. Working on your own vehicle can be risky, so proceed at your own risk. If you’re ever unsure or uncomfortable, consult a professional before diving into this procedure. Make sure to read this article in its entirety and be sure to understand the process before attempting this procedure.

What you Need

How to rotate your tires
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  • Wheel chocks
  • Floor jack
  • Jack stands (minimum two, but four is better)
  • Lug wrench or tire iron
  • Torque wrench

Step 1- Preparation

The first thing you need to do is park your vehicle on a level surface, place the transmission into park (if your car is equipped with an automatic transmission) and engage the parking brake. Check your owner’s manual for lift points. On most smaller cars, this will be the pinch welds located just behind the front wheels or just in front of the rear wheels. Break the lug nuts on each wheel loose, but don’t remove them.

Step 2- Lifting

Four Jack Stand Method

If you have four jack stands, place a set of wheel chocks around one of the rear wheels, then lift the front end with a floor jack. Some cars have a central jack point located under the front core support that you can use to lift the whole front end at once. Otherwise, use the pinch weld lift point to lift one corner. Place the jack stand under the subframe rail on that side of the vehicle. The idea is that the jack stand should be located under a flat surface of the frame rail that will support the weight of the vehicle. Slowly lower that corner of the vehicle onto the jack stand. Repeat this step for the other corner. Once the front end is positioned on jack stands, shake the vehicle to make sure that it is safely resting on the stands. It should not move. If it does, lift the vehicle and reposition the stands to a safer point.

Next, move to the rear. If your vehicle has a central jacking point in the rear (commonly the rear differential housing or center mounting point for the suspension) lift the entire rear end with the floor jack. If your vehicle doesn’t have a central lifting point, or if you’re not sure, use the lift points in front of the rear wheels at the pinch welds to lift the rear end one corner at a time. Place each remaining jack stand under the rear control or suspension arm where it mounts to the vehicle. Do not use the middle of the control/suspension arm or anywhere else under the body as this is unsafe and could injure you or damage the vehicle. One the jack stands are in place, lower the rear end onto the jack stands. At this point, the vehicle should be sitting level with the tires off the ground. Shake the vehicle again to make sure it is sitting securely on the stands. If it moves at all, reposition the jack stands accordingly.

Two Jack Stand Method

How to rotate your tires
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If you only have two jack stands, that is ok as well. Place the wheel chocks around the rear wheel opposite of the side you’re working on first. Lift the front corner and secure it on a stand as described above, then do the same for the rear on this side. Shake the vehicle to make sure it is steady. If it moves or seems unstable, lift each corner and readjust the stands as necessary. Now you have one side still firmly on the ground while the side you’re working on is elevated. Never try to lift the entire side of the car in the middle on one go, as this could damage the vehicle and lead to injury. While the vehicle is supported with stands on one side, do not crawl underneath it or place any part of your body under the vehicle.

Step 3 - Rotating the Tires

Remove the lug nuts for the wheels on one side. Remove both wheels. Place the front wheel on the rear hub and the rear wheel on the front hub. Install the lug nuts and snug them for now. If you’ve lifted the whole vehicle (four stand method,) repeat this process for the other side. If you’re using the two stand method, lift the vehicle off of the jack stands and lower it to the ground. Move the wheel chocks to the rear tire of the side you’ve just worked on, then lift the opposite side and secure it safely on jack stands as explained in Step 2. Rotate these tires, then snug the lug nuts and lower the vehicle to the ground.

Finish the Job

Now that the tires are rotated, and the vehicle is back on all fours, it’s time to tighten the lug nuts. Most vehicles call for about 100 pound-feet of torque on each nut, however, check your owner’s manual or consult your local dealer if you’re unsure or if it isn’t available in your owners manual. Tighten the lugs on each wheel in a crisscross pattern to the recommended torque with a torque wrench. It’s not recommended to tighten them without a torque wrench, but if you don’t have one, make sure they are nice and tight with a lug wrench, then stop at a local tire shop or dealer to have them check the torque on the lug nuts. Most of the time this is free of charge or will cost you a few bucks. Even if you have to pay a bit, it’s better to be safe than to have your wheel come off while you’re driving.

Tips

  • Some dealers and tire shops offer free rotation for the lifetime of the tires.
  • Some dealers will offer free tire rotation with regular maintenance.
  • Some major chain parts stores offer free loaner tools with a deposit. If you don’t have a torque wrench, rent one from one of these stores if possible, then return it to get your deposit back.
  • A service manual (usually available from the manufacturer for a fee) or an aftermarket repair manual such as Chiltons or Haynes will have detailed information regarding procedures and tightening specs for fasteners. If you really want to perform your own maintenance, a repair manual is an invaluable source and well worth the money spent.
  • Aftermarket manuals are much cheaper and usually, suffice for basic maintenance and repair, but manufacturer service manuals are more in-depth (and ultimately more expensive.) For basic maintenance and repair, a cheaper aftermarket manual will work just fine.

Warnings

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  • A jack, be it a floor jack or scissor jack, is only to be used as a lifting device. Never support any part of your vehicle with a jack. Always use jack stands to support the vehicle while it is in the air.
  • Never work on a vehicle that isn’t resting securely on jack stands when it is in the air.
  • If you’re not comfortable doing this job yourself, then don’t do it, and take it to a professional.
  • Never attempt to drive the vehicle without the lug nuts being tightened first. If a torque wrench is unavailable, tighten them good, and head straight to a shop or dealer to have them torqued properly.
  • Never use a floor jack that isn’t rated for the weight of your vehicle. For most trucks and SUV’s, you’ll and a floor jack rated at a minimum of 3 tons or 6,000 pounds. Smaller SUVs, trucks (think S10 and rangers,) as well as most cars, can be lifted safely with a 2 ton, 4,000-pound jack.
  • Make sure you jack stands are rated to support the vehicle you’re working on. A good rule of thumb is to use 3-ton jacks for larger vehicles and at least 2-ton jacks for smaller vehicles.
  • Some cars require a different rotation pattern, so always check your owner’s manual, repair manual, or with your local dealer if you’re unsure. Rotating tires incorrectly could lead to premature tire failure.

Main Image Credit: DetailingWorld - The Detail Doctor

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