Tire Rotation Basics

Last time I checked, tire maintenance is still pretty important. You should treat your tires like your own children, with strict discipline. You should also give them plenty of attention and devote your energy to their care and wellbeing.

For tires to grow up healthy and well-balanced, they need to be rotated and hugged often. Well, they don’t need to be hugged, but I have my own methods of care and it’s nobody’s business.

Why Should I Rotate?

First off, tires are expensive. Unless you like to shelling out unnecessary dough on some shiny new rubber, you should rotate your tires to make sure they wear evenly. It’s far more likely that your tires will reach that intended lifetime mileage if you rotate your tires based on manufacturer’s recommendations, or at least every 5,000  miles. 

Rotating your tires helps ensure even wear and extends the life of your tires. 

Over time, friction from the road wears down your tires, and that wear needs to be distributed evenly to avoid poor performance, vibrations, and costly early replacement. Common tire issues from lack of rotation include cupping, which looks like scoops of the edge of the tire tread have been torn out. 

Also, you want the other pretty important parts of your vehicle—like the drivetrain—to last plenty long, so you don’t want to stress them out by not getting your tires rotated regularly. 

How Do I Do It?

You’ll need a jack and jack stands to elevate your vehicle so you can remove the tires with a lug wrench and some elbow grease. Always be safe when elevating a vehicle and make sure it is secure and stable when you’re performing maintenance. 

Then you need to determine the correct rotation pattern for your tires. Bridgestone has a helpful guide to the various patterns needed for front-wheel, rear-wheel, and all-wheel drives with directional or non-directional tread tires, different sized rear and front tires, and vehicles without a full spare. 

Always roll your tire and check for things like embedded screws that can cause slow leaks and tire failure. 

Once you’ve gotten the proper pattern figured out, make sure the tires are tightened back onto the vehicle using the star pattern with your lug or impact wrench. Also, learn how to read the wear bars on your tire so you know when they are reaching the end of their life and need replacement.

When you have your tires removed, don’t forget to check for any damage or embedded materials. Slow leaks are often caused by screws and other pointed objects. A slow leak can eventually become a big one and leave you with a flat when it’s most inconvenient.  

What Else Causes Uneven Wear?

Though tire rotations are a crucial part of proper tire maintenance, it’s always best to maintain proper alignment. If you are noticing your vehicle pulls left or right when you’re not firmly gripping the steering wheel, you should get your car into the shop for an alignment check ASAP. 

Getting your tires balanced can help immensely too. Static tire imbalance can be the source of upward feeling vibration or jumping while dynamic imbalance causes side-to-side steering wheel shake or swaying. Not getting these issues fixed is an early death warrant for tires.

Worn suspension and shocks can also contribute to uneven tire wear. Think about all of that stopping and going you do in your vehicle on one drive to work. Those forces compounded by countless days of commuting add up and will end up costing you a whole lot more in the long run if you don’t have components replaced based on mileage or manufacturer’s recommendations. 

Reading Tire Wear 

So those tires aren’t exactly new anymore, but how do you know when they are unsafe to drive and need to be replaced? Federal law requires manufacturers to include wear bars on tires that show the depth of tread. 

Checking tire tread depth helps determine whether your tire is safe and indicates when it needs to be replaced. 

Tread depth is calculated by measuring 32nds of an inch. Usually, tires are manufactured with a tread depth of about 10/32”. When tire tread is worn down to 3/32” and below are very dangerous and need to be replaced immediately. In fact, you’re breaking federal law by continuing to use tires with so little tread. 

If you’re having a hard time measuring tread depth with the attached indicators, you can always use a tread depth gauge. If you have a quarter handy, you can use our nation’s first president’s head as a makeshift depth reader. Insert Washington head first into the tread space. If you can see the top of his head, you need to invest in new tires.