Quick, name the top two safety features on your car, truck, or SUV. Chances are good that tires didn’t factor high among the answers. But tires are your vehicle’s sole connection to the road. You need to know one of the simplest things you can do to take care of them, so they can take care of you: periodic tire rotation.
“Most drivers don’t pay attention to their tires,” says Matt Edmonds, executive vice president at the Tire Rack, the largest online marketplace for tire sales in the United States. While tires are his business, Edmonds is under no illusion that tire rotation, a vitally important safety check, is going to get pulses racing.
That’s because car tires can seem, well, kind of boring. Most drivers tend not to notice them unless they get a flat. Tires don’t have the panache of self-driving technology, the excitement of rubber-burning horsepower, or the feel-good factor of automated emergency braking and blind-spot-monitoring systems.
Too bad, because tire rotation is important when it comes to maintaining the performance and safety of your vehicle. Your tires are, quite literally, where the rubber meets the road, as your tires’ contact patches with the pavement are in use during every single drive, in all weather conditions. Well-cared-for tires keep you safe.
When to Rotate Your Tires
Depending on whether the vehicle you’re driving is front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive, the tires will wear at different rates. The driven wheels have more work to do and often exhibit quicker rates of wear. A front-wheel-drive car, for example, uses its hard-working front wheels to steer, brake, and put the power down to the pavement (all while carrying the added weight of a front-mounted engine and transaxle).
“By rotating your tires, you give the tires a chance to even out their wear and get extended life out of your tires,” Edmonds explains. He recommends having your tires rotated about every 3000 to 5000 miles, or at least every time you go in for an oil change. If your owner’s manual states that your car doesn’t need new oil that frequently, then plan on a tire rotation at least once every six months.
Proper rotation not only helps even out wear and extend the life of your tires, it provides the perfect opportunity to make certain all four wheels are in good working order. “As we’re coming out of winter and going into spring, it’s a good time to inspect the tires’ outside and inside shoulder for damage, particularly from potholes,” Edmonds says. It’s also a good time to check the condition of your wheel rims, which can be bent by hard impacts with potholes—sometimes only on the inboard side of the rim, where you can’t easily see it.
Two common tire problems that might surface during an inspection include cupping and blistering of the sidewall.
Tire cupping, Edmonds explains, is more common in older vehicles with suspension systems that are aging and in need of repair. This issue presents itself via uneven wear patterns in the tread, which, if ignored, could significantly affect a vehicle’s ride, steering, and braking ability while also wearing out tires prematurely.
A blistered sidewall—literally, a bulge in the sidewall—might result from slamming into a deep pothole. “A tear might occur inside the tire when that tire gets pinched. The air could then get into the structure of the tire, and you get a blister,” Edmonds says. If unseen or left undiagnosed, this problem could result in a flat tire or a blowout that could cause a serious accident. We suffered 10 pothole-related tire failures recently with one of our long-term test cars, a 2017 Jaguar XE, over the course of its 40,000-mile stay, due to Michigan’s cratered road surfaces.
How to Rotate Your Tires
According to the Tire Industry Association, three tire-rotation patterns cover most of today’s vehicles, as long as they are fitted with equal-size tires front and rear and those tires are not unidirectional (meaning they have to rotate in only one direction to function properly).
Rotation pattern for front-drive vehicles: Swap the front tires straight to the rear position on the same side. Take the rear tires and move them to the opposite front corner (e.g., the right rear tire gets moved to the left front).
Rotation pattern for rear-drive vehicles: Move the rear tires straight to the front, then move each front tire to the opposite rear corner (for example, move the right front to the left rear).
Rotation pattern for all-wheel-drive vehicles: Crisscross all four tires (move the right front to the left rear, the left front to the right rear, the left rear to the right front, and the right rear to the left front).
By the way, rugged-looking SUVs may be all the rage, but having a vehicle with all-wheel drive doesn’t mean you’re immune to tire-rotation maintenance. “That is a common misconception,” says Edmonds, regarding the idea that all-wheel-drive vehicles automatically have tires that wear more evenly. “All-wheel-drive systems don’t always drive all the wheels all the time,” he explains, adding that transfer cases and electronically controlled differentials can shift power between the front and rear wheels, depending on the conditions and the drive mode that’s been selected. And a vehicle’s inherent weight difference between the front and rear can also affect tire wear.
Extra attention needs to be paid when it comes to vehicles with different wheel sizes at the front and rear and those fitted with unidirectional tires—tires that are designed to rotate in one direction only. In many cases, this setup is used on high-performance vehicles, and tire-rotation patterns need to be adjusted to suit. In fact, some of these staggered-tire packages, as they are called, cannot be rotated unless the tires are dismounted and then remounted on the opposite-side wheels. In some cases it may not be worth the time, money, or trouble to rotate the tires.
If you have any doubts about correct tire rotation, consult the owner’s manual, inquire at a dealership, or talk to an expert who is familiar with your vehicle and its tires. But whatever you do, rotate them if possible. At the very least, it’ll help your tires last longer and will save you money.
~Courtesy of Car and Driver