Tire rotation is a mystery for many drivers; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge
By Jim Kerr
Tire rotation is a mystery for many drivers. The purpose is simple enough: rotating the tires evens out wear to maximize tire life. What isn’t so simple is how it should be done.
Ask around at repair shops and you may get different responses. A front-wheel drive car’s owner’s manual may show rotating the tires by moving the front to back on the same side and then moving the back tires to the opposite side on the front. Some tire shops will say you should stick to the manual’s instructions, while other shops say never cross over tires from side to side. So what is the proper procedure, and why?
The owner’s manual is the obvious answer, as the vehicle manufacturer wants to keep tire wear as even as possible. Front tires tend to wear more on the outside edges because of the steering forces on them during cornering, while drive axle tires tend to wear across the full face of the tire because of acceleration and drive loads. Following the owner’s manual instructions for tire rotation will help even out this wear but it can sometimes also cause problems.
From many years of experience rotating tires, I can say that the problems occur when switching tires from one side of the vehicle to the other side. There never seems to be a problem if the tires are always rotated front to back on the same side. After rotating tires from side to side, you may experience a “pull” in the steering wheel. The belts in the tire may have taken a set after being heated and cooled through hundreds or thousands of drive cycles, and now that these tires are on the other side of the vehicle, they are spinning in an opposite direction to what they originally were. The tire can cause the vehicle to go to one side slightly. This is sometimes blamed on wheel alignment problems but switching the tire back to the original side will often fix the pull.