How to Rotate Car Tires
Rotated, not rotating. There's most definitely a difference.
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Rotating your own tires is an essential but misunderstood part of automotive upkeep, especially if you think this already happens while driving. Yes, tires rotate while you're moving. No, rotating them doesn't mean spinning them even more—that's called a burnout and requires a whole other, much more fun, how-to. For now, rotating your tires means you're playing musical chairs with them, but instead of being the last one on a seat, you're equalizing their tread wear.
That said, not all cars are the same and if your car has mismatched tire sizes—think Corvettes, Lamborghinis, and even some Mustangs—you won't be able to rotate your tires. For those that have a square stance, equal sizes all the way around, here's how to rotate them yourself without damaging the car or your body. Let's get going.
Estimated Time Needed: 30-minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Tires
Working on your car can be messy and dangerous, especially when you’re rotating tires that have gone through oil spills, leftover McDonald's and indeterminate biological matter, so here’s what you’ll need to ensure you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless and yourself safe—hopefully.
- All jacks aren't created equal as each is rated for different maximum weight capacities. That means that Harbor Freight special might not be appropriate for your Ford Super Duty. As such, it helps to know the weight of your vehicle ahead of time—both Google and your dusty owner's manual can tell you.
- The same is true with jack stands as each is rated for a different maximum weight.
- One thing most people forget when lifting their car are placing wheel chocks on the tires still touching the ground. Especially when the rear is in the air and the emergency brakes engaged, which only lock up the rears, chocks are imperative as they prevent the vehicle from rolling as you jack it up.
- Slow and steady my friend, using a jack in a controlled manner is the best way to prevent accidents from happening.
- A good set of mechanics gloves will help you keep your fingers safe and free from the tire's grime and guts.
- A ratty long-sleeve shirt to keep your forearms clean.
Everything You'll Need
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s what you’ll need to get the job done.
You’ll also need a flat surface, such as a garage floor, driveway, parking garage, or street parking, though check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.
Arranging Your Workspace
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
- If you haven't already, put the car in park—there's no need to be featured on Ridiculousness.
- Place one jack stand on either side of the car, either front or rear depending on what part of the vehicle you're working on.
- Loosen the lug nuts on the first two wheels you'll be working on—loosening the nuts on the ground makes it easier to get them off then it would be if the wheels are elevated.
Here's Exactly How to Rotate Your Tires
Let's do this!
Lifting the Car
- Place the car jack underneath the frame or jack points of the vehicle. These points will depend on the vehicle itself, so you'll have to do a little research on where your car's jack points are.
- Slowly raise the jack's head to meet the jack point until the two touch and it becomes slightly difficult to raise.
- Check to make sure the head and jack point haven't shifted during the initial jack raise. If everything is copesetic, continue!
- Raise the jack either by pumping the handle or spinning the more compact rod tool, which is usually found in your car to use while swapping in the spare tire.
- Lift the jack-up slowly. As the jack takes the weight of the vehicle, it will become harder to raise.
- Stop at the desired height. Continue to lift the jack until you reach the point where you can access one side's tires.
Securing the Car
- Once you have it at the desired height, place jack stands underneath non-articulating points under the car—i.e. frame, subframe, engine cradle.
- Adjust the height of the jack stands to the desired height as to keep the vehicle in the air.
- Gently lower the jack by either twisting the pump-action jack's handle or twisting the knob on the more common spare tire jack. The frame should catch the jack stands giving you more than enough clearance to work with.
Directional Tire Rotation
- If you have direction tires, tire treads that only go one way, swap the front and rear tires while keeping them on the same side—i.e. the left front tire will become the left rear tire, the rear left tire will become the front left tire, etc, etc.
- Hand-tighten the lug nuts.
Non-Directional Tire Rotation
- If your tires have uniform treads that don’t point in one direction, swap the fronts for the rears using an "X" pattern, i.e. the front left tire will become the rear right tire, the rear left tire will become the front left tire, the front right tire will become the rear left tire, and the rear right tire will become the front right tire.
- Hand-tighten the lug nuts.
- Once you're done, reposition the jack at the point you used before.
- Raise it until it takes the weight of the vehicle and lets the jack stands move freely.
- Remove the jack stands
- Lower the vehicle until it rests on the ground.
Securing the Wheels
- Once fully lowered and resting its own weight, use the lug nut wrench or impact wrench to fully secure the lug nuts to their studs.
- Use a cross "star" pattern in tightening the lug nuts to ensure stability.
You did it, congrats!
Tips From a Pro
We've had everything from sports cars to minivans, all of which had tires, sometimes. And through the course of ownership, we've rotated and lifted cars more times than we care to admit, so here are our top tips for jacking up and rotating your tires.
- You should rotate your tires every 3,000 to 5,000 miles for the best results.
- You can time your tire rotations with your oil changes—might as well kill two birds with one stone.
- Keep an eye on the tread wear of each tire—if the tires are wearing evenly, rotating them is working.
- For directional tires, you can tell which direction they should point by looking at the top with the top treads pointing in the direction of travel.
- Don’t rotate the spare tire—duh.
What is the best type of jack?
We're partial to hydraulic jacks since they are easy to move around and still strong enough to take the weight of most vehicles. Scissor jacks are good when you need to lift the vehicle on the side of the road to change a tire. More specialized jacks, like floor jacks, are also useful but are less flexible in use.
How many wheels can I lift at once?
Most car jacks are designed to lift one wheel at a time. You can lift all four wheels with sequential lifts, but always make sure you are working with one corner of the vehicle at a time.
What happens if I don’t rotate my tires?
Tires wear at different rates if you don’t rotate them regularly. Front tires wear faster due to turning right and left.
We all have them, we all love them. And since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less. Here are our best life hacks for lifting your car.
- If you have a heavier vehicle, even with the right car jack can be difficult. To make your life easier, find a sturdy elongated object, something in the range of 4 to 5 feet in length, and either strap it to the jack's handle, or in the case of a pipe, slip in onto the handle, and use the extra leverage to make pumping easier.
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