How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Your car has four tires, and they all wear at different rates. To get the most out of them, it's a good idea to rotate them every few thousand miles so that they wear more evenly. I try to do mine every 6,000 miles or so.

Of course, you could go get this done at a shop for not too much money, and if your tires need to be balanced or your car needs an alignment, that might be your best option. But if you just want to change 'em real quick, like you're flipping the mattress, it's quicker and easier to do it yourself.

This might seem like the easiest, most boneheaded repair you've never bothered to do, but when your tires are bald on one side and you're stuck having to buy new ones prematurely, you'll wish you'd rotated them. A lot of people don't know how to do this. If you're not one of those people, great. If you are, keep reading. If you know one who is, send them the link to this article.

While you're at it, you can also check your tires' tread and pressure. Click through the gallery to see how it's all done.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Most cars nowadays have four "normal" wheels and tires, and a dinky compact spare, which is usually referred to as the donut. Donut spares don't take up a lot of space, but they are pretty worthless as actual wheels. They're good for getting you from a blowout to a place to get a damaged tire fixed/replaced, but they're also good to use as a placeholder while you're rotating tires.

Some people have full sized spare tires on a wheel that would actually look normal on their car and may wish to do a five tire rotation to make sure all five tires wear evenly. Then there are dually trucks with six wheels, which also have a different rotation. You can find more information online about which rotation pattern works best for your car.

However, most cars have radial tires and a spare that you won't want to rotate, so I've done a straight front-to-back, back-to-front tire rotation, keeping the left side tires on the left side and the right ones on the right. Less confusion that way.

If you have unidirectional tires (those cool looking sporty ones with the V-shaped tread pointing toward the front of the car), you'll want to do the straight front-to-back, back-to-front rotation. But if you're driving something where the back wheels are bigger than the front ones, you'll have to go side to side. That is unless you have unidirectional tread and different sized front and back tires. You leave those ones alone.

In any event, it's a good idea to mark your tires with chalk — LF, RF, LR, RR — so that you don't forget which ones came from what position.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

First, make sure your parking brake is set and that you have blocks in front of the front wheel and behind the rear wheel on the side of the car opposite from the one on which you're working.

You can use a jackstand to hold the car up while you're moving a tire from one axle to the other, but if you don't have one, no biggie. You can use the car's spare tire as a "placeholder."

A lot of trucks and SUVs keep the spare between the frame rails, up behind the rear bumper. In most cars, they're stowed in the trunk, typically beneath a piece of particle board (that hopefully hasn't yet succumbed to water and weight damage) and a really crappy piece of felt "carpet."

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

My car is weird, and has its spare mounted under the hood (which is actually an excellent place for it in a car with an 1800cc engine). A lot of old station wagons have them under a piece of trim on one side of the rear cargo area.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

So your car is blocked and sitting on a piece of flat ground (I chose the parking loop at the Colorado Chautaqua in Boulder so that I'd have some nice scenery to work next to). You have your spare, jack, and lug wrench out, and you're ready to go.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

First, place the jack where it's supposed to go. If you're not sure, please, for the love of God, consult the owner's manual. Every car is different and they all have different jacking points you can use that won't screw up the car/cause an accident. The one pictured here is pretty typical for unibody cars, but like I said, they're all different.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Before you jack the car up, loosen the lug nuts so that you can remove them by hand once the wheel is off the ground and can spin freely (or put strain on your transmission). The ground is the best counter force to the force you'll apply to crack them off.

Loosen the lugs in a cross pattern — especially on aluminum and magnesium wheels — to avoid warping the wheels. For an even number, you just loosen the one directly across from the one you just loosened.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Many cars have a five-bolt lug pattern, so loosen the lugs in this order, as if you're drawing a pentagram. (Death metal scream optional at this point.)

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

If your lug wrench is the short, crappy kind that comes with most cars, it'll be difficult to loosen the lugs. I usually stomp on it until they crack loose, but this irresponsible approach isn't for everyone. If you're one of those klutzes (and you know who you are) who will probably break an ankle doing this, do yourself a favor and buy a socket that fits your lugs and a long breaker bar and keep them in your car.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Now that you have the lugs loose, jack the car up until the wheel clears the ground. Once the wheel is clear, you can take the lug nuts off with your fingers (or use the wrench if you're having trouble turning them). Remove the wheel and put the spare on in its place.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

You only need to use two lugs to keep the spare on, as you won't be driving on it or anything. Give the lugs a squeeze with the wrench, putting them on just tight enough to seat the wheel against the hub. Like I said, it's only a place holder. Lower the car.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Now move to the next position, where the wheel you've just taken off is going, and loosen the lugs, jack up the other end of the car, and remove the wheel that's to be replaced.

In this case, I've just removed the rear wheel. Here, I'm taking off the front wheel, replacing it with the rear wheel, lowering the car again, taking of the spare/placeholder, and putting the front wheel where the rear wheel was.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

When you're putting the wheels back on, tighten the lug nuts so that the wheel seats flat onto the hub. Once you've lowered the car, tighten in the cross pattern appropriate for the number of lugs your wheels have. If you're using the crappy wrench that came with the car, put your shoulder into it when you're tightening down the lugs, but don't stomp on the handle. Ideally, you'll want to have a torque wrench so that you can tighten all of the lugs to the proper torque, but putting them on tight with a lug wrench works pretty well, too.

Keep in mind that aluminum and magnesium wheels are made of soft metal, so if you tighten the crap out of the lug nuts, you may damage them.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Repeat the procedure on the other side of the car. Or, if you've opted for one of the fancy five-wheel or cross-pattern rotations, do that instead of the easy, foolproof method I've used. Whatever floats your boat.

Now that you're thinking about taking care of your tires, it's a good time to check the tire pressure. Most gas stations have little pressure gauges attached to their air hoses, but I don't trust those things, and carry one in my glovebox.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

Most cars have the correct tire pressure for each axle listed on a placard inside the driver's door, either on the back of the door or on the side of the B-pillar. If you don't have this or it's been removed or obscured for some reason, the next best thing to do is to check the rating on the tires' sidewalls.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

But you should really know how much air your particular car needs in the tires. It affects fuel economy, but it can also have an impact on safety. Remember the Corvair? If the tires on that weren't properly inflated, it could result in rollover.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

How To Properly Rotate Your TiresS

It's also not a bad time to check your tread depth, and look at the tread to see if your car might have alignment problems. Using a penny, stick Honest Abe's head into the tread. If you can see space at the top of his head, you need new tires.

If you see strange wear patterns on your tires, you should make an appointment at a shop that does alignments.

Other than that, you're done! TGIF and all.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston