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Although the procedure may seem confusing at first, tire rotations are easy enough for most drivers to tackle on their own.

Benefits of Rotating Your Tires

Regular tire rotations are the best way to make sure your tires live a long and healthy life. Tire rotations are inexpensive to have performed, but you can save some money by acquiring (or borrowing) a few tools and doing it yourself.

When or How Often to Rotate Your Tires

There are two ways to approach when to rotate your tires:
  1. Have a look at your owner’s manual and find the manufacturer’s recommended tire rotation interval. Many manufacturers recommend rotating your tires after 5,000 miles. Drivers adhering to a maintenance schedule can simply have their tires rotated during every other oil change.
  2. The other school of thought is to visually inspect your tires on a regular basis and rotate them when the fronts or rears begin to show uneven wear.
Your best bet is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations outlined in your owner’s manual.

Tire Rotation Tools

Although tire rotations are among the least expensive services offered at many repair shops, many savvy drivers choose to rotate their own tires to save even more money on their car or truck’s maintenance.

Rotating your own tires requires a few automotive shop tools:
Impact Wrench
This can zip your lug-nuts off. In a pinch, you can slide your jack’s handle over a 1/2” drive ratchet with the appropriate socket attached. Impact wrenches come in a variety of types, but one of the most convenient to use is powered by your AC adapter socket, AKA the cigarette lighter. Note that the job can be performed without an impact wrench but there is much more effort involved.

Torque Wrench
This is used to verify that the torque on your lug nuts meets the manufacturer’s recommended torque specifications. 2 ton jack stands are more than sufficient for the vast majority of passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs.
Hydraulic Floor Jack
This will lift the car into the air,corner by corner. In a pinch, you may elect to use a scissor jack. A hydraulic floor jack is more stable than a scissor jack, as well as much easier to use. Another consideration is whether to go with a steel or aluminum jack. Aluminum floor jacks are easier to maneuver over rough surfaces and position in tight quarters.

Jack Stands
These are for suspending the car once it’s jacked up. Some use cinder blocks instead of jack stands, but we recommend using a proper set of jack stands to suspend your car or truck.
These are among the first tools DIYers tend to purchase after deciding to save money by performing their own mechanical work. We’ll go over how to use these tools, as well as their more labor-intensive substitutes, a little later.

Can You Use the Spare or Donut?

Some vehicles have a full-sized spare that is identical to the other four wheels. Most vehicles, however, do not have a full size spare.

You may elect to “rotate in” a full sized spare. The best way to tell if you have one is to have a look at your spare tire. If it looks the same as the other wheels and tires on your vehicle and is the same brand and size,then it’s safe to rotate it in during your next tire rotation.

Many smaller cars have what is sometimes called an emergency spare or “donut.” These spares are for emergency use only. An emergency spare is much smaller than your other wheels and tires, and you should not rotate it in.

SUVs and large trucks are the most likely to come equipped with a full sized spare. We’ll go over how to use a full sized spare while rotating your tires in the next section.

Tire Rotation Patterns

To determine the rotation pattern, you need to know a few things before you start. Start by determining your vehicle’s drive type, which could be front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or all wheel drive.

The next thing you need to know are your tire and wheel sizes. Are the front tires the same as the rear or are they narrower?

The last thing you need to know is whether or not your tires are directional. Determine this by looking closely at one of your tire’s sidewalls. If there’s a clearly discernible arrow on your tires’ sidewalls, then you have directional tires on your vehicle.

All three of these things must be considered before you can determine the optimal rotation pattern for your vehicle.

When Tire Rotation Isn't Possible

Some vehicles have wheels and tires mounted to the rear that are larger than the wheels and tires mounted to the front. This setup is called staggered fitment, and it’s common on many sport and luxury cars. The rear wheels simply cannot be mounted to the front of the car.

To make matters worse, these vehicles often have directional tires as well. This means you can’t swap the left rear for the right rear without reversing the direction of the tires. The only way to “rotate” these tires is side to side and only after dismounting and remounting the tires to the wheels.

If you own one of these vehicles, you may not be able to rotate your tires. However, you may be able to replace the rear tires as a pair to save on replacement costs.

Rotation Patterns for Rear Wheel Drive, Four Wheel Drive, and All Wheel Drive

Start by ensuring that all of your tires are the same size and are non-directional.

Appropriate rotation patterns include the rearward cross and the X pattern.

To complete a tire rotation using the rearward cross pattern, move the rear wheels to the front. The front wheels then move to the rear, but the left front ends up mounted on the right rear; the right front to the left rear.

The X pattern is what it sounds like. The front wheels go to the rear, the rear wheels go to the front, and both pairs of tires switch sides. Note that both the rearward cross and the X patterns are only possible on vehicles equipped with non-directional tires.

Rotation Patterns For Front Wheel Drive

The forward cross and X rotation patterns are appropriate to use with front wheel drive passenger cars, minivans, and crossovers.

To complete the forward cross pattern, bring the front wheels to the rear of the vehicle and the rear wheels to the front of the vehicle, then switch the fronts so that the right rear ends up on the left front and the left rear ends up on the right front.

The X pattern for front wheel drive vehicles is the same as the X pattern for rear wheel drive vehicles. Swap the right front for the left rear and the left front for the right rear.

Rotation Patterns For Staggared Wheel Sizes

We noted earlier that some cars are set up in such a way as to make tire rotations impossible, like when the wheels are staggered and the tires are directional.

If your vehicle has staggered wheel fitment but it has non-directional tires mounted, then you can use the side to side rotation pattern to complete your tire rotation.

The side to side rotation pattern involved swapping the left wheels for the right wheels, and vice versa, but keeping the fronts mounted to the front and the rears mounted to the rear.

Rotation Patterns For Same Sized Wheels and Directional Tires

This is the most common configuration used by most late model cars, trucks, and SUVs. You’ll find your wheels and tires are the same size front and rear, but the tires are directional. Directional tires are designed to withstand the forces of acceleration and braking only when pointed in the correct direction.

If your vehicle has the same size wheels front and rear, but the tires are directional, use the front to rear tire rotation pattern. To complete this pattern, simply move the front wheels to the rear and the rear wheels to the front without crossing either end.

Using this pattern ensures your wheels are pointed in the correct direction after the tire rotation.

Incorporating a Full Sized Spare into the Tire Rotation Pattern

If you have a full sized spare, you most likely own a truck or SUV that is rear wheel drive or four wheel drive. You may choose to incorporate the spare regardless of whether you have directional or non-directional tires.

To incorporate a non-directional spare tire, start by using the rearward cross pattern. The rear tires move directly to the front. The front left wheel and tire replaces the spare. The front right moves to the left rear. The spare replaces the right rear wheel and tire.

To incorporate a directional spare tire, start by determining which side of the rear axle the spare must be mounted to ensure the tire is pointed in the correct direction. Replace the appropriate rear wheel with the spare. The front wheel and tire from that side then replaces the spare.

How to Rotate Your Tires

Before you start, make sure you have a jack to lift the vehicle, jack stands to prop the vehicle up, and a way to both loosen and tighten your lug nuts. Next, determine the rotation pattern you will be using based on your vehicle’s drive type.Consider the following.
  • Before you position your jack, have a look under each corner of your car to find a safe place from which to lift the vehicle. Many cars and trucks have what are called jack pads under each corner, positioned to the center of the front and rear axles. If you’re have trouble finding them, consult your owner’s manual, a suitable workshop manual, or head to your local Pep Boys for expert advice
  • Always work on one side of the vehicle at a time: the front, rear, left, or right. Work on one corner at a time. Do not attempt to jack two corners of the same side up at the same time
  • Always position jack stands under something solid that won’t bend or break as you lower the corners of the vehicle onto them. Use the jack pads, frame rails, or a solid part of the sub-frame to position the jack stand
Once you’ve located a stable, safe location to rotate your tires, follow these steps:
  1. Start by positioning the jack under a solid surface on your vehicle’s undercarriage.
  2. Use the jack to lift the first corner until the tire no longer touches the ground.It doesn’t matter which corner you start with.
  3. Find a good position for the first jack stand and lower the chassis onto it by releasing the pressure in the floor jack. This is generally done by twisting the floor jack’s handle. Be sure to twist slowly. Bring the chassis down on the first jack stand as slowly and as gently as possible.
  4. Move to the next corner. To complete a side to side rotation pattern, move to the corner that will put either the front or the rear in the air. To complete all other rotation patterns, move to the corner that will put either the left or the right side in the air.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for the next corner.
  6. Use your impact wrench to break the lug nuts free.
  7. If you do not have an impact wrench, you will need help from a friend. With the car suspended on jack stands, ask your friend to sit in the driver’s seat and apply pressure to the brake pedal while you work the lug nuts free using a breaker bar, a lug wrench, or a 1/2” drive ratchet with an appropriately sized socket attached. Avoid using tools smaller than 1/2” drive on lug nuts to reduce the risk of injuring yourself and others while loosening them.
  8. Remove the wheels from the side of the car that you have in the air.
  9. Bring the front tire to the rear or the left tire to the right, depending on the rotation pattern appropriate for your vehicle.
  10. To refasten the wheels, position them over the lug studs and tighten the lug nuts as much as you can using your hands.
  11. Use your impact wrench to tighten the lug nuts. Take care not to use too much torque, or you may break one of your lug studs while tightening them. If you don’t have an impact wrench, you’ll need help from a friend. Have your friend apply pressure to the brake pedal while you tighten your lug nuts using a breaker bar, a lug wrench, or a 1/2” drive ratchet with an appropriately sized socket attached.
  12. It is a best practice to use a torque wrench to ensure your lug nuts are tightened according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. You may choose to torque your lug nuts by feel instead. Using a breaker bar and bearing down on your lug nuts with all of your weight should put them close to the recommended torque specifications.
  13. Repeat the steps for the other side of the vehicle. For a side to side rotation, repeat the steps for the front or rear. For all other rotation patterns, repeat the steps for the other side of the vehicle.
  14. If you are completing a directional tire rotation, no other steps are necessary after switching from the left to the right side.
  15. If you are completing a non-directional tire rotation, repeat the steps for either the front or the rear of the vehicle depending on its drive type.
  16. To complete a tire rotation using the X pattern, repeat the steps for both the front and the rear of the vehicle.
If you don’t have the tools or know-how necessary to perform your next tire rotation, bring your vehicle down to the nearest Pep Boys for a tire rotation service.