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I just bought new tires for my car and included was free tire rotation every 7,500 miles for the life of the tires.

I have heard many things about tire rotation, including:

  1. it's a worthless practice, don't bother
  2. tires should never be rotated from one side of the car to another (something about the tires rotating in the opposite direction and the belts inside shifting)
  3. tires should always be rotated in an X pattern (front tires straight back, back tires get swapped and put on the front)

Is there any real value in rotating the tires? is it just about evenly distributing the wear of the tread on the tire? Can this be achieved just through careful monitoring of the tire pressure and alignment of the car?

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I always enjoy it when someone that doesn't know my one car says I should... It has different sizes front and rear, and they're directional, so there's no way to properly rotate them. :-) – Brian Knoblauch Jun 2 '11 at 18:35
up vote 23 down vote accepted

While I believe the tire shop gives free rotation to get you in the habit of coming back to them every few months so they can sell you more, it can be important to rotate your tires.

It all depends on the wear of the tires

I have had sets of tires that wore extremely evenly and I only rotated them once. Other sets of tires I have had wore very unevenly and had to rotate them multiple times during the life of that set.

For the question of rotation arrangement:

  1. It depends on your car's manual
  2. It depends on your specific tires

As other people have said, some tires are unidirectional and if you put the tires on the other side of the car, you will have problems. Most of the recent cars I have driven tell you to rotate your tires front to back and NOT across the car. I believe many manufacturers are going to unidirectional tires.

The real value that comes from rotating your tires is that when the tires wear unevenly, rotating the tires spreads the wear out more evenly on each tire as well, as over the set.

On each tire — some cars and/or driver's habits cause the front tires to wear more in certain places of the tire, moving the tires to the rear axle generally cause those worn places to not get used as hard and wear the other places on the tires. (i.e., a lot of FWD car's front tires wear a good bit on the corners since they are used for steering and power)

Over the set — the tires on the powered axle tend to wear out faster since more force is exerted through them to the pavement. To maximize the life of the tires, you switch the tires on the powered axle to the non-powered axle so that those less-used tires (with more tread) are used to even the wear.

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Some tires are directional and should never be moved from one side of the car to the other (at least not without flipping the wheel around too). They'll have an arrow on the sidewall marking "direction of rotation." Switching those from front to back to front will definitely make them last longer. Not only do tires wear out on faster on the drive axle, they wear differently in the front and the back. That's especially true if you've got any kind of suspension issues... any loose bushings or weak struts or imperfect alignment will greatly shorten the life of your tires, but regular rotation can help squeeze more use out of them.

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Always follow the guidelines in your owner's manual. There will be specific instructions on how your tires should be rotated and, therefore, will also guide you on tire purchases.

My car is AWD and requires unidirectional tires (check the sidewalls - there will be an indication on both sides of the tire showing "rotation direction" to remind you). Tires from the left side should never be put on the right side. Rotation is, therefore, fore and aft only. If I didn't rotate, the wear would be terribly uneven between the fronts and rears.

This is entirely intuitive: the front tires steer and have to deal with the angles relative to forward motion and the loads that will result. The rears don't. If I didn't rotate the tires, the fronts would wear sooner and reduce my ability to steer.

I, not surprisingly, feel that this situation would be sub-optimal....

When tires are rotated, their pressures should also be adjusted. I've found that when my tires are not correctly inflated (e.g., too high in the rear), I hear significantly more differential / gearbox noise during engine braking in second gear.

The above only applies to normal operation in normal circumstances. If you're running your own race team, you may make different choices about your tires. Likewise, if you're a rally race driver, you might allocate rubber differently.

All normal people should follow the instructions in the manual.

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If you have an AWD car, and the tires front to rear are the same size, then it's exceptionally important that you rotate your tires in accordance with the manufacturer and tire's recommendations (unless each tire wears exactly evenly). It's really important that your tires are as close to the same size as each other as possible with an AWD car. Not doing so causes significant wear on the AWD system itself (mostly the differentials front/back and side/side). Ideally, all 4 tires would wear out at about the same time. – Jon V May 15 '15 at 20:49

I have always noticed that the tires on the drive axle of my vehicles wear out sooner than the other ones. This seems to be especially true of modern, high horsepower, front wheel drive vehicles, since the front tires do the acceleration, most of the braking, and the steering.

If you can have the tires rotated for free, I don't see any harm in having that done, but I'm not sure I would pay too much to have it done, as that money would be better spent towards new tires.

I rotate the tires when I do brake jobs and sometimes during oil changes, so I have never needed to take my cars somewhere to have it done - but free is nice.

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I was originally in the "follow the directions" camp but after I didn't rotate tires on one car because I was being lazy, I found a real advantage of not rotating. Not rotating is a diagnostic tool.

If you don't rotate your tires you are more likely to notice a problem. A wheel out of balance, alignment problem or worn wheel bearing. Thus, the right answer may be more a function of your goals than what is generally best. If you want the maximum mileage on a set of tires, rotate. If you want to identify problems early, don't rotate.

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