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When I take my car into the shop to get tires rotated, is it assumed by the mechanics that the tires need to be switched around a certain way? Or do they check the tread on each tire to determine which position it should be rotated to in order to give me the best life out of my tires (based on the car being front-wheel drive vs rear-wheel drive, etc...)?

  • I would expect if there is a noticeable wear issue that would warrant rotating a certain way they would tell you about it. – agentp Feb 13 '18 at 2:24
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It does indeed vary according to the type of car - and also the type of tyre, as some are directional (which means they have to stay on the same side of the car).

According to BlackCircles:

  • FWD: Front to Rear, same side. Rear to Front, swap sides.
  • RWD: Front to Rear, swap sides. Rear to Front, same side.
  • 4WD: Front to Rear, swap sides. Rear to Front, swap sides.
  • Directional: Swap Front and Rear but keep the same sides.
  • This is the best and most concise answer, as the uni-directional tyres are much more common now. – Solar Mike Feb 12 '18 at 18:30
  • So are you saying that they will pretty much always rotate them in those patterns without even checking the tread? My curiosity is this: Suppose you have a FWD car and you get your tires rotated due to the fact that the front tires have worn faster than the rear ones. Suppose then that you drive 10k miles at which point it's recommended to get a tire rotation. Will the mechanic check to make sure that rear tires have more tread than the front ones before rotating them? Because it wouldn't make sense to rotate them if for some reason the front tires still had more tread. – Josh Withee Feb 13 '18 at 4:08
  • @Marathon55 if the fronts still have more tread then the rears it's probably not time to rotate them yet ;) So yes, they ought to check them before doing the rotation – Nick C Feb 13 '18 at 9:49
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Primarily they rotate by a pattern. They are also looking for wear that might indicate an alignment issue or could cause traction problems.

According to TireRack.com;

Tires should be serviced periodically following the rotation patterns provided in the vehicle's owner's manual or as established by the industry.

There are many patterns depending on vehicle and tire types, but basic rotation for most automobiles are like below.

enter image description here
Image credit: TireRack.com;

You should ask the place doing the work how they do it. They should be willing to explain it to you.

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