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When buying a pair of new tires for a car, it is presumed they are better than the (worn) tires being replaced. Isn't steering better when you put them on the front? Why is it recommended to put the new tires on the rear axle?

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As a general rule tires with the more tread should always be placed on the front axle because they wear out faster for the aforementioned reasons, and when you keep the higher tread in front they wear evenly, hence the recommended tire rotation every 6000 miles. However Michelin tire reportedly warns that new tires should be placed on rear axle for fear of spin-out in case of hydroplaning, as explained @ tiretrack.com https://www.tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/techpage.jsp?techid=52. This however is only true if there is significantly more tread on the new tires than the old (in which case the same would apply even if all were old just with such difference) however if there not such a difference place the more tread on front. Bottom line theoretically you are correct that the sensible thing is to put new tires on front from a practical standpoint, for safety reasons though it's not recommended

  • only noticed follow up to previous answer after i posted this – precise Nov 25 '18 at 19:59
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This is recommended because a front wheel slip is easier to correct, and more intuitive to correct for people who haven't had antislip training than a rear wheel slip.

  • front wheel slip: reduce throttle, slip reduces
  • rear wheel slip: steer in exactly the correct direction within a split second or you end up in a high-speed spin with the car taking up 3 lanes of traffic.
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Just to clarify a couple of things mentioned in other answers and summarize some comments...

Safety... This is why many places recommend placing new tires in the rear. The Michelin recommendation mentioned by precise is concise; I had not heard of that one before. There are other safety-related reasons also.

Steering... "better" is subjective, but many people do prefer steering with new tires in the front. (Me, not so much.)

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I put the new ones on the front, as the front wheels do steering, braking and provide the drive...

  • Well, I tested that last winter - had winter tires on the front and summer on the back in 4” of snow ... BTW I hope you understood that my car is front wheel drive... So, yes, drivable but you have to be awake and know what to.... However, I will still put new on the front... – Solar Mike Nov 25 '18 at 19:01
  • Loosing traction in the front leads to understeer, curable in a fwd with the application of power... – Solar Mike Nov 25 '18 at 19:04
  • I agree, losing traction on the front tires is much safer than losing traction on the back tires. – Chris K8NVH Nov 25 '18 at 19:39
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    (Just parsed your earlier comment) You had winter tires on the front and summer tires on the back?? Please do not do that again, you are a valuable contributor to multiple Stack Exchange communities and we do not want to lose you :-) – Chris K8NVH Nov 25 '18 at 19:43
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    The back of the vehicle is lighter and has less traction in the winter, the front of the vehicle has the weight of the engine helping it grip the road, so tires on the back are generally better – user38183 Nov 25 '18 at 21:52

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