How To Rotate Tires: Directional, Staggered Tires, & More – 2021 Guide

Shawn
| Last Updated: March 14, 2021

Rotating your tires is one of the most common types of routine maintenance you can do on your vehicle.

Yet few people understand the importance of tire rotation or how to rotate tires properly.

So if you’ve wondered why you should rotate your tires and how to do it, here is a quick guide to get you on the right track (pun intended).

How to Rotate Tires

Although many auto shops offer to inspect your tires and rotate them during a routine oil change or regular maintenance, rotating them yourself can save you tons of money for as long as you own the car. However, rotating the wheels isn’t as simple as just moving tires haphazardly.

There’s a bit of science to the rotation to ensure your tires last longer and to reduce the change of uneven wear or even a blowout. So whether you’re rotating your tires for the first time or you need a quick refresher, follow these steps to get you started.

1. Inspect Your Tires

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of tire rotation, start by inspecting your tires. There’s no sense in rotating your tires if you need to replace them or if you don’t notice any uneven wear. During your inspection, check your tires for wear on the inner edge, outer edge, or center. While these wear patterns could be just normal wear, excessive wear on any of these parts may be the result of:

  • Overinflated tires (wear in the center)

  • Underinflated tires (wear on the edges)

  • A suspension issue (diagonal “cupping” on the tires)

  • Tire imbalance (patches of wear in several places on the tire)

Also check for loose wires, which may require the help of a professional.

2. Get the Proper Tools

To complete a tire rotation, make sure you have the proper tools. This includes:

  • A tire iron to remove the wheel covers, hubcaps, and lug nuts

  • A floor jack to lift the vehicle

  • Jack stands to keep the vehicle lifted while you complete the tire rotation

Keep in mind that you may need a lug nut key if you have locking lug nuts or wheel locks.

3. Stabilize the Vehicle

To stabilize the vehicle while you’re completing the tire rotation, engage the parking brake. Then, put the vehicle in park if it’s an automatic or in gear if it’s a stick shift.

4. Remove Hubcaps and Loosen Lug nuts

The next step is to use a tire iron to remove your hubcaps or wheel covers. Once you’ve completed this task, loosen the lug nuts on the tire.

Note: don’t remove them completely, just break them loose. Repeat this process on all four wheels.

5. Raise the Vehicle

Using a floor jack, raise the vehicle. To stabilize the vehicle place the jack stands at each of the four corners of the vehicle.

6. Remove the Tires

After your vehicle is stable, use the tire iron to remove the lug nuts on all four tires. If you find that one of your lug nuts has seized up, you may want to consider taking it to a professional, as forcing the issue may damage the bolt. Once you have all four tires removed, set them next to the desired location.

7. Inspect the Suspension and Braking System

Now that you have the wheels removed, inspect the suspension for looseness and the braking system, such as the calipers, brake discs, and brake pads, for any issues.

If you notice any problems such as cracking in the brake discs or significant wear on the pads, you may want to consult a professional to make sure your brakes are working correctly. Or, if you're savvy enough to DIY, it's a good time to order the right brake pads or rotors for next time.

Photo credit: carid.com

8. Put the Tires Back On

After inspecting the suspension and braking system, you can now put each of the tires back on. Hand-tighten each of the lug nuts so that the tires sit flush against the wheel hub. Then, lower the vehicle.

Use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern to the lb-ft stated in your owner’s manual.

Finally, reattach your hubcaps or wheel covers. If you notice any vibrations after the tire rotation, recheck your lug nuts to make sure they’re securely in place.

9. Double Check the Tightness of the Lug Nuts

Even if you don’t notice any vibrations while you’re driving, most experts suggest that you retighten the lug nuts after driving for 50 miles. This ensures that your tires are positioned properly and avoids any potential hazards or safety issues.

Tire Rotation Methods

The method of tire rotation isn’t universal. Certain vehicles require the tires to be rotated in a certain pattern to ensure safety and proper wear. Besides, directional and non-directional tires have different methods of tire rotation. That said, here are some of the most common tire rotation methods.

First - A Note on Directional Tires

If you’re not sure whether you have directional tires, simply look for “left” or “right”, or arrows with a note that says "rotation" on the tires. Directional tires are only meant to roll in one direction, so noting the direction is crucial. In the case of directional tires, simply move the front tires to the rear and the rear tires to the front. (see graphic)

Rearward Cross

The rearward cross tire rotation is another common type of tire rotation method. To complete a rearward cross, move your rear tires straight ahead from front to back. Then, move your front left tire to the rear right and your front right tire to the rear left.

Forward Cross

A forward cross pattern is simply the opposite of a rearward cross tire rotation method. As a result, you’ll move your rear tires straight to the front (rear right to front right and rear left to the front left). After you’ve done that, move your rear right tire to the front left and your rear left tire to the front right.

X Pattern

The X pattern method of tire rotation involves moving your tires diagonally. This requires you to switch the front right and rear left tires, as well as swapping the front left and rear right tires.

Other Patterns

Below is a useful demonstration of these patterns, as well as a few others: the 'side to side' and 'front to rear', suitable for staggered (different front/rear) tire sizes and directional tires, respectively.

Tire Rotation Methods - Courtesy of lesschwab.com

What If My Vehicle Has Different Tire Sizes on the Front and Rear? (Staggered Setup)

If your vehicle has different tire sizes on the front and rear (commonly found in sports cars), the above patterns won’t work. If you were to use the methods listed above, you can put your vehicle and safety at risk.

Therefore, to complete a tire rotation with different sized tires, you’ll simply swap the front left tire with the front right and the rear left tire with the rear right tire. Always check your tire sizes if you suspect that the front and rear are different.

Don’t Blow Your Budget or Your Tires: Rotate Regularly

Rotating your tires is essential for any vehicle owner. Not only does it preserve the life of your tires, but it also ensures the safety of you, your passengers, and other motorists. So when you’re due for an oil change, don’t neglect the four pieces of rubber that touch the road. Your life and your wallet depend on it.

People Also Ask

Although tire rotation is one of the easier DIY jobs, you still might have some questions concerning when to rotate your tires, how long it takes, or potential issues. Here are some of the most popular questions people also ask about how to rotate tires.

What is the Average Time to Rotate Tires?

Depending on your level of expertise, rotating your tires can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as an hour. If it’s your first time rotating tires, expect to be in the one-hour timeframe.

How Hard Is It to Rotate Tires?

Because you don’t need any specialized tools, rotating tires is one of the easier processes, even for novice mechanics. But if you don’t feel comfortable from the onset, your best move is to leave it to the pros.

How Long Does Tire Rotation Take?

Typically, a tire rotation takes somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour. Tire shops can usually perform this task in about 15 minutes if there’s no line ahead of you.

What is the Purpose of Rotating Tires?

The main purpose of rotating tires is to ensure even tread wear. If your tire treads wear unevenly, you can lose traction and the handling of your vehicle can suffer. By conducting regular tire rotations (about every 5,000 miles), you can make sure the handling of your vehicle is always at its best.

Can Tire Rotation Cause Alignment Issues?

No they should not - if you have alignment issues they were present before the tire rotation already. Symptoms of alignment problems include:

  • Pulling to the left or right

  • Steering wheel askew when you’re driving in a straight line

  • Tire squealing

  • Rapid tire wear
Shawn

An ex-salesman of industrial equipment, Shawn used to drive nearly 60K miles a year just commuting to clients. He also has a little project Miata build going on the side. Safe to say, Shawn has slain a few tires in his days. He knows all about horrid road-noise, hydroplaning risks, and how much damage a bad alignment can do to your wallet. He enjoys helping us out and Chris always values his opinion when designing something new for the website.