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Should I rotate my tyres?

Your car’s tyres are essential, and one way to help look after them is by rotating their position on your car. Here’s why it’s important.

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Want to prolong the life of your tyres, keep a check on their condition and stay safe all in one go? Of course you do, so have your tyres rotated periodically. It’s an easy task that very few drivers ever undertake, but one that you really should.

Depending on the type of car you own and your driving circumstances, you can expect your tyres to last for a few years or tens of thousands of miles. But the four tyres on your car don’t usually wear evenly – the front tyres may wear faster than the rear tyres, or vice versa.

Changing the tyres’ positioning on your car can help them last longer and wear more evenly, while also improving the vehicle’s handling and safety. 

Tyre rotation is a simple job and should be done every 5,000 to 6,000 miles. This should be brought forward though, if you do regular long distance or high speed journeys or carry heavy loads.

As part of a car’s regularly servicing schedule it should be done by the dealer or workshop but if you do your own maintenance, tyre rotation is definitely something that you should have on your ‘to do’ list.

Why is tyre rotation important?

Firstly, removing the wheels from the car gives you a chance to have a look at the inside of the tyre that you don’t normally see. That allows you make sure they’re in good condition, without any bulges, cuts or gouges in the tread or sidewalls. You can also check for any uneven tread wear on each tyre – this is another issue that rotation can help address.

It’s also a good time to check the air pressure in each tyre and ensure the tread depth is within legal limits. Remember that once a tyre’s tread has gone below the minimum 1.6mm level, it must be replaced. Rotating your tyres can spread that wear more evenly, so they’re likely to last longer. 

Over a longer term, rotation allows you to share the load each tyre carries in its position because front tyres have a different job to do than rear ones. The front tyres obviously do all the steering, and also take most of the load under braking. As a result, they usually wear faster than the rear tyres on most cars.

Then there are stresses and wear than come from acceleration forces. If your car is front-wheel drive, the front tyres have to cope with both turning and accelerating, so they will wear even faster than the rear tyres. In a rear-wheel-drive car, the rear tyres take on the acceleration duties, while four-wheel-drive cars can send drive to any or all of the wheels at once.

If you regularly carry tools, equipment or cargo in the car, this can increase wear on the rear tyres. This also applies if you tow regularly, as the weight of the trailer or caravan loads up and drags on the rear wheels more than the front.

For four-wheel drive vehicles, you may expect the wear to be more evenly distributed by design. But usually, the front wheels will still wear faster because they’re turning as well as driving – and front tyres always tend to take more braking load than rears on any car. So it’s still important to rotate tyres because a more even wear across all four corners of the car will reduce stresses on the drivetrain and suspension.

Directional tyre
This is a directional tyre, so can only be fitted one way around.

Different types of rotation

Manufacturers’ guides will give advice but generally for front-wheel-drive cars, the front tyres are swapped straight to the back while the rears go to the front and are crossed over.

The reverse usually applies for rear-wheel-drive cars, where the rear tyres are rotated straight to the front while the front tyres are moved to the back and crossed over.

Four-wheel drive cars usually benefit from having front and rear tyres swapped and crossed over so that, for example, the left-front tyre becomes the right-rear.

However, there are situations when this doesn’t apply. And in some cases, tyres can’t be rotated at all.

Not every car has the same sized wheels and tyres for both front and rear, so you can’t move them backwards and forwards. This often applies to performance cars (usually with rear-wheel drive), where the rear tyres may be wider and/or taller than the fronts.

Likewise, some tyres have ‘directional’ tread patterns, meaning they can only run in one direction (as shown in the image above). If you swap the tyre across to the other side of the car, it will effectively be running backwards and won’t perform in the same way – especially in wet weather.

There will be arrow marking on the sidewalls of directional tyres to denote which way the tyres should be pointing. If your tyres are the same size front and rear, you can still swap them on the same side of the car (eg – left-front to left-rear) Again, this will usually only apply to some high-performance tyres rather than the tyres you see on most everyday cars.

If you are not sure about whether the tyres on your vehicle are able to be rotated, check your owner’s manual or consult a professional tyre fitter before changing anything. 

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.