Be Your Own Tech: How to Perform a Tire Rotation Yourself

person doing tire rotationTires don’t come cheap, and unfortunately, they’re not sold in sets. Just one all-season tire replacement can run you $100 or more.

It’s important to keep your tires in good shape. After all, they help absorb the weight of your car, maintain a grip on the road, and help you stop. Wear and tear on your tires is inevitable, and dangerous when left alone.

Tire rotation is essential to maintaining the life of your tires. The bad news is that this service can cost you $50-$120, depending on where you take your car. The good news is that you can rotate your tires yourself—for free.

You can learn everything you need to know about tire rotation right here.

Tire Rotation the Right Way

Uneven tread wear is bound to happen. Your two front tires carry more of your vehicle’s weight, and incidentally, taking left turns puts weights on the opposite tires. Rotating your tires correctly helps to neutralize the uneven wear that happens thanks to physics.

Even if your tires aren’t showing any signs of wear, they still need to be rotated every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Check with your service manual for your vehicle’s rotation schedule, just to be sure.

Whether you have new tires or old tires, the rotation process is more involved than you think. So before you start loosening up your lug nuts, you’re going to want to finish reading this first:

What You’ll Need

In order to complete a successful tire rotation, you’re going to need a hydraulic floor jack and jack stands. You can get away with using the original jack that your vehicle came with, but it’s really not recommended. (They’re designed more for a quick tire change).

A hydraulic floor jack is much safer and it’ll give you a higher lift. They usually come with at least two jack stands, which you’ll need to rest the car on top of. This job requires all four wheels to be off the ground, so you’re going to need four jack stands in total.

Directional or Non-Directional. What’s Your Rotation Pattern?

The way you will rotate your tires depends on whether your vehicle has directional or non-directional tires.

Directional tires have a “one-way” tread pattern that is optimized for the direction of rotation. In other words, each tire is designated to a specific side of the car. To rotate directional tires, swap the front right with the back right and the front left with the back left.

Directional tires have indicators on their sidewalls—usually in the form of little arrows or triangles—that let you know which direction the tire is supposed to turn.

Non-directional tires have a tread pattern that is designed for all four corners of a vehicle. There is a criss-cross and back-and-forth pattern for non-directional tires which is also designated by specific factors:

  • Front-wheel drive: The rear tires are moved diagonally to the front. (Left rear is moved to the right front and the right rear is moved to the left front.) The two front tires are moved straight to the back.
  • Rear-wheel drive: The front tires are moved diagonally to the rear. (Right front is moved to the left rear and the left front is moved to the right rear.) The two back tires are moved straight to the front.

Once you’ve established the correct rotation pattern, you can begin the rotation process.

Step by Step Tire Rotation

This will only take about 20 minutes, give or take, as well as a little muscle. It helps if you have an impact wrench, but you always want to make sure you tighten your lug nuts up to their proper specs.

Here’s what to do:

1. Engage the parking brake.

2. Loosen up the lug nuts on all four tires. Do not take them completely off while your vehicle is still on the ground.

3. Lift up one wheel with your jack and place a jack stand underneath. Depending on how many jack stands you have, you’re going to have to do some mental math before jacking up your vehicle.

*For safety, along with your jack stands, it’s a good idea to use your jack for extra support.

4. Remove the tires completely and rotate them according to the correct pattern. When you put the tires back onto the wheel mounts, screw on the lug nuts as much as you can by hand.

5. Lower your vehicle back to the ground. Use the lug wrench (or torque wrench) to finish tightening the lug nights. Be careful not to overtighten the lug nuts.

*Make sure to tighten the lug nuts in a diagonal/star pattern. This will ensure even tightening and prevent brake rotor warping.

Each time you do a tire rotation, make a note of the mileage on your vehicle. That way, you’ll know when it’s time for the next rotation. If you forget, a good rule of thumb is to rotate your tires with every oil change.

Should I Rotate My Spare in?

Old school tire maintenance calls for rotating in your spare to give your other tires a break. However, spare tires today aren’t made for extensive use. They’re usually much smaller and lighter weight, and have a more shallow tread depth. They’re designed specifically to get you over to a mechanic.

For SUVs and other offroad vehicles, there’s usually a full-sized tire that matches the rest. These are okay to rotate in since they’re real tires. To rotate in the spare, you would start it in place of the right rear tire. The Left front tire would get rotated out, becoming your new spare tire.

Be Your Own Technician

Tire rotation is just one of the many maintenance jobs you can perform yourself. Learning how to take care of your own vehicle will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

If you don’t know where to begin, just check your vehicle’s service manual. If you can’t find yours, you can find it here.