How Long Does a Tire Rotation Take? Step-By-Step Guide

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Tire rotation should take between 40 minutes and two hours, and it should be part of your routine vehicle maintenance. You should do it at least every 5,000 miles to keep your driving comfortable and your vehicle in good condition.

Is your steering wheel vibrating at highway speeds, or is there uneven wear on your tires? Maybe you’ve just bought a pre-owned car, and you don’t know when the tires were last rotated. It may be the right moment to do it. But how long does a tire rotation take?

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about tire rotation and balancing them.

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Why Do I Need to Rotate My Tires?

Periodic tire rotation and tire service can save vehicles, especially older and pre-owned, from damage.

Your car distributes weight unevenly across the four tires. This difference in weight distribution makes the tires wear in different spots. Taking them off and rotating the tires or switching them to a different position on the car is crucial to keeping them in good condition.

Uneven tires are not only uncomfortable to drive with. They’ll wear out faster, and you’ll use more gas when you’re driving. This can eventually cause damage to your wheels and suspension, so taking the time for tire rotations and balancing will save you money in the long run.

How Do I Know I Need to Rotate My Tires?

These are some of the most common symptoms of your tires being unbalanced and needing a rotation or balancing.

Mileage

The first thing you should go with when defining your tire rotation frequency is distance. This will help make sure you do it before you develop problems. If your tires are new, it’s important to rotate them because the tread is deep and more susceptible to getting worn in an uneven pattern.

Aim for tire rotations on your vehicle every 3,000 to 5,000 miles—and more often if you tend to haul heavy cargo. Refer to your vehicle’s user manual for specifics if you’re not sure.

You can probably make a rough estimate of how much you drive in a specific amount of time and set a regular calendar reminder to keep your tires in check.

Vibration

You’ll likely first notice your tires going out of balance from the steering wheel vibrating, especially when driving at high speeds. The speed at which you’ll mostly notice it is between 50 and 70 miles per hour.

Then, you’ll feel your rides getting bumpy. You’ll start feeling the vibration on the seat and the floor. This will all add up to a very uncomfortable driving experience.

If you only feel vibration when braking, check your brakes and especially brake rotors.

Uneven Wear

When your tires aren’t balanced, you may notice them wearing out, especially in uneven patterns and patches. Patchy patterns help you distinguish the problem from other possible issues, like underinflation or wheel misalignment. These two issues would cause wear at the center or the sides of the tire.

Improved Fuel Efficiency

Fuel inefficiency could be caused by many issues in your vehicle’s motor or tires, and can even be caused by underinflation. However, it can also be due to tire imbalances.

If you notice your fuel is running out faster and you know you haven’t rotated your tires in a while, check them. You will likely find some issues in them, and it’s cheaper to fix it than let the problem grow.

Mechanical Issues

If you start experiencing problems with your shock absorbers, axles, drive trains, and wheel bearings, it may be due to a simple tire balancing issue. If you don’t check your tires when you fix these issues, they will keep occurring. You’ll waste your money on fixes that won’t fix anything without tire service.

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How Long Does It Take For Tire Rotations and Balance?

Tire balance and rotation shouldn’t take long, no more than a couple of hours. How long it takes depends on the condition of the tread.

How long does it take for only rotating the tires? Just rotating your tires is a bit faster than balancing them. It takes about 45 minutes in an auto shop. If you decide to do the tire rotation on your own, it really depends on how experienced and quick you are.

How To Do Tire Rotation at Home

Tire rotation is easy. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Loosen the wheels. You’ll need a lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts on your wheels a little before you lift it to take off the tire. Otherwise, it will just spin around, and you won’t be able to use it
  2. Lift your car. You’ll likely use a jack for this, but note that you might need more than one to keep the car lifted in several spots.
  3. Take off the tire. Loosen the lug nuts completely and remove the tire.
  4. Clean the tire and inspect it. Wash out any debris from the tire and inspect it to make sure the tread hasn’t worn too thin and that it has no punctures.
  5. Mark the tire. Mark the tire with some chalk to make sure you don’t forget which spot you took it from. This is especially important if you take out all the wheels.
  6. Replace the tire in the new position. Follow the patterns below to determine the right position for your tire.

Tire Rotation Patterns

First of all, note that the right tire rotation pattern depends on your car, but also on the tire type.

Front-Wheel Drive

With a front-wheel drive, you can either do an x-pattern or a forward cross pattern rotation.

The x-pattern rotation means simply rotating your front tires to the back axle and back tires to the front. You’ll also need to move them diagonally from right to left, and vice versa.

A forward cross pattern means moving your front tires to the back axle directly. At the same time, you’ll need to move the back wheels to the front diagonally.

Rear-Wheel and 4-Wheel Drive

Rear-wheel, all-wheel, and 4-wheel drive cars should have their tires rotated with a rearward cross pattern. This means you need to move the front wheels to the back and on opposite sides of the axle, and the rear wheels directly to the front, but on the same side.

Directional Tires

Some tires have a directional tread that you can see clearly pointing in the driving direction. You should only change the position of these types of tires but not rotate the tire itself, since the pattern should always point forward.

With directional treads, you should rotate either from front to back or from side to side, but not diagonally.

Performance Tires

Some cars use different-sized performance tires in the front and back axles. In these cases, you can only move the wheels in a side-to-side pattern on the same axle.

How to Balance Tires

Balancing tires is a bit more complicated than just rotating them. Here’s how you do it.

How to Balance Tires Without a Balancer

If you’re already noticing problems in the balance of your tires, you may need to balance them on top of rotating them.

If you take your vehicle to a car care shop, they’ll use a tire balancing machine to determine the spot where your tires need some extra weight. However, you can do it on your own at home, with or without a balancer. It might take a bit more time to find the exact spot, and the result may not be as accurate.

You will need some weights of different sizes. Some chalk will also come in handy for marking the tire.

1. Lift Your Car and Prepare the Tire

First, you’ll need to lift your car with a jack so that the wheel can freely rotate. Then, clean up large debris wherever you may have it and remove all the previous weights from the tire.

2.  Find the Right Spot

Next, you need to find the spot where the tire is heaviest. To do this, you’ll need to rotate the tire very slowly.

Nudge it just a bit and see if there’s a spot that always returns to the bottom when you let go. If your tire is in balance, it should rotate with no notable differences in speed, and it shouldn’t’ always return to the same spot.

If you do find a spot that’s heavier, mark it with some chalk. You’ll need to add the weight to the opposite side to balance the tire out.

3. Add the Weight

When picking the weights, you have the option of clip-on and stick-on types. You’ll often get a couple of different weight options so you can find the exact right one.

If you keep the tire on, you’ll have to stick the weight on the tire before you know you’ve got the right weight. To avoid going over, start with one small weight and check if the tire is in alignment before adding more.

How to Balance Tires With a Balancer

If you use a bubble balancer, you’ll have to remove the tire, but you’ll get a more accurate result. Here’s how you do it.

1. Lift the Car and Remove the Tire

Use a jack and a lug wrench to lift the car and remove the tire. Clean it up to make sure there’s no heavy mud weighing it down, and remove any old weights your tire may have.

2. Find the Right Spot

Place the tire on the bubble balancer. These work with the same mechanism as a common level tool, with liquid at the center. If the tire is in balance, the bubble at the center of the balancer should be right in the middle. If not, you’ll see the bubble moving to one side of the tire.

3. Add the Weights

With a bubble balancer, it’s easier to make sure you’ve got the weight distributed correctly. You can place the weights on top of the tire and move it around without having to stick or bang it on.

Add as many weights as you need. When the bubble is right in the middle, you know you’ve got the right spot, and you can proceed to stick them on.

When you’re finished, rotate the tire a bit and see if the bubble moves around before putting the tire back on.

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Why Do Tires Go Out of Balance?

Tires can go out of balance for numerous different reasons, and it’s nearly inevitable. New tires can go out of balance because of issues when shipping or mounting them, especially if you don’t balance them when they’re new.

Later, tires can go out of balance because you’ve hit a pothole or had some other type of road damage to the rim or the tire. It’s also possible your wheels are out of balance due to a mechanical issue on your rims or your car.

This can especially happen with pre-owned vehicles. If you’re buying a pre-owned car, make sure both the tires and the rims and wheels are in good condition.

Small tire imbalances are nearly inevitable, so you should check your tires regularly to tackle any problems before they grow. A balance checkup every time you do a tire rotation or notice problems is usually enough.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should You Get a Tire Rotation?

Vehicle owners should get a tire rotation done about every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. It may seem like a lot, but doing a tire rotation will keep your tires and your vehicle in good condition for longer. It’s especially important if you’re the owner of an older or pre-owned vehicle.

Do You Really Need to Rotate Your Tires?

Yes, you really do need to rotate your tires. Periodic tire rotation will not only keep them in good condition for longer, but it will also save vehicles, especially pre-owned, from damage. It’s much more comfortable to drive with evenly balanced tires, so make sure you get it done regularly.

How Long Does a Tire Change Take?

A tire change can take anything from 40 minutes to a couple of hours for all four tires on your vehicle. If you do it in a tire shop, it’s likely a short procedure. If you’re going to do it on your own and you’re not experienced, it may take a while longer.

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The Bottom Line

If you’re still wondering how long does a tire rotation take, don’t worry. Tire rotation is a relatively quick process, especially if you’ve done it before. It shouldn’t take longer than 45 minutes at the shop or a couple of hours if you’re doing it at home.

Rotating your tires periodically can really extend their lifespan. You’ll also avoid causing damage to your wheels and car, and maximize your fuel efficiency. Doing a tire rotation is especially important if you’re buying a pre-owned vehicle.

The right rotation pattern depends on your vehicle, so make sure you check our instructions to get the right one.

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