Investing in a quality set of tires for your car can improve performance, safety and comfort for you and your passengers. However, not even the best tires will last forever.
Rotating tires is an essential part of maintaining your car, but what happens if you don’t rotate your tires? We’ve got everything you need to know in the guide below.
What happens if you don’t rotate your tires?
- Tires will not wear evenly.
- Reduced traction and grip.
- Heat buildup.
- Increased puncture risks.
Why Tire Rotation Is Important
Rotating the tires is part of any vehicle’s maintenance to ensure better performance and safety. You need to move the rear wheels onto the front axle because the front wheels carry the most weight—resulting in the front tires wearing down sooner.
You’ll often see slightly more wear on the outside edges of the front-wheel tread because, as you turn, the wheel leans onto those edges. Regularly rotating the tires will allow all the wheels to wear evenly.
What Happens if You Wait Too Long to Rotate Tires?
What happens if you don’t move your tires regularly is that it can cause the tread to wear out unevenly and create a rough and unstable surface. When the tread wears down unevenly, it can impact your safety on the road.
Other consequences of not doing tire rotation include:
- Invalidated warranty: Most tire manufacturers will effectively invalidate the warranty if you don’t rotate the tires regularly. Any sign of improper maintenance could invalidate the warranty.
- Shorter lifespan: You move the tires to make sure they wear down equally. If not rotated, the tread will wear down in certain places, making them uneven. You’ll likely have to replace the tires more frequently, which is rather expensive.
- Safety risks: Uneven tires can cause imbalances when you’re driving; this can affect the brakes and steering. It will also affect traction, which is even more dangerous if the conditions are icy or wet.
Is It Bad to Not Rotate Your Tires?
Inadequate tire rotation can become a safety hazard for you and others on the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tire-related crashes caused a total of 738 fatalities in 2017 alone.
Here are a few things that can occur if the tires wear out faster:
Reduced Traction on Snow and Ice
Snow tires are designed to grip into packed snow for better traction. They’re usually designed with an array of slits, also known as “sipes.” These help the tires bite or grab onto the snow. However, with insufficient tread depths, the risk of sliding or spinning out on icy roads is increased.
Additionally, if the tires wear is severe, it can be difficult to accelerate, brake and turn corners safely on icy roads.
When you’re driving on hot tarmac, the friction between the wheel and the road will generate a significant amount of heat.
The treads are designed to create a cooling airflow between the wheels and the road. When the tread wears down unevenly, the temperatures can quickly reach unsafe levels, leading to tread separation or blowouts.
Increased Risk of Blowouts and Punctures
When one point of the tread wears down, it becomes thinner. With a thin spot on the tire, there’s a higher chance of glass, a nail or other sharp objects causing a puncture or blowout.
A tire is only as strong as its weakest point—if there’s just a single thin spot and it punctures, you have to replace the entire wheel.
The grooves within the tread help channel water from the driving surface, enabling the tire to get a firm grip on the tarmac. However, as the tread wears down, it can cause the tire to simply skim across the water’s surface—compromising control, steering and handling.
How Long Will Tires Last if Not Rotated?
It depends on the car, climate and quality of the road. However, most manufacturers recommend that you rotate the tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. If you use your vehicle regularly, expect to move the tires every six months.
How Do You Know If You Need a Tire Rotation?
There are three tell-tale signs that tire rotation is due, these include:
- Uneven wear: If you notice the front tires are wearing down quicker than the rear, or vice versa, a rotation is due. Note: If the treadwear is severe, replace the tire instead of rotating.
- Loss of pressure: One tire might lose air slightly quicker than the others, indicating that too much pressure is put on that tire.
- Vibrations: When driving at 45 miles per hour or above, an uneven tread can cause vibrations. Other factors, such as tire imbalance, can also cause palpitations, but overall, if you feel unusual vibrations, you should rotate your tires.
When Not to Rotate Your Tires
Rotating the tires is important and usually a part of regular maintenance. However, not all vehicles will need their tires to be rotated. For instance, if your car has smaller wheels at the front and bigger wheels in the rear, you can’t exchange them.
If rotating the wheels isn’t possible, make sure you replace them when the tread is worn down to ensure your safety.
Tire Rotation Patterns
How you rotate your tires matters, and it all comes down to the type of drive your car has. You can always ask your mechanic for advice, but here’s a quick rundown of the patterns:
1. Forward Cross
The forward cross pattern is generally used on front-wheel-drive cars. It’s a straightforward pattern where you simply move the front tires to the back and vice versa.
However, you should only cross the rear tires, making sure you move the front tires straight back to the rear and the rear tires to the opposite front axle.
2. Rearward Cross
As you might’ve guessed by the name, this pattern is similar to the forward cross, but only the other way around. You can use this pattern in any type of vehicle.
In order to make this pattern, you have to move the front tires backward to the opposite rear axle. Then, you move the rear tires forward to the front axles on the same side.
3. Cross Pattern or X-Pattern
This pattern is very straightforward; simply move the tires diagonally. For example, move the rear tires to the opposite front tires and vice versa.
The cross pattern is recommended for front-wheel-drive cars.
Apart from the three regular patterns, there are a few more worth mentioning:
- Front to rear: For vehicles with directional or same side directional tires, you can simply move the front wheel to the rear and vice versa—no need to cross.
- Side to side: Cars equipped with different sized wheels can move the tires side to side. But it’s a process—the wheels should be dismounted, mounted and rebalanced to rotate tire properly.
- Forward cross with spare: Front-wheel-drive cars with a spare wheel at the back of the same size can rotate using the forward cross pattern. However, the spare wheel is placed on the right axle while the front right wheel is placed in storage.
- Reward cross with spare: This pattern is for rear-wheel and four-wheel-drive cars with a spare of the same size. Follow the regular reward pattern, but place the spare on the right rear axle while the left front tire is stored.
Does Tire Rotation Pattern Matter?
Rotation pattern matters in most cases since the front tires have different tasks than those at the back, think steering. Additionally, there’s a significant difference between front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive cars in how they handle and weight distribution.
For instance, the drivetrain of a front-wheel-drive car is typically lighter than that of a rear-wheel-drive car. However, a rear-wheel-drive car is generally easier to steer since the weight is on the back wheels.
One rule of thumb is always to cross the free-rolling axle when rotating the wheels. In other words, on a front-wheel-drive car, you cross the rear tires to the front while moving the front tires straight back.
On a rear-wheel-drive car, it’s the opposite since the free-rolling axle is in the front. Meaning, you cross the front wheels when moving them to the back. Cross pattern is used on four-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive cars, so each tire crosses as they move forward or backward.
If you have your tires rotated by a professional, they will know which pattern is best.
Tire Rotation Tips
There are a few things you should do when rotating the tires, these include:
- Use the same tire rotation pattern each time: Switching up the pattern can lead to some tires wearing down quicker than the others, resulting in uneven treads.
- Check air pressure: Refer to the owner’s manual or tire guide on the doorjamb to see the required air pressure. Every time you move the tires, check the pressure to ensure it’s at the right level.
- Check the brakes: If your mechanic is rotating the wheels, have them check the brakes to ensure everything is in top-notch order.
Tire Rotation Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Really Have to Rotate Your Tires?
No, not necessarily. Rotated tires are a good maintenance practice as they allow all treads to wear evenly. It’s also good to do if you want the best performance from your car and extend the life of your tires.
Replacing tires isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper to get them rotated. You can also take the chance to check the brakes or oil.
How Much Does It Cost to Rotate Tires?
Getting your tires rotated isn’t costly. Having your tires rotated can cost between $24 and $120 depending on where you get it done. Some places will do it for free if you purchase a new tire set from them.
Can I Do a Tire Rotation Myself?
Yes, you can. Rotating your tires isn’t a difficult task if you already know how to change a tire. Make sure you know which pattern is ideal for your car and stick with it for future rotations.
You also need a quality jack to lift the car, and jack stands to support it while you rotate the wheels. Note: you can use the car jack that came with your vehicle; however, these aren’t designed to lift the car for long periods, making them hard to rely on.
If you plan on doing tire rotations yourself in the future, consider investing in a good-quality car jack. Although slightly pricier, hydraulic car jacks will give you the best lift.
How Do You Know Which Way Your Tires Rotate?
Are your tires directional or non-directional? Tire rotation depends on which way your tires turn.
Directional tires are usually marked with a small arrow pointing towards the front of the car. This arrow indicates which way the tires should turn—put them on backward, and you won’t get the same benefits, such as hydroplaning resistance.
For directional tires, you should use the front-to-rear pattern, as we explained above.
You can mount non-directional tires on any wheel without compromising performance. When rotating, simply use the forward cross pattern for front-wheel-drive cars and rearward cross pattern for rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles.
So, what happens if you don’t rotate your tires? The simple answer is that your wheels will wear down unevenly.
Rotating your tires is an essential part of your car’s maintenance as it helps the tread on all wheels to wear down evenly. How they should be rotated depends on your car’s drive—knowing the right pattern, you can easily rotate the tires yourself or seek a mechanic’s help.
When were your tires last rotated? It might be time for a check-up.