December 8, 2009

Cars, Manly Skills

How to Rotate Your Car Tires

rotate

With this crummy economy, we’re all looking for ways to save money. One way to save a few bucks is doing your own auto maintenance. We’ve already discussed how to change your own oil. Today we’re going to tackle another maintenance job that you can easily do yourself.

If you’re not careful, your car’s tires can become a big money pit. Tires aren’t cheap. A new one can set you back at least $80. If you go through a new set of tires every year, you’re looking at dropping at least $400. Boo.

One simple way you can extend the life of your tires is regularly rotating them on your car. Tire rotation means changing where the individual tire is mounted on the car. Some men don’t ever have their tires rotated, and those that do usually let a quick lube take care of it. But this simple 15 minute job will set them back at least $20 at most places. Save yourself the money by doing it yourself. In today’s post we show you how.

Why Rotate Your Tires?

Front and rear tires wear differently. For example, the front tires carry more than 60% of your car’s weight; consequently, front tires wear down faster than the rear ones. Also, turning wears the front tires at different rates. In America, we generally take left turns faster than we do right turns. This puts more load on the right front tire which results in the right tire wearing faster than your left. After thousands of miles of driving, you end up with uneven tread wear.

Rotating tires equalizes these natural wear patterns by changing the positions of your tires. By rotating your tires regularly, you’ll ensure yourself a smoother and safer ride. And more importantly (for me at least) you’ll save money in the long run by extending the life of your tires.

Oh, and it feels manly to flip tires around, too.

How Often Should You Rotate Tires?

Check your car’s owner’s manual for the recommended tire rotation schedule. Most manufacturers recommend that you rotate your tires every 5,000 miles. An easy way to remember to rotate your tires is to do it whenever you change the oil on your car.

Tools Needed

Car jack. Using the jack that comes with your car can work, but it isn’t recommended for rotating your tires. It’s designed to lift up your car for a short amount of time so you can quickly change a tire. The safer route is to use a hydraulic floor jack. A good floor jack will set you back about $100, but your safety is well well worth the investment. A car jack will come in handy for other maintenance jobs as well.

Jack stands. You’ll need some jack stands so you can rest the car on top of them while you switch the tires out. You can buy a decent set of jack stands for about $30.

If you don’t want to fork over the dough, you can jerry rig a jack stand with a cinderblock and a two by four. Just place the cinderblock under a wheel and place the two by four on top of the cinderblock to prevent scratching the bottom of your car. Lower the car jack so the car rests on the cinderblock and two by four. Wala! Instant jack stands!

Rotation Pattern: Directional or Non-directional Tires?

 

Before we start loosening those lug nuts, we need to know what pattern we’re going to use to rotate our tires. The way you rotate your tires depends on a few factors, the biggest one being whether your car has directional or non-directional tires.

How to Rotate Directional Tires. Directional tires have a “one-way” tread pattern that are optimized for the direction the tires rotate on the car, so they’re specifically made for either the left or right side. The grooves are angled to optimize handling, and they also do a good job of channeling water out from under the tire on wet surfaces, reducing hydroplaning and improving wet traction.

Little arrows or triangles on the sidewall indicate which way the tire is supposed to turn.

To rotate directional tires, just switch the front right tire for the back right tire, and the front left tire for the back left tire, like this:

directional

How to Rotate Non-directional Tires. The tread pattern on non-directional tires is designed in such a way that the tire can be mounted on the wheel for any direction of rotation. So you can switch which side the tires are on when you rotate them.

To rotate non-directional tires, use the cross pattern. For cars with rear-wheel drive, move the front tires to the opposite sides of the rear: left-front to right-rear and right-front to left-rear. The rear tires are moved straight forward. Here’s how it looks visually:

nondirectional tire rotation

On vehicles with front-wheel drive, just do the opposite. Move the rear tires to the opposite sides of the front and move the front tires straight back.

Rotate the Spare In?

Some old car maintenance guides recommend that drivers rotate their spare tire into use in order to give one of the tires a much needed break. The problem with this advice is that the vast majority of modern spare tires aren’t designed for extended driving. They’re often smaller and feature a lighter-weight construction and shallower tread depth. They’re designed to simply get you to a shop to fix the original tire. That’s it.

Some cars still come equipped with full-size matching spare tires. Off road vehicles and many SUVs usually have them. If you have a car that has a matching spare tire, it isn’t a bad idea to rotate it into use. Here’s a diagram for the suggested rotation:

spare tire rotation

How to Rotate Your Tires

Time needed: 20 minutes.

1. Engage parking brake. Just for your safety.

2. Loosen the lug nuts on all your wheels. You don’t want to take them completely off yet. Loosening them now will make unscrewing them when the car is elevated much easier.

3. Lift up one wheel with car jack and place jack stand underneath it. If you just have one or two jack stands (or cinder blocks) you’ll need to do a bit of mental work before you start jacking so you know how you’re going to proceed with lowering and raising your car. Because you have fewer stands, you’ll also spend more time lowering and raising your car in order to switch them out. Despite the extra effort, you still won’t spend much more than 20 minutes on the job. I’ve seen some people place their car on all four jack stands. It’s not exactly the safest thing to do, but it will definitely help you get the job done faster because you don’t have to switch out jack stands.

4. Remove the tires and rotate them according to the appropriate pattern for your type of tires. When you place a tire back onto the wheel mount, screw the lug nuts on by hand as much as you can. 

5. Lower the car from the jack stands. Take the lug wrench and tighten the nuts even more. It’s best to work the lug nuts diagonally from one to another. It looks like a star pattern. This ensures even tightening. Tightening the lug nuts unevenly can warp the brake rotor.

startireStar pattern when tightening lug nuts

That’s it! Now just mark down the mileage when you rotated your tires and remember to do it again in another 5,000 miles.


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