Rotating your tires isn't as simple as it might sound. There are specific tire rotation patterns that should be followed, based on these factors:
Whether your tires are directional or non-directional (directional tires have a tread pattern that is designed to rotate in one direction only)
Whether your vehicle is front-wheel, rear-wheel, 4-wheel, or all-wheel drive
Whether you have a full-size spare tire or a mini-spare
Whether you have staggered fitment tires (different sizes and/or offsets on front and rear) or not
Non-directional tires, same size and offset on front and rear:
The Tire and Rim Association has identified three main rotation patterns that can be used for most vehicles in this scenario.
1. Forward cross
This pattern is used for front-wheel drive vehicles. The front tires move straight back to the rear, and the rear tires move to the opposite sides of the front axle.
For front-wheel drive vehicles, this is an alternate pattern that may be used instead of the Forward Cross. The front tires move to the opposite rear positions and the rear tires move to the opposite front positions.
3. Rearward cross
This pattern is used for rear-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicles. The rear tires move straight up to the front, while the front tires move to the opposite rear positions.
Tire rotation front to back
Directional and/or staggered high-performance tires and wheels: In addition to the three main rotation patterns listed above, there are two additional patterns that can be used for today's high-performance tire and wheels.
Directional tires are designed and constructed so that they always rotate in the same direction due to their tread pattern. If your tires are directional, they should only be rotated from front to back (or vice-versa) on the same side of the vehicle. If your vehicle has the same size and offset directional tires, it will use the pattern shown at the above left: the front tires move to the rear on the same side, and the rear tires move to the front axle on the same side of the vehicle.
If your vehicle has differently sized, non-directional tires on the front and rear axles, it will use the side-to-side pattern shown to the right above. The front tires move to the opposite side of the front axle and the rear tires go to the opposite rear side. If your vehicle has differently-sized directional tires on the front and rear, the tires will need to be dismounted from the wheels, and remounted and balanced on the opposite wheels.
Rotation with spare
Five tire rotation - full size spare tire
If your vehicle has a full-size, non-directional spare tire (one that isn't branded “for temporary use”) and a wheel that's the same size as your four main tires and wheels, you may want to consider the following rotation patterns to keep all five tires evenly worn. This is especially important for four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles, because if you need to use your spare tire and it has different wear than your other three tires, it could place undue force on the drive train of your vehicle due to the difference in tread depth.
First, check your vehicle owner's manual to see if the manufacturer has recommended a tire rotation pattern; if so, follow those guidelines. If there is no rotation information available, consider the following patterns:
6. Forward cross for front-wheel drive
If your vehicle is front-wheel drive and you have non-directional tires with a full-size matching spare, the pattern at left above can be used. The rear tires move to the opposite front positions. The left front tire moves to the left rear position. The spare tire moves to the right rear position and the right front tire becomes the spare.
7. Rearward cross for rear-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive
If your vehicle is rear-wheel or 4-wheel drive with non-directional tires and a full-size matching spare, the pattern at right above can be used. The left rear tire moves to the left front position. The right rear tire moves to the right front position. The right front tire moves to the left rear position. The spare tire moves to the right rear position and the left front tire becomes the spare.
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