Caring for tires sounds easy right?
You make sure it has the correct tire pressure, you check how much tread remains, and you inspect to see if there are any cracks or debris that might cause the tire to suffer irreparable damage.
There is also the matter that needs discussion: tire rotation. For many, this is just something you leave to your local garage, but this is a very important part of tire care.
Simply put, tire rotation is the process of moving your car's tires from one corner to another. Each type of vehicle has different driving characteristics. Rear-wheel-drive (RWD), front-wheel-drive (FWD), and all-wheel-drive (AWD) will have different effects on a tire's inevitable wear. But there is a way to maximize the life of your tires through rotation.
Different Strokes, Different Folks
It's important to understand what tires are intended to do.
Tires are designed to bear the weight of the vehicle, soak up the shock from the road, send power to the road, stop the vehicle, keep it stable in a straight line, keep it controllable while cornering, and disperse water. Needless to say, it is arguably (if not actually) the number one safety feature on your car. Knowing that then you need to really take care of those four pieces of radial rubber, steel, and other compounds.
The car you drive will largely determine how your tires wear because of the jobs it will have to perform based on the configuration.
In a front-wheel-drive car (e.g. most sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers like Vios, Mirage, CR-V, etc.) it is the front tires that have to accelerate the car, stop the car, and steer the car around the bends. The rear tires are there to help with braking and with stability. Given that the front tires have to do the bulk of the work, those wear out far more than the rear tires.
If you have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle (i.e. 4x2 ladder-frame vehicles like Fortuner, Terra, or RWD sports cars) then the front tires handle steering and braking, while rear tires handle power delivery and braking. It is more likely that the rear tires wear out more quickly.
For vehicles that make use of all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (i.e. some crossovers and SUVs, almost all Subarus), all four tires generally wear more evenly. But you'll have to check the characteristic of the four-wheel-drive system in your vehicle because many tend to be front-wheel drive most of the time and only engage 4WD when it is needed.
Given how tires wear on a car, there is a need to spread out the wear by rotating the tires, like subbing in during a basketball game to give the star players a break.
But does tire rotation simply mean you can just switch the position of the front and rear tires? Not exactly. Like what I mentioned earlier, it depends on the type of drivetrain your vehicle has. It will also depend if you have a full-size spare tire and directional tires which we'll get to talk about later.
For now, here are some of the most commonly-used tire rotation patterns that can be used for tires that are non-directional and uniform in size.
Forward Cross Rotation: For FWD vehicles
This is perhaps the most common pattern for FWD vehicles. The front tires are moved to the rear axle and are kept on the same side. Meanwhile, the rear tires are moved towards the front but are switched between left and right.
Rearward Cross: For AWD/4WD and RWD vehicles
This type of tire rotation serves as the complete opposite of the forward cross method. Recommended for AWD, 4WD, and RWD vehicles, the rear tires are moved towards the front and kept on the same side of the vehicle. The front tires, on the other hand, are replaced to the opposite sides of the rear axle.
X-Pattern: Alternate tire rotation method for FWD vehicles
Aside from the Forward Cross method, the X-pattern method can also be used for FWD vehicles. The front tires are transferred diagonally to the rear axle, while the rear tires are moved to the front on opposite sides of the front axle.
What about the Spare Tire?
For cars with a full-size spare (not the space-saving "donut"), they can use the rearward cross and forward cross tire rotation methods. This is to ensure that the full-size spare also get even treadwear along with the other four tires.
Rearward Cross (with full-size spare) – Both the rear tires are moved towards the front axle. The right front tire is moved to the left side of the rear axle, while the left front tire becomes the new spare.
Forward Cross (with full-size spare) – The rear tires are moved diagonally to opposite sides of the front axle. The right rear tire becomes the new spare while the left tire is moved directly to the left rear axle. Meanwhile, the spare tire now becomes the right rear tire.
Front-to-Back: For cars with directional tires
For cars fitted with directional and high-performance tires, the rotation methods are actually simpler. This is because these types of tires have a tread pattern designed to rotate in one direction only. This doesn't mean the tire cannot be driven in reverse; it just means that the tires are intended to be driven fast if mounted a certain way. Oftentimes these directional tires have a pattern designed to disperse water on the road if installed correctly.
Cars with directional tires can rotate their rubber by using the Front-To-Back method. All tires are moved from one axle to the other but remain on the same side of the vehicle. This means the front left tire is moved to the left rear while the rear left tire is moved to the left side front.
Side-to-Side: For staggered setups on high-performance cars
There is a conundrum with cars that have staggered sizes. Most cars have what we call "square" tires; meaning the sizes are exactly the same on all four corners of the vehicle. But some cars -mostly high-performance cars- have different size tires in front versus the back. Typically, these are rear-wheel drive (sometimes all-wheel drive) vehicles that need wider rear tires because they need a wider contact patch for the power they put down.
For that, they can use the Side-to-Side method. All of the tires are switched with their similarly-sized partner and remain on the same axle. This means the right front tire will trade places with the left front tire, while the two tires on the rear will also do the same.
When to rotate your tires?
So we now know the common tire rotation methods that will ensure each tire is worn evenly. But when do you actually have to rotate your tires? According to tire manufacturers, they recommend rotating your tires every 8,000 kilometers. Alternatively, drivers can also rotate their tires every time they have their vehicle's oil changed. That way, they can remind themselves to not only change their fluids but also check on their tires.
If you're the type of driver that can easily rack plenty of kilometers (i.e. over 25,000 km per year), you can factor in an additional tire rotation besides the average 8,000-kilometer interval as recommended.
While rotating one's tires may sound unusual to some (especially new car owners), it is a very important practice in vehicle ownership. It's like alternating between certain pairs of shoes over the course of a week or a month; if you wear one more often than others, then that pair will definitely break down first. The goal is to spread it out and balance.
If you do that, then you can have even treadwear which results in optimal braking, acceleration, control in wet weather, and longer tire life overall. And unless you like having to buy tires, it'll save you money in the long term as well.