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Car Care: Should you still be rotating your car tyres?
By Jack Biddle • 14/02/2015
Tyre rotation used to be an art form when rear-wheel--drive passenger vehicles dominated our roads, with wheels criss-crossed around a vehicle.
The aim was to give each tyre a spell in every corner, as well as the occasional breather as a spare only.
The swing to front-wheel-drive (FWD) mass-produced vehicles and the subsequent changes in vehicle weight distribution, plus the introduction of space-saver wheels, has meant a change in thinking on how and if tyres should be rotated.
It should be highlighted that there are no hard and fast rules on tyre rotation that apply to every vehicle now being produced or already on the roads.
Manufacturers of top-end sports cars or the more robust 4WD vehicles, for example, may well have their own recommendations on tyre rotation, and even replacement, based on a number of different reasons.
Directional tyre construction (plus different tyre sizes front to rear in some high-performance vehicles) can mean rotation isn't an option at all, while larger 4WDs can run the risk of damage to the four-wheel-drive systems if recommendations on tyre replacement aren't adhered to come replacement time.
For this article we will stick with the mainstream passenger vehicles, including the popular SUVs fitted with FWD or part-time 4WD systems.
Tyre rotation should be considered or made only if all four tyres are equal in terms of general condition and tread depth.
This is because the industry suggests that the best tyres should always be fitted to the rear (regardless of the vehicle being FWD or RWD) to help reduce the risk of a vehicle "breaking away" in the rear and the driver losing control in certain road and weather conditions.
It also reduces the risk of picking up a puncture and driving on an underinflated tyre - something that also creates that lack of rear-end control for the driver.
All tyres should be up to warrant of fitness standards but if two are almost new and therefore have better tread depth then they should remain on the rear.
Rotating tyres is an exercise that is best carried out when all four tyres were originally fitted at the same time, with the aim of achieving equal wear and therefore a longer life span.
So why do tyres wear differently and need rotating to extend their useful life span? If left in their original positions on a FWD vehicle, the front tyres will wear much faster than the rear for a number of reasons.
One reason is a difference in weight and workload. The engine, transmission and driveline are all positioned forward of the driver and the front wheels carry out the drive and steering duties.
This means the rear tyres can last longer than the ones fitted to the front.
Manufacturers work hard to achieve a balanced weight distribution with their vehicles but FWD vehicles will always place the heaviest workload on the front tyres.
Even manufacturers such as Subaru who have their well proven All-Wheel-Drive technology across their range plus their Boxer engine design, and an even weight distribution as a result, recommend tyre rotation so the tyres wear uniformly.
The ideal time to consider moving tyres around is every 10,000km or when routine servicing is due.
It's a straightforward job with the wheels/tyres moved front to back on the same side of the vehicle.
Rotating across the vehicle (eg right-rear to left-front and vice versa) is not recommended because it can induce unwanted steering characteristics such as a pull or drift to one side of the road.
The exception is when the left-front tyre is showing signs of uneven wear around the outer edge. This can be common here with inner-city taxi and courier operators who make a number of U-turns during the day.
Similar wear patterns can also develop when vehicles are driven consistently over twisty and hilly terrain.
Past testing from the tyre industry would suggest Kiwis naturally tend to turn harder to the right when driving in these conditions.
In these cases the back tyres should be moved to the front, side-to-side, but the front tyres can be criss-crossed when fitted to the rear to help balance out the uneven wear pattern on what was previously the left-front tyre.
Talk to your preferred repairer about tyre rotation when you book for your next service.
For many, it's not part of their normal routine, or they may have a different view and don't recommend it. If that's the case then they should be able to give you a good reason why not. But don't forget to keep a regular eye on those tyre pressures as well, to ensure you do your bit to get the best life out of a set of tyres.