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Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Do I Rotate My Own Tires?

Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Do I Rotate My Own Tires?
Image: CottonBro
Mechanic Shop FemmeChaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, writer, and speaker. She'll be here every other week answering all your car questions. Need to know what engine oil you need? She's got you covered. Wondering what gas your car really needs? She has an answer. Let's untangle cars together.

Tires are one of the more expensive maintenance items we can expect to spend money on a regular basis, so taking care of them is critical for both the car and our pocket. Before we get to the why of tire rotations, we first need to ask what a tire rotation is, to begin with. For an answer to this, I spoke with Joe Akers, Director of Operation at Cowles Nissan.

“When you rotate your tires, depending on the pattern of rotation you employ, you are typically moving one of your front tires to the back wheel and vice versa.”

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Tires can be rotated front to back on the same side of the car if you have a standard front-wheel-drive car. If you have a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle, they are cross rotated from corner to corner, but still front to back.

Why Do You Need to Rotate Your Tires?

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“Rotating your tires will help you to save money,” says Scott Green, the co-owner of Christian Brothers Automotive in Shawnee, KA. “Safety-wise, your front tires always turn and your back tires stay straight. That means that your front tires go through more wear than the back tires go through. So you’re wearing out the front tires.”

Green continues, “However, if you rotate them every 5,000 miles then it helps to even out the tires. Additionally, you are able to see if there are any issues like wear on the edges, and it’s better to find issues before they get bad.”

Should You Rotate Your Own Tires?

Of course, not everything should be done yourself, and as with many car repairs, different experts have different opinions when it comes to tire rotations. Tire rotations typically run $20 and many places even include the service with their regular oil change. Buying the equipment can run much more than that, making this a non-cost-effective option. Scott is hesitant to tell folks to rotate their own tires. He suggests only doing so if you have professional equipment and know-how.

Still, Scott cautions, “Truth is that it is a safety issue. If you don’t torque them [wheels] down tight enough, they become loose, or if they’re too tight then the brackets holding them might break. Overall, it’s easy to cause problems or create more issues when you do it yourself without the proper equipment or instruction.”

Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: How Do I Rotate My Own Tires?
Image: Cottonbro

Akers tells me that rotating tires is a bit more complicated logistically.

“Changing a tire typically only has one wheel being addressed at any moment, so you can spot-work in one corner. Conversely, with tire rotations, you’ll have two wheels off at any given time at opposite sides, so you want to make sure you’re on a secure flat surface that has a proper jack supporting your vehicle.”

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You want to have a good understanding of how it’s done if you choose to rotate your own tires. Akers recommends watching car-specific YouTube videos and getting the specs for your car so you don’t make any mistakes due to a lack of knowledge.

“The end goal is to make it safe for you and anyone around you, so make sure you have the right tools and you’re welcome to go for it.”

What Do You Need to Rotate Your Tires?

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Image: Big Red
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“You’d need a jack and lug wrench. Lift one side of the vehicle and remove the left front and right rear tires. Mount the front tire where the rear tire used to be and finish by placing the rear tire in the front. Hand tighten your lug nuts, lower the car to the road and then torque your lug nuts. You complete the process by doing the same on the other side of the car,” says Akers when I asked him about the process to rotate your tire. Then he went on to recommend specific tools to get the job done.

A Wrench for, You Know, Wrenching

First, we have the Ken-Tool four-way lug wrench. It should last a decade or two he tells me. “I’d just avoid any of the ones that have telescopic or folding arms, as I prefer having the rigidity that comes with a stationary wrench.”

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A Carjack to Lift Your Spirits (and Your Vehicle)

Carjack recommendations depend on how often you plan to rotate tires and the weight of your vehicle.

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As a budget-friendly option for small sedans and coupes, the Big Red T10152 by Torin will do the trick. “You just need to make sure that your vehicle doesn’t exceed its maximum weight tolerances of 3,000 lbs,” says Akers.

“If you’re going to be doing maintenance work more often or working on a variety of vehicle classes, says Akers, get the Blackhawk B6350. “What’s nice about these floor service jacks is that they’re much more heavy-duty and friendly to operate compared to a scissor jack, however, and this is big, they’re heavy and not portable like scissor-models.”

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Jack Stands, but Watch Out When He Sits

“No matter what jack you go with, get jack stands too! Like so many occupational hazards, the best plan for safety is a series of steps in redundancy. Lifting with a properly suited jack for your vehicle and its weight and then letting the vehicle come to rest on the jack stands is the advised method to reduce the chances of injury or death,” Akers advises.

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Other Things to Consider When Rotating Tires

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Another reason it’s often recommended to get the tires rotated professionally is that it’s a great opportunity to get your tires, brakes, and suspension checked. If you do it yourself, be sure to not forget these things. A tread depth gauge will allow you to easily check how much wear your tires have and whether they are wearing evenly.

Of course, you also want to check your tire pressure. This is a great opportunity to adjust as needed. A handy tire pressure gauge will help you get the job done and should be in your arsenal.

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And that’s pretty much it. Stay safe, be careful, and take good care of your car.


Chaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, writer and speaker who's made it her mission empower the average driver. She believes that anything is possible and can be done on your own terms.

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