GUIDE 4X4 tyre rotation

Of the five tyres on your car, including the spare, each one has a different wear pattern. Wear factors on the front axle compared with the rear include whether it is a ‘drive’ tyre or not - some 4X4s are part-time (read: 2WD on the road); if it is a steer tyre on the front axle; and the different alignment settings such as camber, caster and toe, not to mention different suspension designs and settings. There's even variation across an axle as well - the weight on the tyre varies front left to right, and as Australian roads tend to have a camber sloping right to left, that gives a different wear pattern too. Take a breath. And then there's the assumption you run precisely the same tyre pressure in each tyre all the time, which isn't humanly possible and even if you did set it cold, the differing demands on each tyre would see them heat up differently and result in different running temperatures.

So, for any vehicle, whether it’s a 4X4 or not, each of the four tyres has a different wear pattern, which means the tyre won't wear perfectly evenly. For example, most independent front suspension vehicles run a little bit of negative camber, so the inside of the front tyre wears a bit more than the rear tyre which is probably on a solid axle with no camber adjustment possible.

Tyre rotation is the periodic swapping of tyres from place to place on a vehicle to even out wear patterns, so you get the best life out of your tyres. For example, swapping the front left tyre to the rear right, and vice-versa – see the diagram for examples.

Tyres are expensive, critical to performance and the component most likely to fail so best you take care of them by periodic rotation.

WHEN AND HOW TO ROTATE 4X4 TYRES

WORDS AND IMAGES BY ROBERT PEPPER

ABOVE The Ranger runs 2WD on-road with a live rear axle, the Discovery all-wheel-drive and fully independent suspension. Each of the four wheels on the two vehicles will wear differently, and the Ranger’s wear pattern will be different to the Discovery.

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What's the best tyre rotation pattern to use?
There are no fixed rules as to how exactly how and when you rotate tyres, but here are some guidelines to consider. The first is whether you can actually rotate tyres or not. For example, a directional tyre is designed for maximum grip when travelling forwards, with compromises made for grip in reverse.

The major disadvantage of directional tyres is that you can't swap them left to right on a vehicle unless you remove the tyre from the rim, turn it 180 degrees, and re-mount it. That, and the fact they aren't good in reverse means we don't recommend them for touring 4X4s. You do see them on high-performance cars, race cars and competition 4X4s though. If you do run directional tyres, then you can only swap your tyres front to rear on the same side unless you remove and remount. You'll know if you run them because the tread pattern is quite different to non-directional, and there will be a curved arrow on the side saying ROTATION.

There are also asymmetric tyres which have non-symmetrical tread pattern. These aren't directional and can be swapped left to right easily.

Rare for 4X4s is a staggered tyre design, where the front tyres are smaller diameter and width than the rear. These are found most obviously on tractors, but also high-performance sportscars such as those from Lotus, the Ford Mustang, and even high-performance SUVs such as the BMW X5M. In these cases, you cannot tyres rotate from to rear for obvious reasons.

Assuming you have five normal, non-directional 4X4 tyres then you have two basic choices – to include the spare in your rotation plan, or not. The pros and cons of the two approaches are; using the spare increases the overall tyre life by one-fifth. Not using it means if you have a puncture, then you have a brand-new tyre with maximum tread depth and therefore least possibility of another puncture if you need to use your spare, and if you go through a set of four tyres well before they age, and buy another identical set, then you need not replace the spare. However, I'd only run that strategy if your spare will be no older than five years at most, so that's two sets of tyres worn out in five years.

ABOVE AND BELOW One of these tyres has a symmetrical tread and the other is asymmetrical. Both can be used on any corner of a vehicle, but the symmetrical tyre can be mounted on a rim facing in or out, whereas the asymmetrical tyre has an ‘out’ marking to ensure it is fitted correctly.

BELOW This tyre is designed to rotate in one direction only and, as such is a specialised, high-performance tyre. It can only be fitted to one side of the vehicle unless the tyre is removed, turned around and refitted 180 degrees. Not recommended for touring 4X4s.

“Tyre rotation is the periodic swapping of tyres from place to place on a vehicle to even out wear patterns, so you get the best life out of your tyres.”

ABOVE This is the result of poor wheel alignment, probably camber. If your tyres are wearing that badly, try and notice before they get that bad and fix things. Consult a tyre professional if you’re not sure what the problem is.

ABOVE If you can, match the trailer tyres to the tow vehicle so you can share spares, and rotate. Given trailer tyres typically don’t wear at the rate of the tow vehicle, you can significantly extend the period between buying new tyres this way. However, then you need to buy a lot at the same time and be wary of running tyres that are too old (more than five years or so) but still with a lot of tread.

ABOVE If you run two spare tyres, definitely include at least one in your rotation pattern.

Are there dangers with tyre rotation?
Not really. One myth is that you shouldn't rotate radial tyres to run in a different direction to their original direction. This is not true; you can run them rotated. The biggest danger is extending tread life so far that the tyres age and become dangerous that way.

Can you rotate trailer tyres?
If you have a trailer, then you should definitely include it in the rotation of tyres if the tyres are matched to the ones on your 4X4 (which is good practice). The trailer tyres usually won't wear out anything like as quickly as the tow vehicle, because there's less weight on them, typically a lot less mileage too, and they don't need to steer, drive or do as much braking. Again, once your tyres get beyond about five years of age replace them regardless of tread depth as old tyres don't grip and are prone to failure. Take a look at our diagram for ideas on rotation patterns.

How often should you rotate tyres?
It depends on the wear rate, which is a function of the vehicle, your driving style, and how fast you rack up the kays. The tyre also wears more quickly earlier in its life. So, as a rough guide, work on 5000km for the first rotation, 10,000km for the second, then every 10,000km after that... but look at wear patterns to determine a more accurate rotation regime. If you see uneven wear on your tyres then your alignment may need fixing, but if it’s just normal wear and tear drop down to 5000km, or up to 15,000km if all seems to be even. And don't assume your new set of tyres will wear the same as your previous set if they're a different model, as different tyres wear differently. A service is a good time to rotate the tyres as the wheels need to come off (or should) as part of the service. Ensure you give your mechanic a clear diagram if you have a rotation preference.

Performing the change
The hardest part about rotating tyres yourself is keeping track of which tyre is which and where it's going. I'd suggest marking each tyre with chalk before they come off the vehicle, so you don't get confused, and printing off your tyre rotation guide. The actual rotation is easy - you'll need a workshop jack, four axle stands, a torque wrench and an impact wrench. You can do it with less tools, but who has time in their life for that and the key thing to remember is that at least two wheels need to be in the air for any rotation to happen – it’s just easier if all four wheels are off at the same time. Jack the car up and onto axle stands, pull all the wheels off, and then while you're there inspect brake pads, rotors, brake lines and the like as well as inspect the entire tyre for damage, plus give it a pressure check. Rotate the wheels around and then refit, check torque, and then again after you've driven a bit, then relax safe in the knowledge you’ve saved yourself a bit of tyre money and done a little to improve the all-round performance and safety of your 4X4.

BELOW Some sample tyre rotation strategies. These are not the only possibilities – yours will depend on which tyres you want to rotate and how.

GUIDE 4X4 tyre rotation

WHEN AND HOW TO ROTATE 4X4 TYRES

Of the five tyres on your car, including the spare, each one has a different wear pattern. Wear factors on the front axle compared with the rear include whether it is a ‘drive’ tyre or not - some 4X4s are part-time (read: 2WD on the road); if it is a steer tyre on the front axle; and the different alignment settings such as camber, caster and toe, not to mention different suspension designs and settings. There's even variation across an axle as well - the weight on the tyre varies front left to right, and as Australian roads tend to have a camber sloping right to left, that gives a different wear pattern too. Take a breath. And then there's the assumption you run precisely the same tyre pressure in each tyre all the time, which isn't humanly possible and even if you did set it cold, the differing demands on each tyre would see them heat up differently and result in different running temperatures.

So, for any vehicle, whether it’s a 4X4 or not, each of the four tyres has a different wear pattern, which means the tyre won't wear perfectly evenly. For example, most independent front suspension vehicles run a little bit of negative camber, so the inside of the front tyre wears a bit more than the rear tyre which is probably on a solid axle with no camber adjustment possible.

Tyre rotation is the periodic swapping of tyres from place to place on a vehicle to even out wear patterns, so you get the best life out of your tyres. For example, swapping the front left tyre to the rear right, and vice-versa – see the diagram for examples.

Tyres are expensive, critical to performance and the component most likely to fail so best you take care of them by periodic rotation.

WORDS AND IMAGES BY ROBERT PEPPER

ABOVE The Ranger runs 2WD on-road with a live rear axle, the Discovery all-wheel-drive and fully independent suspension. Each of the four wheels on the two vehicles will wear differently, and the Ranger’s wear pattern will be different to the Discovery.

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

What's the best tyre rotation pattern to use?
There are no fixed rules as to how exactly how and when you rotate tyres, but here are some guidelines to consider. The first is whether you can actually rotate tyres or not. For example, a directional tyre is designed for maximum grip when travelling forwards, with compromises made for grip in reverse.

The major disadvantage of directional tyres is that you can't swap them left to right on a vehicle unless you remove the tyre from the rim, turn it 180 degrees, and re-mount it. That, and the fact they aren't good in reverse means we don't recommend them for touring 4X4s. You do see them on high-performance cars, race cars and competition 4X4s though. If you do run directional tyres, then you can only swap your tyres front to rear on the same side unless you remove and remount. You'll know if you run them because the tread pattern is quite different to non-directional, and there will be a curved arrow on the side saying ROTATION.

There are also asymmetric tyres which have non-symmetrical tread pattern. These aren't directional and can be swapped left to right easily.

Rare for 4X4s is a staggered tyre design, where the front tyres are smaller diameter and width than the rear. These are found most obviously on tractors, but also high-performance sportscars such as those from Lotus, the Ford Mustang, and even high-performance SUVs such as the BMW X5M. In these cases, you cannot tyres rotate from to rear for obvious reasons.

Assuming you have five normal, non-directional 4X4 tyres then you have two basic choices – to include the spare in your rotation plan, or not. The pros and cons of the two approaches are; using the spare increases the overall tyre life by one-fifth. Not using it means if you have a puncture, then you have a brand-new tyre with maximum tread depth and therefore least possibility of another puncture if you need to use your spare, and if you go through a set of four tyres well before they age, and buy another identical set, then you need not replace the spare. However, I'd only run that strategy if your spare will be no older than five years at most, so that's two sets of tyres worn out in five years.

ABOVE AND BELOW One of these tyres has a symmetrical tread and the other is asymmetrical. Both can be used on any corner of a vehicle, but the symmetrical tyre can be mounted on a rim facing in or out, whereas the asymmetrical tyre has an ‘out’ marking to ensure it is fitted correctly.

BELOW This tyre is designed to rotate in one direction only and, as such is a specialised, high-performance tyre. It can only be fitted to one side of the vehicle unless the tyre is removed, turned around and refitted 180 degrees. Not recommended for touring 4X4s.

“Tyre rotation is the periodic swapping of tyres from place to place on a vehicle to even out wear patterns, so you get the best life out of your tyres.”

ABOVE This is the result of poor wheel alignment, probably camber. If your tyres are wearing that badly, try and notice before they get that bad and fix things. Consult a tyre professional if you’re not sure what the problem is.

ABOVE If you can, match the trailer tyres to the tow vehicle so you can share spares, and rotate. Given trailer tyres typically don’t wear at the rate of the tow vehicle, you can significantly extend the period between buying new tyres this way. However, then you need to buy a lot at the same time and be wary of running tyres that are too old (more than five years or so) but still with a lot of tread.

Are there dangers with tyre rotation?
Not really. One myth is that you shouldn't rotate radial tyres to run in a different direction to their original direction. This is not true; you can run them rotated. The biggest danger is extending tread life so far that the tyres age and become dangerous that way.

How often should you rotate tyres?
It depends on the wear rate, which is a function of the vehicle, your driving style, and how fast you rack up the kays. The tyre also wears more quickly earlier in its life. So, as a rough guide, work on 5000km for the first rotation, 10,000km for the second, then every 10,000km after that... but look at wear patterns to determine a more accurate rotation regime. If you see uneven wear on your tyres then your alignment may need fixing, but if it’s just normal wear and tear drop down to 5000km, or up to 15,000km if all seems to be even. And don't assume your new set of tyres will wear the same as your previous set if they're a different model, as different tyres wear differently. A service is a good time to rotate the tyres as the wheels need to come off (or should) as part of the service. Ensure you give your mechanic a clear diagram if you have a rotation preference.

ABOVE If you run two spare tyres, definitely include at least one in your rotation pattern.

Can you rotate trailer tyres?
If you have a trailer, then you should definitely include it in the rotation of tyres if the tyres are matched to the ones on your 4X4 (which is good practice). The trailer tyres usually won't wear out anything like as quickly as the tow vehicle, because there's less weight on them, typically a lot less mileage too, and they don't need to steer, drive or do as much braking. Again, once your tyres get beyond about five years of age replace them regardless of tread depth as old tyres don't grip and are prone to failure. Take a look at our diagram for ideas on rotation patterns.

Performing the change
The hardest part about rotating tyres yourself is keeping track of which tyre is which and where it's going. I'd suggest marking each tyre with chalk before they come off the vehicle, so you don't get confused, and printing off your tyre rotation guide. The actual rotation is easy - you'll need a workshop jack, four axle stands, a torque wrench and an impact wrench. You can do it with less tools, but who has time in their life for that and the key thing to remember is that at least two wheels need to be in the air for any rotation to happen – it’s just easier if all four wheels are off at the same time. Jack the car up and onto axle stands, pull all the wheels off, and then while you're there inspect brake pads, rotors, brake lines and the like as well as inspect the entire tyre for damage, plus give it a pressure check. Rotate the wheels around and then refit, check torque, and then again after you've driven a bit, then relax safe in the knowledge you’ve saved yourself a bit of tyre money and done a little to improve the all-round performance and safety of your 4X4.

BELOW Some sample tyre rotation strategies. These are not the only possibilities – yours will depend on which tyres you want to rotate and how.

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