How to Properly Rotate Tires on Your Car

Updated: Jul. 10, 2020

If you want to take good care of your car, it's important you rotate your tires. And yes, you can do it yourself. Here's how.

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If you're a conscientious vehicle owner looking to get as much as you can out of your car, don't ignore tire rotation. Done to evenly distribute the wear and tear of driving among all four tires, tire rotation should really be called wheel rotation. The process involves removing the full tire and rim assemblies, also known as wheels, from their axles, and then moving them to a different spot on the car.

Left to their own devices, cars don't distribute their load evenly. Generally, the front tires wear out faster than the rear — especially the front left. Tire rotation shares this burden among all the tires, since no one tire will occupy the most wear–prone positions for too long.

This is how to rotate tires efficiently.

Tools Required

  • Car jack
  • Lug wrench
  • Permanent marker
  • Portable air compressor
  • Two 6- to 8-in.-thick blocks of wood

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Determine Tire Direction

  • Figure out if your tires are uni-directional or bi-directional.
    • Uni-directional tires are meant to spin in one direction for maximum traction. Bi-directional tires can spin in either direction.
  • Inspect the sidewall of any of your tires for a symbol referring to the direction.
    • If the tire is bi-directional, it may not have a symbol. Uni-directional tires usually have an arrow embossed on the rubber, indicating the correct direction of travel.

Determine Tire DirectionRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 2

Prepare to Remove the Front Left Wheel

  • Position your car jack under your vehicle near the front left wheel.
    • Many vehicles come with a compact jack stored in the trunk or elsewhere. If yours does, use it. If not, you’ll need to supply your own.
  • Make sure the jack is positioned somewhere solid on the vehicle’s frame before raising it. If you’re not sure where best to position it, check your vehicle owner’s manual or look online.
  • Slide a solid wooden block under the axle of the vehicle as close as possible to the wheel you’re about to remove. The block you choose should just barely fit under the axle.

Prepare to remove wheelsRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 3

Remove the Front Left Wheel

  • Locate and slightly loosen the lug nuts on the wheel you’ll be removing first, using your lug wrench. This will make the nuts easier to remove once the wheel is suspended in the air.
  • Crank the jack up slowly until it lifts the vehicle enough so the tire is no longer touching the ground.
  • Loosen the lug nuts the rest of the way, removing them completely from their bolts (a.k.a. studs), and placing them somewhere safe.
  • Lift the wheel off the bolts and place it to one side, then lower the jack, allowing the vehicle to rest firmly on your wooden block.

Remove the Front Left WheelRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 4

Remove the Second Wheel

  • Determine if you have a full-sized spare tire. If so, remove it from its storage spot.
  • If you don’t have a full-sized spare, repeat the procedure above with your jack and a second wooden block, this time removing the rear right tire if your tires are bi-directional, or the rear left tire if they’re uni-directional.

Remove the Second WheelRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 5

Reattach Wheels in Opposite Positions

  • Lift the wheels one at a time onto the bolts in the opposite location from where you removed them.
    • A wheel with a bi-directional tire removed from the front left of the vehicle should be reinstalled at the back right, and vice versa. For uni-directional tires, swap the front left and rear left wheels.
  • Replace the lug nuts on the bolts, then tighten them down evenly most of the way.
    • You probably won’t be able to tighten them fully because the wheel will start spinning as tension builds.
  • Slide the block of wood nearest to the jack out from under the vehicle, then lower and remove the jack until the tire is in full contact with the ground.
  • Snug up the lug nuts the rest of the way, making sure they’re good and tight.
  • Move the jack back to the spot where you removed the first wheel, and jack the vehicle up enough to slide your wooden block out of the way.
  • Tighten the lug nuts on the second wheel in the same way, then lower the vehicle and remove the jack and wooden block.

Reattach Wheels in Opposite PositionsRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 6

Swap the Second Pair of Wheels and Check Tire Pressure

  • Use your jack, wooden blocks and lug wrench to repeat the same swapping process you did for the other two wheels.
  • Double-check that all the lug nuts on all four wheels are fully tightened.
  • Check the air pressure in each tire after rotation, and top them off with air if needed.

Check Tire PressureRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman