Introduction: Rotating Your Tires
Rotating the tires on your vehicle is one of many easy things you can do to extend the life of your tires and help them wear evenly. Uneven or badly worn tires can be dangerous, as they do not provide much traction on wet or icy surfaces. Over the past 6 years of working on vehicles, I have found that by following these 8 steps you can rotate your tires safely and with ease, while ensuring the job is done right.
One 2.5 ton jack of any type
Four 2.5 ton jack-stands
One socket with breaker bar or wheel wrench that fits your lug nuts.
One small prybar or screw driver
One torque wrench (25-250ft-lbs) rated
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Step 1: Removing Hub Caps
Start by removing all the hub caps or plastic lug nut covers to access your lugnuts. Most vehicles will have one large cap that covers all of the lugnuts, this cap can be removed with a small pry bar or screw-driver that fits in the slot between the wheel and the cover. Prying too hard or unevenly around the hub cap could break the cap or the tabs holding it in, do not force it!
Step 2: Breaking the Lug Nuts Loose
Now that the hubcaps are off and the vehicle is still on the ground, break the lug nuts loose. Keeping the wheels on the ground for this step makes it much easier as they won’t rotate when you go to loosen the nuts. The lug nuts do not have to come completely off just yet, but get them loose enough so they can be turned by hand. This step can be done on all 4 wheels.
Step 3: Lifting the Vehicle
Safely lifting the vehicle is a crucial step in this process, picking the wrong spot could mean a trip to the E.R! You want to be sure your lift point is somewhere in the center of the vehicle so that the left and right side both go up evenly and stay somewhat level with the ground. The best spot at the rear of a 4x4 vehicle is on the differential or “pumpkin” as some call it. Place the jack as close to the center of the pumpkin and start lifting, if one side is going significantly higher than the other, the jack needs to be lowered off the vehicle and re-positioned. Make sure the jack you’re using is rated for the vehicle you are lifting, and NEVER under any circumstance trust the jack to support the vehicle. Always chock the wheels on the opposite end you are lifting to ensure the vehicle does not roll away while lifting. Place a jack-stand rated for your vehicles weight on both sides of the pumpkin on the axle tubes and lower the vehicle onto the stands instead. For the front of the vehicle, I prefer to put the jack-stands somewhere directly under the frame, this can be behind or ahead of the front tires. The vehicle just needs to be high enough off the ground so that the tires no longer contact the ground. The entire vehicle should now be supported by jack stands. You can lower the jack so it no longer makes contact with the vehicle and take it out from under the vehicle. Refer to your vehicles owners manual if you are still unsure on a proper lift point.
Step 4: Storing the Lug Nuts
With the whole vehicle safely off the ground and on the jack stands, take all the lug nuts completely off the studs. Place them somewhere so they cannot be kicked by somebody walking by. You can set them in the hubcap, on a magnetic tray or inside a plastic container. Replace any damaged or rusty lug nuts, your local auto parts store or dealership should be able to supply you with the correct replacement lug nuts for your vehicle.
Step 5: Rotating the Tires
Now that all the lug nuts are off all 4 wheels, remove your front left wheel off the hub and set it off to the side. Next, remove your rear right wheel off the hub, take the rear right wheel and install it on the front left hub. Then, take your front left wheel and install it on the rear right hub.
Remove your front right wheel off of the hub and set it off to the side. Next, remove your rear left wheel off the hub, take the rear left wheel and install it on the front right hub. Finally, install the front right wheel on the rear left hub. If you followed this step correctly all of the wheels should have been crossed diagonally from where they started out, ensuring a proper rotation. The pattern described above is called the “X Pattern”, above is some other ways to rotate tires. The X Pattern works best for four wheel drive vehicles and all wheel drive vehicles with non-directional tires.
Step 6: Putting on the Lug Nuts
Now that the wheels are back on the hubs, thread the lug nuts back onto the studs. Do this on all 4 wheels, tighten them until the wheel is firmly seated against the hub, it should not wiggle at all once all the nuts are tightened. Most lug nuts should spin all the way on by hand, but if the threads are sticky or rusty a socket or the wheel wrench provided in your spare tire kit can be used. The hub caps do not need to be put back on yet either, as you will have to tighten your lug nuts more once the vehicle is back on the ground. Next, put the jack back under the lift point you used for Step 3 and raise the vehicle enough to pull the jack-stands out from under the vehicle, it does not matter if you do the front of the vehicle first or the rear. Remember to re-chock the wheels before lowering the remaining side and check to make sure the vehicle is still in gear or park.
Step 7: Tightening the Lug Nuts
With the vehicle set back on the ground, it is time to do the final tightening of the lug nuts. If you do not have a torque wrench, the wheel wrench included in your vehicles spare tire kit will work, your vehicles manufacturer has made the wrench a certain length so there is no way you can over tighten the lug nuts. If you do have a torque wrench, find the proper torque specification in your vehicles owners manual, it will be a measurement in Foot Pounds (ft-lbs) or Newton Meters (N.m). If you cannot find a torque specification, most pickup trucks and suv’s require anywhere from 80-115 ft-lbs. Most likely your torque wrench will read in Foot Pounds, set the torque wrench to the manuals specification and tighten lugs in a “Star Pattern”. This will ensure the wheel gets put back on the hub squarely and evenly. Below is a diagram of how to tighten different lug patterns. First tighten the lug nuts in the proper star pattern according to the amount of lugs you have, then double check them in a normal circular pattern to make sure you got them all.
Step 8: Enjoy Your Ride!
Finally, pop your hub caps back on and put the tools away. After a week of driving your vehicle, you may want to re-check all the lug nuts to make sure they are still tight. Drive Safe!