How to Rotate the Tires on Your Car

A close-up image of a car tire on asphalt with sun shining down.
  • 1-2 hours
  • Beginner
  • 50-75
What You'll Need
4 jack stands
Flathead screwdriver
Lug wrench
Wood blocks or wheel chocks
What You'll Need
4 jack stands
Flathead screwdriver
Lug wrench
Wood blocks or wheel chocks

Rotate your tires—who would ever want to do that? Anyone who wants to get the longest life out of their tires and keep their vehicle performing well—that's who. Although it may sound like a terrible chore to do, it's really not that bad and since it's going to save you wear and tear to your vehicle and money in tire replacement, the hour of time this will take makes it a beneficial DIY chore to learn. And if you're not driving a lot of miles, you only have to rotate the tires on your car twice a year, at most.

Preparing for Tire Rotation

A car on a jack with the tire removed.

To prepare, you'll need a tire rotation plan and your tools. Fortunately, most of the tools you'll already have. The only thing you may have to invest in will be four jack stands. Other than that, you should already have a jack, a lug wrench, a flathead screwdriver, and wheel chocks or wood blocks. Your car needs to be entirely off the ground for this project. If you do not have jack stands, you can alternatively use large wood blocks, but do not use cinder blocks; these can break in the process and cause injury to yourself and your car.

Before you move on to removing your tires and swapping them, you'll need a plan to determine which tire is going where. First, check the tire size. If the tires are different sizes from front to back, you should only rotate these side to side and not rear to front or vice versa.

The next thing to look for is the pattern. There are directional and non-directional tires. Directional tires have tread going in one way and usually have grooves that will channel the water and grit outward. Non-directional tires, however, all look the same. Why does this matter? Directional tires can't be switched to different sides. For example, if a directional tire is on the driver's side, it cannot be switched to the passenger's side. It has to stay on the side it's on if it's to channel the water and grit properly away from the tire. However, the non-directional tires can be used on either side of the car.

Directional Plan

Once you've identified which type of pattern your tires have, you can plan the rotation. For directional tires, you will only be able to switch them from front to back, always keeping them on the side they're currently on. This makes planning easy since you'll just swap them back and forth between front and back each time you do your tire rotation.

Non-Directional Plan

For non-directional tires, the normal rotation pattern is to start with the driver's side tire and move it to the rear passenger's side. The passenger's side front will be swapped with the driver's side rear tire. After two rotations, these tires will have a complete rotation.

Tip: Mark the tires using a piece of chalk to help you remember which one is going where.

Time to Rotate the Tires

To rotate your tires, park your car on a flat surface and set the parking brake. For a manual transmission, put the car in first gear. Block your wheels with a wood block or wheel chocks. Then, go around the vehicle and remove each hubcap using a flathead screwdriver. Now, use your lug wrench and loosen the lug nuts. Don't remove them yet—just loosen them so that it'll be easier to remove them when the car is in the air.

Raise Your Car

Use your jack to raise each corner of the car and slide a jack stand under each side. Use your car's manual to ensure the best placement of the jack stands—but this is usually a solid flat part of the frame. If you have only two jack stands, this project can still be done, but you'll just have to raise and lower the car more often and it'll take a bit longer.

Tire Swap

A car mechanic rotating tires on a car.

Once the car is raised and on jack stands, you can remove all the lug nuts you loosened. Keep all of the lug nuts close to the axle they were removed from—not the tire. You can use the hubcap or a small bowl to hold them.

Next, roll the tire to whichever axle you've got planned for them to go onto and place the tires on the studs. If you have only two jack stands and are doing this in steps, you should start with the removal of the rear tires and then lower the car and move onto the front tires.

Hand-tighten the lug nuts and lower the car with your jack, removing each jack stand as you go. The tires will be able to wobble back and forth; this is fine, as you'll tighten them up next.

Finish Up

Once the car is back on the ground, it's time to tighten the lug nuts. To tighten them you'll be using the star pattern method. This is simply the process of choosing a lug nut to start with, tightening it, and then going directly across from it and tightening the next one. Then, you go back to the one you begun with and start tightening the one next to it, then across from that one, and so on. Most vehicles use this pattern and have four or five lug nuts. Tighten them a full turn and a quarter. Replace hub caps. Check each tire for proper air pressure and you're done.

Rotating your tires regularly will ensure that you not only save wear and tear on the tires, but wear and tear to your vehicle. This new DIY skill will allow you to get a whole lot more time out of four of the more expensive things on your car—your tires.