Troubleshooter: Got a full-size spare? You should be rotating that, too
Including the full-size spare on your truck or SUV can substantially extend the lifespan of the entire set
This is a moot point for many, because most passenger cars are equipped with either a temporary-use mini spare, or no spare tire at all. But for those SUV and truck owners with a full-size and matching spare tire, including them in the rotation schedule can extend the lifespan of the entire set substantially, and save you real dollars. But first, let’s back up a bit.
Why you should rotate tires anyway
Every wheel position on any vehicle submits those tires to different levels and types of force. This will cause different wear rates and patterns. Think it doesn’t make a difference? Try skipping one or two rotations on the average front-wheel-drive vehicle, and then let us know if you’re happy with the new noise from those rear tires when they finally get back up to the front.
Most front-drivers — especially minivans — have stiff rear suspensions that seldom get put to work, leaving the tires to take more of a beating than the shocks or springs. This will cause a chopped wear pattern that will make you think you’ve got heavy-lug off-road tires when you mount them up front. On just about any type of ride, avoiding rotations will shorten tire lifespans.
Do automakers still recommend five-wheel rotations?
In the early days of mass-use of radial tires — think early 1970s — more than one tire manufacturer had problems with belt separation when the tire’s rotation direction was reversed. Bonding technology wasn’t quite up to snuff and many tires developed very lumpy and unsafe tread surfaces as a result, especially during the latter half of their tread wear. Those problems were cured with new bonding processes by the late ’70s.
Before asking your shop to include your vehicle’s spare tire in a rotation, check the sidewalls. Tires cannot be unidirectional, meaning they’re designed to rotate in one direction only. These tires will have a directional arrow embossed in the sidewall and sometimes the word ‘unidirectional’. As well, the spare tire must be of the same design and wear rating as the rest of the rubbers. Vehicles built with staggered setups (different-sized tires on the front versus the back) can’t have any rotations, either.
Expect some extra noise at first
You’ll notice a change in noise when changing a tire’s rotation direction, but you stick to your recommended schedule (usually every 10,000 to 12,000 kilometres) it shouldn’t be too objectionable and will quickly lessen with distance travelled. If you do your own rotations and may have forgotten which way a particular tire rotated — marking the inner sidewall with a tire crayon is smart — simply take the flat part of your palm and run it in both directions on the tire’s tread face; one direction will feel decidedly smoother than the other. With the tire’s outer side-wall facing you, the path your hand takes on the smoother sweep is the opposite direction than the tire was rotating.