Truck Tire Rotation

It’s hard to understate the importance of tires. Besides keeping your truck tethered to the road, they have direct implications on how your truck rides, handles, turns, and stops. For all they do, tires are fairly low maintenance, but the little upkeep they do require is especially important. Rotating your tires is easily overlooked but vital to prolonging their life and performance.

Rotating tires is a fairly straightforward process that can be done at home without much fuss. In order to shed some light on tire rotation, we’ve gone ahead and hashed out how to safely go about it and the most common rotation patterns – and also why this simple bit of maintenance is so important if you want to run your truck tires up to their advertised tread life.

Why Do I Need to Rotate My Tires?

Every time you drive even a few miles down the road, your tires are making hundreds of thousands of revolutions.  Each full revolution has an infinitesimal wearing effect on your tread; the extent of this wear is determined by a number of variables, including caster and camber (essentially how straight your tire is mounted relative to your axle), road surface, vehicle weight, and driven speed. Over the course of a lifetime of revolutions, these variables will slowly erode a tire’s tread until there’s no tread left at all.

Complicating matters is that each tire will wear differently depending on where it is mounted on your truck. The front tires have it worst: they must contend with the weight of the engine directly overhead and the steering linkage acting on them at every turn.

The rear tires don’t endure quite so much stress. With an empty bed, the weight upon the rear tires is relatively light; the rears also don’t have to cope with the added forces from the steering system. Along with that, braking force in the rear is less intense than it is in the front, which also helps mitigate rear tire wear.

With such a discrepancy in wear between the front and rear rubber, it wouldn’t take too long before the front tires were looking significantly more worn than their rear-mounted counterparts. This asynchronous wear can lead to increased risk of hydroplaning as well as impede braking and cornering performance in dry weather. It can also get pricey: let enough time go by and you’d eventually be forced to replace your front tires, even though the rear tires would likely have plenty of life left.

Rotating your tires is the key to preventing this. By periodically swapping tires from back to front or side to side, you’re evenly spreading tire wear across all four tires. If you rotate your tires consistently, can get the most life out of your tires.

How often you should rotate your tires differs by truck, but it’s safe to say you should get in the habit of doing it with every oil change, or otherwise every 5,000 miles or so. We suggest checking the owner’s manual for your truck’s recommended tire rotation interval.

For more information on rotating your tires, check out this article from Tire Rack.

Assembling Your Tools

Rotating tires might sound intimidating to the uninitiated, but with the right tools it’s an easy job for the do-it-yourselfer. To do it safely, you need just three things: floor jacks, a jack stand, and a tire iron or breaker bar. Oh, and you don’t want to forget your wheel chocks.

You likely already own a tire iron, whether you know it or not. If your truck has a spare tire, check the nook where it resides. Odds are you’ll find a small tire iron that should make quick work of the lug nuts. If your truck doesn’t have a spare, you can buy a breaker bar – we’re personally enamored by this one – and the correct size socket for your lug nuts. The extra leverage of the breaker bar may also be easier to use than the shorter, unwieldy factory-provided tire iron.

If you need to buy jack stands or a floor jack, be sure you’re getting something rated to handle the weight of your truck. Most modern full-size pickups are at least two tons or more; heavy-duty trucks can top three tons. If it were us, we’d buy equipment rated at no less than four tons. This is one of our favorite jacks, which can be accompanied by these top-rated jack stands.

Raising Your Truck

Once you have your equipment assembled, begin by loosening the lug nuts. Don’t remove them; you want them on and somewhat tight in order to keep the wheels in place as you raise the truck. Just loosen them enough that you won’t be fighting stubborn lugs on a free-spinning wheel once the truck is lifted.

With the lugs loosened, chock the wheels opposite of where you will start to lift and then begin to raise the truck. You’ll want to lift it sufficiently off the ground so that you can easily pull the wheels off. If you have a set of four jack stands, you’ll need to raise one end and position your two jacks before repeating on the other end in order to get the truck fully off the ground. If you only have two jack stands, plan on raising and lowering the truck more frequently as you move through the rotation process.

If you have some spare 2x4s hanging around, we also suggest keeping those handy. Depending on how high off the ground your truck’s frame is, you may need to place some spare boards underneath your jack or jack stands in order to get the correct lift.

Rotation Patterns for Non-Directional Tires

1. Rearward Cross

This is likely the best rotation pattern for most truck owners. The rear tires move forward without any diagonal movement. The front tires move in a diagonal line to the opposite rear position, so that the driver-side front tire is moved to the passenger-side rear position.

If you have a full-size spare, you can rotate that in as well. The spare is rotated into the passenger-side rear slot, while the driver-side front tire becomes the new spare. Otherwise, the pattern is the same as without the spare.

For a visual on this and other tire rotation patterns (all of which we discuss below), take a look at Michelin’s insightful animations here.

2. X-Pattern

The X-pattern is another option for truck owners. This pattern is just like what it sounds like: each tire is rotated to the opposite corner. If you want to rotate in the spare, follow the same procedure as outlined for the rearward cross.

3. Forward Cross

The forward cross best suited for front-wheel drive applications, so only Honda Ridgeline owners should consider this pattern. It’s essentially the opposite of the rearward cross, with the front tires moving straight back and the rear tires crossing diagonally as they move to the front.

If you want to incorporate the spare, rotate it into the passenger-side rear position. The front passenger-side tire becomes the new spare, and the rest of the rotation is carried out as normal.

Rotation Patterns for Directional Tires, Staggered Tires, and Six-Wheel Setups

a) Directional Tires

Some tires are known as directional tires, which feature a uniquely patterned tread that must be mounted in the specified direction in order to provide the promised handling and performance benefits. To rotate this type of tire, simply swap the driver-side rear with the driver-side front and ditto for the passenger side.

b) Staggered Tires

Some trucks might run slightly different tire sizes in the back than they do up front (or vice versa). If that’s the case with your truck, follow side-to-side rotation, swapping tires with its opposite on the same axle.

c) Dual-Rear-Wheel Setups

Some heavy-duty trucks run four rear wheels in the back. These duallies follow their own rotation: the inner rear wheels move up front, the outer rear wheels move in, and the front wheels move to the outer rear position. There is no diagonal rotation with this pattern, so all tires stay on their respective sides.

Parting Thoughts

Rotating your truck tires regularly ensures even tread wear, which comes with numerous benefits that range from better dry-weather performance to superior traction in inclement conditions. From a financial perspective, taking an hour every few months to rotate your tires will save you hundreds of dollars in the long run by mitigating excessive tread wear on the front tires.

The next time you change your truck’s oil, be sure to rotate the tires while you’re at it. You’ll be rewarded with better handling, even tread wear, and ultimately more money in your pocket. To us, that sounds heck of a lot better than a hydroplaning scare – or shopping for new tires.