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Off-road Maintenance: Tire Rotation Options

Dawn On The Rocks

The best way to rotate tires is an oft-debated topic in heated discussions in off-road forums. There are several documented ways to rotate your treads, with staunch supporters of each. In this post I’ll present various methods of tire rotation, and what has worked for me.

The one thing off-roaders seem to agree upon when it comes to tire rotation is that consistency is the key to success. No matter which method you choose to follow, pick one and stick with it, and rotate at a lower mileage (every 3,000 to 4,000 miles is recommended). Rotating more frequently (as opposed to, say, every 5K or 6K miles) is a bit of a pain but ensures that tires wear evenly no matter how they’re rotated.

The ‘why’ of tire rotation is easy. Spend $1.5K - 2.5K or more on a set of big trail tires and they’d better last a few years, right? Of course it depends how much they’re used, but rotating them, plus the spare if you can, on a regular basis will ensure even wear on all tires, and a longer life for your off-road treads.

Here are some considerations and tire rotation options -

Directional tires: designed to roll in only one direction, directional tires will have arrows on the sidewalls that indicate the direction in which the tire should be mounted. Directional tires can only be rotated front to back on the same side of the vehicle, unless they are dismounted from the wheel and remounted each rotation (in order to rotate from side to side). While directional tires are better for higher speed / performance driving and more easily resist hydroplaning than symmetrical or asymmetrical tires, directional tires have a shorter tread life than other options because of the difficult rotations. Only rotating front to back on the same side is easier and less costly but will result in quicker wear (and the spare can’t be rotated in regularly). (Source: Les Schwab)

Symmetrical and asymmetrical tires: for everybody else with non-directional treads, rotating tires is much easier and a five-tire rotation is easily possible; rotating the spare will extend tire life for all your tires (assuming your spare is full size and matching). There are numerous diagrams on the web that provide instruction on how to 5-tire rotate – here are a few for consideration. Also, talk to your local tire shop, mechanic, and other off-roaders. Pick one method, stick with it, and rotate every 3K to 4K miles.

5-tire rotation
5-tire rotation
5-tire rotation

Since I bought my Nitto Trail Grapplers I’ve used a couple different tire shops for rotation and honestly didn’t know very much about rotation methods (hence the reason for this post – so I could learn!). The first couple shops used one of the cross methods, but the last shop I went to recommended the counterclockwise rotation. I did some checking online and found that rotating counterclockwise actually gives each tire more similar road time which in theory should make all five tires last a little longer.

Well, data tells the truth so I've decided to do a little experiment. At 45,620 miles on my Jeep and after three cross rotations on my Nittos, my tires measured as follows:

LF 13/32 RF 13/32

LR 14/32 RR 12/32

The spare wasn’t measured but since it was included in the rotations one can assume it’s wearing pretty close to the others. It will be interesting to see, in another 3.5K miles, how my tires measure then with the counterclockwise rotation. I’ll post a follow-up and let you know!

How often do you rotate your tires? What method do you use and why? Comment below!

Thanks for reading, and keep those treads on the trail!

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