Tyre Rotation Explained for 4x4s
Tyres are a known consumable and given they’re your vehicle’s only contact with the road it pays to keep them in top nick. That means regular inspections and pressure checks as well as rotating them – here’s what you need to know.
Good quality Light Truck (LT) tyres for four-wheel drives are expensive, but for those who travel into remote areas it pays to spend a little extra on rubber that will provide a combination of good on- and off-road performance, acceptable wear rates and good puncture resistance.
No matter what tyres you opt for, chances are you’ll rarely get more than 80,000km out of a set, and quite often much less than this depending on vehicle weight and driving conditions, as well as how you look after your tyres.
One of the easiest ways to extend tyre life is regular rotation, which can even out the wear across all four tyres on your vehicle, or all five tyres if you have a matching spare and you introduce it into the rotation schedule, effectively extending the period between new-tyre purchases by 20 per cent.
Different wear rates
Tyre rotation is simply the act of moving the position of the tyres on your vehicle in a particular order on a regular basis in order to even out tyre wear. This is done because the tyres can wear at different rates depending on their location on the vehicle. For example, the tyres at the rear may wear faster than those at the front if you do a lot of gravel-road driving, as the rears can cop a pounding from stones flicked up by the front tyres, or the tyres at the front may wear faster if your vehicle is equipped with a heavy bull bar, winch and driving lights.
Another aspect that affects tyre wear is the load borne by each tyre, which can vary depending on how many people or how much gear you are carrying in your vehicle, and whether you have the aforementioned heavy accessories fitted, or a wheel carrier or two at the rear.
Different suspension designs can also affect the way the tyres wear. For example, a lightly loaded vehicle with an independent suspension may have a positive camber, where the wheels look as though they angle in towards the road surface, and this can result in excessive wear on the outside of the tread area. On the flipside, a heavy load can result in a negative camber, which can lead to excessive wear on the inside of the tread area.
With a live-axle suspension, the wheels will always be perpendicular to the road surface, no matter what load is on the vehicle.
Many modern 4×4 vehicles have independent front suspension (IFS) and a live-axle rear, so regardless of the load on board there’s a good chance tyre wear will be different from front to back.
With full-time four-wheel drives in particular, tyres that have significantly different wear rates can be problematic. Tyres with excessive wear across the whole tread face will have a smaller rolling diameter than tyres with a lot of tread left on them, which can place strain on driveline components as the wheels at one end of the vehicle will spin at a slightly different speed than those at the other.
Regardless of the vehicle you drive, it is usually recommended that the tyres are rotated every 10,000km, or more often if excessive wear is detected.
Excessive wear can be caused by several factors, including vehicle load, driving conditions and incorrect tyre pressures, as well as mechanical faults such as incorrect wheel balance, incorrect wheel alignment, worn shock absorbers, worn steering components, inappropriate spring rates and even poorly set-up suspension lifts.
If excessive tyre wear is a result of mechanical problems, then these will need to be rectified regardless of regular tyre rotation.
What tyres can be rotated?
Most tyres fitted to four-wheel drives are suitable for rotation, so long as all tyres are of the same size and type with the same load rating and are not labelled for temporary use.
It should be noted that uni-directional tyres can only be moved from front to rear (and vice versa), but not from side to side. Uni-directional tyres are clearly marked, and will usually have an arrow on the sidewall indicating correct fitment.
The tyre rotation sequence for front wheel drive vehicles is different to vehicles with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, as a vehicle’s tyres not only provide grip but also transfer power from the engine to the road surface.
In the case of four-wheel drives, where the spare is not included in the mix, tyres should be rotated as follows (ensuring that after four rotations each tyre will have been used in every position on the vehicle):
Five tyre rotation
If your vehicle’s has spare tyre is a match for the other tyres, it too can be introduced into your tyre rotation schedule, effectively extending the time between visits to your tyre retailer by 20 per cent. The other advantage of introducing the spare in to the rotation is that it will not be left to perish unused on your vehicle, potentially for a number of years, without ever being used.
In the case of four-wheel drives, where the spare is included in the mix, tyres should be rotated as follows (ensuring that after five rotations each tyre will have been used in every position on the vehicle):
Regular tyre rotation is only one of the methods you can use to extend tyre life. The other important one is to regularly check and adjust tyre pressures to suit the load on your vehicle and the conditions you’re driving in, whether on sealed roads, gravel roads, in mud or in sand.
When rotating tyres yourself, always follow safe procedures, such as never getting under your vehicle unless supported by stands, and always ensure all wheel nuts are tightened to recommended torque settings.