Do You Rotate Off-Road Tires? When And How?


Machanic rotating an off-road tire

Off-roading can be a great way to explore new environments. However, this can often take a toll on your vehicle and your tires. To make sure that they last a long time, you need to make sure that you are taking care of them.

This often means performing activities like checking the pressure and repairing any punctures. But it’s also essential that you rotate the tires regularly.

Rotating your tires is especially important when you are off-roadingOpens in a new tab.. Often, the front tires will take more of a beating than the ones at the back.

Let’s look at everything you need to know about rotating your tires.

Why Do You Need To Rotate Tires? 

Before we dig deeper into how to rotate off-road tiresOpens in a new tab., let’s look at why you need to do this at all.

When you are driving your car, you won’t wear all the tires equally. For example, when you’re off-roading you’ll often find that your front tires will be responsible for propelling the vehicle along the track.

As a result, these tires will be under more stress than the ones at the back of the car. When this happens, you could be placing yourself in a dangerous situation. The effects of uneven wear can be seen in the image below.

Because of the different tread on the tires, you might not have the same braking power. You might also notice that your car has become less maneuverable. This makes you more likely to slide out during the corners.

When you rotate the tires, you’ll be able to make sure that all the tires are wearing at the same rate, reducing the chances that you will have an accident.

It will also allow you to increase the lifespan of the tire. In some cases, you might be able to get thousands of additional miles. This can end up saving a lot of money in the long term.

How To Rotate Off-Road Tires?

Now that we know why it’s so important, let’s look at how you can rotate your off-road tires. There are a few ways that you might do this, depending on the type of tires you have, and the type of vehicle you are driving.

Step One: Decide Which Type Of Tire You Have

The first that you need to establish is the type of tires that you have. The best way of doing this is by looking at the tread.

You need to figure out whether or not the tire is directional. A directional tire is designed to be used on one side of the vehicle. In this case, the tread will be in a V shape. If you’re still unsure, look at the side of the tire. These tires will often feature a rotation sign, which points in the direction that the tire is intended to spin. An example of a directional tire is pictured belowOpens in a new tab..

There is a second type of tire. The non-directional tire can be placed on either side of the vehicle. As a result, they will have a more geometrical trend pattern. These tend to be the most common types of tires on the road, and are the best option for general driving. An example of what a non-directional tire looks like can be seen belowOpens in a new tab..

Step Two: Decide On The Rotation Pattern You Need To Use

The reason we had to identify what type of tire you had is to make sure that you are getting the right rotation pattern. This is how you will swap the tires around.

Rotating Directional Tires

Getting the right rotation pattern is especially important for directional tires. Remember, these can only be used on one side of the vehicle. If you accidentally put them onto the wrong side, they might not be able to get enough grip. This can allow water to get under the tire, increasing the chances that the car might start to hydroplane in wet weather.

In this case, you’ll need to take the tires from the back and put them onto the front axle. Then, take the ones from the front and place them onto the back axle. The below diagramOpens in a new tab. will give you a better idea of what this looks like.

Rotating Non-Directional Tires

These types of tires can be driven on both sides of the car. This means that you have multiple rotation patterns to choose from. In this case, the type of car you drive will determine how you rotate the tires.

If you have a 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, you might want to use the rearward pattern. In this case, you need to take the back tires and replace them with the front ones, keeping them both on the same side of the vehicle.

Then, take the front tires and put them on opposite sides of the back axle. As an example, the old right front tire would become the new left-back tire.  A great visual representation of this process can be seen in the below image.

In other cases, you might be driving a front-wheel drive. In this case, you will need to use the forward cross pattern. In this case, take the front tires off and move them to the back axle, keeping them both on the same side of the vehicle.

Then, take the back tires put them on opposite sides of the front axle. For example, the original right back tire would be moved to the left front side. You can see a diagram of how this process will work belowOpens in a new tab..

Step Three: Make Sure That You Have The Right Tools

By this step, you should know the pattern that you will use to rotate the tires. Now, we can get into the nitty-gritty. Before you start, make sure that you have everything you need. You should have the following tools:

  • Car Jack
  • Lug Wrench

Step Four: Make Sure That You’re Safe

Before you start removing tires, it’s important to make sure that you are in a safe environment. In this case, make sure that you have plenty of room to move around. You also need to make sure that the car is parked on a flat surface.

Before you start work, make sure that the parking brake is onOpens in a new tab.. You don’t want to risk the car sliding off the blocks while you’re underneath it.

Step Five: Jack Up The Car

Once you’re sure that you’re safe, you can start jacking up the car. To do this, find the jacking point. This is a reinforced part of the car, which is designed to have the jack applied to it. If you put it in the wrong place, the jack might bend or even puncture where your jack is.

To find the jacking point, you should refer to the owner’s manual. This will often tell you exactly where they are. For most vehicles, it will be just under the front and back bumper. Often, you will feel a metal notch, which has been designed to fit the top of the jack. As seen below.

Once it’s in the right place, you can start to raise the jack. This will start to lift the car. As you do this, regularly check that the jack is still sitting at the jacking point properly.

Step Six: Use The Lug Wrench To Remove The Tire

Once the car is lifted, you can use the lug wrench to remove the tire. Place it over the nut and remove the nut. To make sure that you don’t lose them, place them into the wheel cover.

Depending on how you want to proceed, you can remove all the tires at once. Or you can remove them one at a time and put them into their new position.

Step Seven: Tighten The Tire

Once the tire is in its new position, according to the rotation plan, you can start to tighten up the tire. To make sure that it’s as secure as possible, you should tighten it diagonally. This will make sure that the wheel is evenly tightened. You can use the below diagram to see the order that each of the nuts should be tightened in.

Repeat this process until you’ve successfully rotated all the tires to their new positions.

How Often To Rotate Tires

Hopefully, you now feel confident rotating your tires. But, how often should you do this?

Often, this will depend on the way that you have been using them. As a general rule, you will need to look at the amount of wear that you have on the tires. When the wear becomes too excessive, you should rotate the tires. An example of excessive wear can be seen below.

When you are driving off-road, you might need to rotate your tires more frequently. This is because you will be placing more pressure onto the tires, increasing the amount of wear that you will be causing. For this reason, you will need to check the tires more often, to make sure that you know what condition they are in.

What Causes Tire Wear?

There are often several reasons why one tire has more wear on it than another. First, you might want to think about the type of roads that you are driving on. For example, when you are driving along a gravel road, the rocks are thrown at the back wheels, so they have a higher wear rate.

You should also think about the way that the load has been distributed on the vehicle. For example, you might put heavy equipment in the back of the car, putting the back wheels under more pressure.

The suspension on the vehicle might also affect the types of forces that the tires are exposed to. This is one of the most common reasons why the front and back tires might have a different wear rate.

The way your tires have been inflated and aligned can often impact on the type of wear that you experience. The below imageOpens in a new tab. shows some of the most common tire wear patterns and what they can show about your car.

Finally, the biggest impact might be the type of tire that you are using. This can affect how durable it will be. To give you a better indication, let’s look at some of the most common types of tires on the market and how long they should last.

How Often To Rotate All-Terrain Tires?

Let’s start by looking at one of the most common types of tires on the market. The all-terrain is designed for general driving.

In most cases, these will last for around 6,000 miles (10,000 km), or every three oil changes. After that, you should check them thoroughly and rotate.

Though they are designed to be relatively durable, if you are going off-roading, you might want to check them once you get back. The harsher conditions might require you to rotate them more frequently.

How Often To Rotate Off-Road Tires?

A tougher alternative to all-terrain tires, off-road tires are the best choice for exploring rougher trails.

When compared to all-terrain tires, you will notice that off-road tires are made from thicker rubber. You’ll also see a deeper tread, giving you more traction on dirt trails.

Like All-Terrain tires, you should aim to check them every 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers). This will be the best time to rotate them.

How Often To Rotate Mud Tires?

Finally, you might want to consider using mud tires, especially if you’re going off-roading after a heavy downfall. These tend to be the best when heading into very rough terrain, featuring very thick tread. This will give you lots of traction, even when facing mud.

Because they will be getting used more roughly, you might want to rotate them more frequently. In most cases, mud tires should be rotated every 3,000 miles (5,000 km).

You should also make sure that you are only using mud tires when you’re off-roading. They aren’t designed for day-to-day road driving. Remember, they have been designed especially for muddy tracks.

When on the road, they won’t have as much traction, which can cause you to start to lose control at higher speeds. Also, because they are heavier, you will lower the fuel efficiency of your vehicle. That being said, some MT tires are capable of being used on daily drivers, they just don’t offer the best ride.

When Should You Replace The Tires?

One of the biggest reasons why people rotate their tires is to make sure that they last longer. However, even though you will be able to increase their lifespan, you will need to replace the tires eventually.

Often, the best time to spot potential problems is when you are rotating them. This will allow you to make sure that you replace them at the right time. When checking this, there are several potential warning signs that you want to look for.

First, you want to take note of any uneven wear on the tire. Even if you’ve been rotating them frequently, you might still notice this issue. If the problem gets too bad, you will have to replace the tires entirely.

Often, the uneven tread is caused when the car isn’t in the correct alignment. For this reason, you might want to check in with a mechanic. This problem can also occur if you haven’t been inflating the tires properly. 

Another big problem is a puncture. This is common when you take your car off-roading, as sticks or stones might pierce through the rubber. For smaller punctures, you might be able to make a temporary repair yourself, as seen below. But, the safest option to replace the tire as soon as possible, getting a new one.

You should also know your tires used by date. As a general rule, you shouldn’t keep the tire on the car for more than 10 years. When they start to get older than this, you might want to consider replacing them, as they will be more likely to develop issues.

Finally, take note of the way it feels when you are driving the car. For example, you might notice that you are hearing odd noises or getting strange vibrations. These can be signs of a larger issue. As an example, it could be an indication that the wheels are out of alignment. For this reason, you should make sure that you take the vehicle into a mechanic, so they will be able to inspect it for you.

Final Thoughts

We rotate the tires to make sure that they wear evenly. This will make sure that you have the right amount of traction on the road. It will also extend the life of the tires.

Before rotating the tires, you need to consider the type of tire and car you are driving. This will tell you the right rotation pattern to use. Then, you need to make sure that the environment is safe. If it is, attach the jack, remove the tire, and place it into its new position.

How often you need to rotate the tire will often depend on the type of tire that you are using. In most cases, you will be able to rotate them every 6,000 miles (10,000 km) or every three oil changes. However, if you are using mud tires, you might want to rotate them more frequently, around every 3,000 miles (5,000 km).

When you are rotating the tires make sure to inspect them, taking note of their condition, so you know whether or not you need to replace them.

Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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