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Best tires on front or rear?

I’ve heard from my tire guys numerous times over the years and read in replacement tire “owners manuals” that it is best to have the “best” tires on the rear of the vehicle for better wet weather traction (either when replacing 2 worn tires or rotating). I understand that having the less worn tires on the rear will increase rear wet weather traction and reduce fishtailing, BUT my instinct tells me that I’d be much safer if the front tires on my front wheel drive car were the best and I could actually better avoid front end hydroplainging situations and thus maintain better steering control. Moreover, the probabability of blow out or loss of pressure due to puncture is higher in worn tires, and again I would rather have better steering control. I have had rear tires blow out before and I hardly knew difference.

SO what is up with the conventional wisdom?

jr

This topic has been covered many times before ad nauseam. It’s generally accepted that the best tires need to be on the rear. Some people still disagree with that. The best thing to do is to buy 4 new tires at the same time. Tires with different traction levels on a vehicle is not a good idea. Some tire dealers will offer a “buy 3 get 1 free deal” so that’s what I generally do.

I used to think that the best tires needed to go on the front but there were many experiments that proved that to be false over the years. I changed my mind and so can you.

I’ve seen the demo film at a local tire store showing a car with the worn tires on the rear spinning out on a wet curve. What they don’t say is just how worn those tires are. The car appears to have front wheel drive.

Even with FWD, the tires with the most tread are supposed to be on the rear to keep the rear end from breaking loose.

The best way to do this is to start with four identical tires and keep them rotated so they always have similar tread. When they wear out, replace all four and repeat. If you must, or choose to, replace tires two at a time (in which case, rotating them has most likely never been done and will be out of the question unless you replace the other two soon), the best tires are to go on the rear. The reason for this is to prevent loss of control in a hydroplaning situation. The typical driver is better equipped to deal with a loss of traction on the front wheels than on the rear wheels, mostly because they often react by hitting the brakes. Understeer is easy to deal with, and stepping on the brakes will generally not worsen the situation. Oversteer is difficult to deal with and stepping on the brakes will usually make it worse. Many people want the best tires on the front of their FWD car so they have a better chance of getting going in the snow. They generally don’t think about what could happen if the back end of their car decides to do its own thing while they are driving, they just want out of their driveway.

Jaramdall…you say you want to have the best steering control on the front wheels, so that is where the best tread should be. The best traction should be on the rear so you CAN steer. When ever you turn, you need a stable base to turn from. You cannot turn if the rear does not have adaquate traction, and the harder you steer and higher the speed, the more traction you need in the rear. People thing you just steer with the front wheels when in reality, you need traction on the rear to turn or post off just like stepping to the left while walking needs more traction on the right foot then the left. Of course it is a more dynamic situation as the rear is moving straight, but the same physics apply. In balance between the two though never good, should at least favor the rear so that recovery is at least possible.

Go to the extreme if you don’t believe me and put winter tires just on front and summers on back and drive on ice…you will leave a yellow trail…guaranteed.

I have been of the philosophy keep the best tread on the front rationalizing I would rather have a blow out on the rear. Those old days of blowouts due to tire age seem to be inconsequential these days, and have seen the light of better tread on the rear for many circumstances. In conclusion good tread on all 4 is the most reasonable solution.

This is not the clear decision that some would claim. The location of the better tires is a tradeoff. By insisting the good tires go to the rear you give up the well-known advantages of placing them on the front.

The tire companies may insist the new tires go to the rear; they are primarily concerned about liability and litigation.

Some of us actually drive cautiously on flooded roads. We still prefer the 20th-century wisdom of placing the better pair up front. Then we rotate for even wear and eventually replace them all in sets of four.

So, jrandall, if you still insist on driving aggressively in downpours, and must go charging into icy esses, you would do well to put the better tires on the back corners. Otherwise, sensible drivers start them up front.

If the tire company insists on rear mounting, it doesn’t pay to argue. Just return in a few weeks for your free rotation.

If you blow a tire in front, unless you are going around a sharp turn at high speed, you will be able to maintain control with the remaining front tire by simply taking your foot off of the gas. If you blow a tire in back you will probably have the vehicle violently try to swap ends and likely crash. The odds are better if you put your best tires in back. The decision remains yours.

“I would rather have a blow out on the rear” sounds somewhat logical, but remember when Ford Explorers were suffering from sudden tire blowouts? Most of the deadly Explorer crashes happened when the REAR tire blew. Front tire blowouts resulted in fewer crashes and roll-overs.

For whatever reason, the rear tire blowouts were causing roll-overs a lot more often compared to front blow-outs.

I still run my better tires up front, but I also usually reduce speeds on wet/snowy/icy roads. I’ve never had a front blowout, but have had blowouts on the rear with no loss of control. I had a blowout one time on the rear of a '75 Ford LTD at interstate speed of about 75-80 MPH and if it hadn’t been for the noise from the tire flopping on the pavement I wouldn’t have even known it was flat. When I first heard the noise I thought it was just a truck pulling up beside me, but when I checked the rear view mirror there wasn’t a truck in site. I’ve had rear blowouts on other cars too and never had any handling issues.

The idea is to have the vehicle be very stable, even when losing traction. If you have the best tires on the rear, it hopefully won’t surprise you in a situation where you hydroplane, skid, or have to slam on the brakes in inclement weather, even if it does slide a little more than it would if the best tires are on the front.

A controllable loss of traction or at least a straight slide is a lot better than being sideways or the back end deciding it’s time for a change of leadership.

Many people assume that for one reason or another it’s better to keep the front wheels under control instead of the back wheels. This is wrong. If the average driver loses control of the front wheels, he or she will probably be able to regain control of the car as soon as the instinctive reaction to slow down transfers some weight to the front. If the average driver (not a trained professional) loses control of the rear wheels, the car is very likely going into a spin, from which recovery is very unlikely. I know which situation I prefer.

On the front.

On a rear wheel drive vehicle, if the new tires are on the rear and the skins are on front and you step on the brakes, the front brakes can lock up on a slick surface while the good tires in the rear keep pushing you forward.

On a front wheel drive vehicle, the weight, drive, and braking is in the front. So if the tires in the rear are skins and rear kicks out, you just point the vehicle where you want it to go, step on the gas a little and let the good tires in the front pull the rear of the vehicle back into line.

Tester

Best tires to the rear is the rule. I think that lion9car articulated the reason best.

But, for the sake of argument:

  1. I have been driving RWD vehicles for 50 years and have had my share of blowouts at highway speed (and a couple at much higher than legal highway speed). My driving style may not be the norm, but given my ‘druthers’, I would rather have a rear tire blow out than a front tire.

  2. Another dimension to the hydroplaning argument that is rarely mentioned is: When you are going straight or nearly straight, the front tires clear the water off to the sides and the rear tires follow in the track a half second later. It would seem logical that if worn tires are more prone to hydroplane, you would want the best tires on the front handling the deep water. When you are turning so that the rear tires are out of the track, the rear tires are now seeing even deeper water, but hopefully you are not going so fast.

  3. If you watch that video in the Costco tire store carefully, you see that they use both front and rear wheel drive cars, and one of the cars is an e36 BMW. That is a '90s vintage 3 series BMW, RWD, perfect 50:50 front:rear weight distribution. Watch the rear wheels as the professional driver shows how the car ‘looses control’ on the wet pavement. That car would never behave like that if the driver didn’t force it to. You can see in the video that the rear wheels lock up for a split second, which initiates the skid. The driver has has turned off the stability control, and he jerks on the emergency brake for a split second to force the car to do what the director wants it to do to illustrate the danger of putting worn tires on the rear. Educational videos are always staged to some degree, but noticing this makes you wonder if perhaps the rule does not necessarily apply to all cars.

Well, strictly speaking, if you always have the best tires on the front axle, you cannot rotate.

Rotating tires requires that you put the (slightly) better pair on the axle that creates the most wear (the front axle in all FWD cars and most others.) This is directly contradictory to putting the better pair on the rear axle.

So I’d recommend common sense: if the tread difference is slight, put the better on the front and continue rotating. If the difference is substantial, put the better pair on rear and discontinue rotating until you inevitably have to replace the other two tires.

Well, strictly speaking, if you always have the best tires on the front axle, you cannot rotate.

Rotating tires requires that you put the (slightly) better pair on the axle that creates the most wear (the front axle in all FWD cars and most others.) This is directly contradictory to putting the better pair on the rear axle.

So I’d recommend common sense: if the tread difference is slight, put the better on the front and continue rotating. If the difference is substantial, put the better pair on rear and discontinue rotating until you inevitably have to replace the other two tires.

@Tester - You are 100% right that, on a front drive vehicle, stepping on the gas when the rear steps out will help control it. The two flaws with that plan are:

1- You have to eventually slow down and stop after a blow out so you can’t keep stepping on the gas (although you can probably slow down once you have things under control again).

2- Most drivers’ reaction (to almost any circumstance) is to step on the brake, not the gas. Without proper training most drivers will not successfully deal with a rear tire blowout.

Ask any NASCAR driver what they prefer, a rear or front blowout, and they will all tell you “front”.

@Barkydog–I have had a blowout on both front and rear wheels at highway speeds. If I have to have a blowout, I would rather have a front tire blow. It was much easier to bring the car under control when I blew the front tire at 65 than when I had a rear tire blow at that speed. This was years ago when cars didn’t have power steering.

Remember that the technique for throwing a car out of control by a police pursuit car is to bump the rear quarter of the car being pursued…not the front, not the side, but the rear quarter. That should tell you how important traction in the rear is for control.