Tire rotation and new pairs of tires, explain something to me

So the rule is, when getting a pair of tires, you put the new tires on the rear, because you want to lose traction in the front instead of the rear, which is much easier to recover from than losing traction in the rear but not the front. Okay.

But you rotate the tires. Why do you rotate the tires? Because tires in different positions wear differently. The front tires will wear faster than the rear tires (and there’s differences in wear patterns and etc but that’s beside the point here). I get this too.

But the first time you rotate your tires, since tires wear unevenly across the car, there is now an even greater tread difference between the new tires that were hanging out in the back, and the old tires in the front. So your new tires wind up in the front anyway, at a point where the very reason you put them on the rear in the first place has only gotten worse…

What am I missing here?

I know oversteer, rear end loss, is harder to control than understeer, front end loss. I put the new tires on the front until they wear to the same point as the rears and then rotate. I have only done this a couple of times when I blew a tire and had to replace as a pair. Most of the time I replace all 4 because I rotate them every time I change the oil and they are worn equally.

You rotate tires to get even wear out of the set of four.
I don’t rotate tires so that I can wear them out in pairs and amortize the expense. Besides, by not rotating I can monitor the wear for any anomalies and address them. Rotating masks wear anomalies.

There’s more to the reason that the industry has settled on putting the new ones on the rear. Weight = traction, and a typical FWD car has about 60% of its weight in the front and 40% in the rear. That means the front has 50% more weight, and thus inherently more traction. Putting the better tires on the rear tends to compensate for the weight difference, giving you more balanced traction. Videotaped tests by Michelin some years ago demonstrated that in wet weather having 50% worn tires on the rear tends in wet weather to allow the rear to slide out when the car is driven aggressively.

Personally, I prefer to put the best tires up front and not drive aggressively in bad weather. It’s a personal choice. Tire places refuse to do it for me, so I have to do it myself.

“What am I missing here?”

What you’re missing is that if you rotate your tires on schedule, keep them inflated properly, and do alignment when necessary, they will wear so evenly that you won’t be buying tires in sets of less than 4.

If somebody is buying tires 2 at a time, then it probably doesn’t make sense to rotate them.

What you’re missing is that you can’t really rotate tires if you buy them in pairs or you’ll end up with exactly the issue you describe. If you buy four tires and rotate them regularly to keep the wear roughly even, then this doesn’t happen.

Whether you buy two at a time or four at a time, if you keep your car aligned and it good shape you’ll ultimately get the same wear out of the tires. The difference is that instead of spending $600 every four years, I spend $300 every two years.


  1. I don’t allow my tires to get all the way to the wear bars. When the bars become obvious, I get new ones. Well worn tires are unsafe in bad weather no matter what end they’re on.
  2. I monitor the wear on my tires and correct any problems as soon as they show up.
  3. I simply don’t drive aggressively in bad weather. It’s dumb no matter what your tires look like. When the road is bad, I drive like an old man. Hey, wait, I AM an old man!!!

So, don’t rotate for now, continue buying pairs until one pair is worn out and the other is close enough that I don’t feel like I’m wasting money chucking them, then replace all four and start rotating again. I’ll go with it.

Yeah, the only time I do pairs is if something happened prematurely, otherwise its best just to replace all four and rotate every 5K for even wear. The jury is out though on whether its better to put the new ones on the front or the rear. I’ve done both and decided to just replace all four and not argue. But if you are plowing through snow or on a wet road, its nice to have new tires up front. If you are turning in snow or wet, its nice to have new tires on the back.

The “rule of thumb” is for the masses who cannot drive very well and don’t maintain their cars properly.

I’m with mountainbike, the tires with the MOST tread go on the front because I want the wear to even out. I rotate tires and want to replace all 4 at the same time so I seldom get large differences in tread depth between axle pairs of tires.

This is mostly an issue with the one front wheel drive car in my driveway and a moot point with the car with different front and rear tire and wheel sizes and directional tires.

I may not be in tune with the recommendation made by many but I put the best tires up front and here’s the reason why.

The only time I worry about traction is hydroplaning on pooled water on the roadways. New tires will be less prone to hydroplaning than used ones.
The used ones on the back will follow in the path cleared by the new ones on the front and will have less tendency to skate as the water in the path has been pushed aside temporarily.

When a car goes sideways the depth of the tread on the rear is not going to matter anyway.

Just a further note on this. For a long time I made a 160 miles a day round trip commute to work in all types of weather conditions from heat to torrential rain to snow and ice. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time behind the wheel and the trend was that things worked better with the new rubber up front.

Ok4450, I too have thought about that “following the path” principle too. Especially when it’s snowing.

I did see the videos created by Michelin years ago, from which the theory originated. One weakness I noticed was that they did not test on snow, only on wet test track under controlled conditions. But I still prefer the better tires up front. The Michelin testing was good, but I’m not comfortable that it adequately represented real world conditions with all their variations.

What are you missing? Lawyers got involved…