Pictured: Treadwright Guard Dog MT (symmetrical tread pattern)
Directional and Non-Directional Tire Rotation (+ Spare) Rotation Guide and How-To
Routine 4Runner maintenance can be the difference in your vehicle lasting 5 years or 25 years.
It’s all about how you care for your ride whether it be a 4Runner, Tacoma, Tundra or whatever else you drive. One of these ways includes rotating your tires regularly to ensure that your tread wear pattern is constant throughout all 4 (or 5) tires.
Today, we talk about how to rotate your tires, and for most of us, that will be All-Season, All-Terrain and Mud-Terrain tires. Most of these tread types fall into the symmetrical tread pattern, but not always.
We will walk you through the correct way to rotate your symmetrical tires, along with asymmetrical, and directional. We will also cover the differences between those tread types and why it’s important to rotate your tires often.
Why are Tire Rotations Important?
Front and rear tires wear differently.
With the engine being in the front (obviously), the front tires typically carry more weight and since they also do the turning, they tend to wear faster than the rear tires. Rotating regularly can equal out these wear patterns so you’re not stuck buying 2 tires at different times. In other cases, you may have a heavy rear – fully loaded with gear, extra weight, spare tire, and possibly even a trailer.
Regardless of whether you are heavy in the front or rear – it is rare when both ends of the 4Runner are exactly the same weight and driven exactly the same on all four corners. If not rotated on a routine schedule, tires can prematurely wear unevenly preventing the full potential of their expected lifespan, and ultimately causing dangerous driving conditions.
When Is It a Good Time To Rotate Your Tires?
Ultimately, your tires should be rotated every 3,000-5,000 miles (some companies may recommend 5,000-10,000 but it’s really up to you and your driving style) regardless if they’re showing signs of wear.
A good rule of thumb is to rotate with every (or every other) oil change.
Tips For Rotating Your Tires:
Pictured: Cooper Discoverer AT3 XLT (symmetrical tread pattern)
Tip #1: Studded Winter Tires Rotation
If you happen to have studded winter tires on your 4Runner, or vehicle that runs that type of tire, keep in mind that this kind of tire should never be switched from left to right. Check out this overview on studded tire rotation.
Tip #2: Reset Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) Sensor
Some vehicle’s tires come with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) Sensor.
This sensor constantly reads the air pressure in the tire and will trigger a tire light on the dash when that air gets too low or if the sensor is going bad. If the sensor is going bad then the light will usually flash, and chances are you will have to go ahead and replace all 4 sensors. When one goes out, the others are quick to follow.
If your tires have that sensor and a light comes on after the rotation the sensors may need to be reset to display the correct pressure. You can do this yourself or take it to your local dealer and they should be able to do it for you.
Tip #3: Uneven Tread Wear on Tires
If you have uneven tread wear on your tires, then the rotation will not correct the problem.
Uneven tread wear can come from alignment issues, suspension problems, or problems with over or under-inflation of the tires.
Tip #4: May the torque be with you, but not too much!
If you are using a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts on your wheels, make sure you are using the right amount of torque.
Too little and your lugs could likely loosen causing your wheels to fall off while you are driving. Too much torque and you may not be able to take the tire off if you come across a flat. Torquing your lugs too much could also result in brake rotor warping that could cause vibration while driving.
Typical tightening calls for 75 to 100 pound-feet of torque but if you have larger wheels and tires then you may want to aim a little higher.
Tip #5: Check the Date Codes Of Your Tires
This can be found by checking the last four digits of the DOT code. For instance: a code of 2818 means that the tires were made during the 28th week of 2018. Tire and automaker companies recommend not using tires older than 6 years. This includes spares.
Tools for Tire Rotation:
Common tools for rotation are a floor jack, 2-4 jack stands, lug nut key (if you need one), and a wrench.
- Floor Jack (Pro Eagle)
- Floor Jack (Amazon)
- 2-4 Jack Stands
- Lug Nut Key (If your wheels require it)
- Lug Wrench/Air Impact Wrench
- Torque Wrench
In what direction should tires be rotated?
This is where it gets tricky. Before you can rotate any of your tires, you have to determine what type of tires you have, directional tires or non-directional tires, also known as staggered high-performance tires.
As a disclaimer, Toyota recommends that you rotate your tires according to their methods.
When you take your 4Runner to the dealership for regularly scheduled tire rotation you may find that Toyota only rotates tires from front to back and vice versa. They do not typically offer an X pattern or side to side rotation. If you check your owners manual, you will find that Toyota shows a front to back tire rotation.
“To equalize tire wear and extended tire life Toyota recommends the tire rotation is carried out at the same interval as tire inspection. Rotate the tires in the order as shown.” The Illustration in the manual clearly displays a front to back arrow motion.
When radial tires were first introduced in the 1950s and at that time, if you were to perform a side to side rotation they would occasionally rip or tear belts which is why Toyota only recommends a front to back rotation. But with advancements in radial tire technology, it is now considered safe to rotate tires in an X Pattern in order to increase the lifespan of your tires.
Directional Tires, Symmetrical, and Asymmetrical Tread
Les Schwab wrote a good article on directional tires that covered symmetrical asymmetrical along with how to determine directional tires. Common highway, winter, and summer tires have symmetrical and asymmetrical tread patterns.
- Symmetrical tread types have center tread blocks that may be a singular rib design or broken into multiple channels (rows or tread blocks). Tread blocks are more often found on All-Terrain tires as opposed to rows. Many All-Terrain tires like the BFG KO2, Cooper Discoverer AT3 XLT, General Grabber ATX, Toyo Xtreme AT2, and many others are considered a “symmetrical” tire where the outside lugs or tread blocks mirror each other while the grooves, voids, and sipes can point in multiple directions. Great for summer and winter use.
- Asymmetrical tread types have opposite tread patterns on the outside and inside of the tire. These typically have larger tread blocks towards the outside edge in order to make a larger point of contact on-road. Asymmetrical tires can also have lateral voids in the center ribs or tread blocks. Asymmetrical tires usually prevent heat build-up, perform great in wet conditions, and offer great stability.
- Directional tread types have a consistent (one direction) center rib or a series of one-directional tread blocks which adds rigidity for high-speed and stability. Regardless, this center design usually flows down the center of the tire like a “V”. On the very outside edge of the tire, you have “lugs” which also follow in line with that same “V” pattern.
Directional tires, with their one-way “V” tread pattern, makes the way they rotate on the axle exceedingly important. You’ll be able to see small arrows or triangles on the side of the tire showing you which way it should turn.
To rotate directional tires:
- Rotate the front right tire with the back right tire.
- Rotate the front left tire with the back left tire.
Non-Directional Tires and Symmetrical Tires
With this specific group, the best rotation pattern would be the rearward cross pattern.
This pattern is used primarily for RWD and 4WD vehicles.
To rotate tires in the pattern, you’ll need to move the rear tires straight up to the front and then move the front tires to opposite rear positions.
To rotate high-performance staggered tires:
- Rotate the left front tire with the right front tire.
- Rotate the left rear tire with the right rear tire.
Rotation With Spare – Non-Directional & Symmetrical
If your vehicle has a non-directional, spare tire on the back and is the same size, does not say “for temporary use” and a wheel that is the same size as the other wheels, this section of the article will cover rotating in that spare.
A large population in the 4Runner community has a spare tire on the back of their vehicle. Rotating in the spare is optional, but highly recommended.
If it is not rotated in the pattern, you may find yourself in a situation where one tire blows and you have to put on that spare with brand new tread. And, with your other tires already being fairly worn down, could place unnecessary stress on the drive train of your vehicle due to the different tread depth.
So, for spare rotation, we would preferably use the Rearward Cross method (RWD/4WD).
With this method, you’ll need to make sure you have 5 matching, non-directional tires.
- The left rear tire moves to the front position.
- The right rear tire moves to the right front position.
- The right front tire moves to the left rear position.
- The spare tire moves to the right rear position
- And the left front tire becomes the spare.
That pretty much sums it up.
It may seem pretty simple, but it is VERY important to keep your tires rotated in a specific order and in fairly equal condition.
This could make a huge difference in both the life of your tires and the condition they’re in. Keeping them maintained, as well as other maintenance items on your vehicle, could make the difference on those rugged trails or in tougher situations.
Maintaining your vehicle yourself can also help you save that money for the next big mod that we all look forward to!