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you & your car

When I took my winter tires and wheels off last year, I forgot to mark where they had been – at what corner on the car. How important is proper rotation, front-to-back and side-to-side? Will it damage the tires if I put them on the wrong side? – Trevor

The main reason for rotating tires is to ensure even wear, as much as possible. On a front-drive vehicle, front tires wear more quickly because they are responsible for turning, acceleration and 70-80 per cent of the braking.

Generally speaking, tire rotation used to involve swapping them front-to-rear and, if possible, side-to-side, i.e., driver-front swaps with passenger rear and passenger front to driver rear. But more recently, because of wear patterns created by those heavily laden front tires on a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the old rotation method can result in premature or extra wear when the tire is turning in the opposite direction, as it would be when swapped for duty on the other side of the vehicle.

Accordingly, current thinking is to swap front-to-rear, keeping the tires on the same side of the vehicle and turning in the same direction they were last time. This is also critical for tires with a unidirectional tread design. This type of tire is becoming the norm, as shown by a directional arrow on the sidewall. You have to ensure the tire is mounted and turning in the proper direction or it becomes almost useless.

My suggestion is to line up your four wheels and tires side-by-side, examining them for signs of damage. Now look for wear. Pair them up – with the directional arrows of primary consideration. Place the two with the most wear on the front of the vehicle, those with the most tread remaining on the rear.

While this may seem contrary to common sense, a miss-match of grip favouring the rear wheels, especially of a front-drive-vehicle, can lead to some nasty surprises when turning, such as that first off-ramp.

Winter tires down south

We are Snowbirds, spending several months each year in Arizona, usually January through April. We just bought a new Lexus ES and are in the process of buying a set of wheels and winter tires because they are mandatory in our province – and needed until we head south. I want to leave them on for the drive, but worry about wear in the warmer climate there. I noticed in my last car the winter tires, already a couple of years old, became really worn while in Arizona. Is there a particular brand or specific tire that I could expect to wear better in my circumstance? – Alan

No particular brand or tire comes to mind – but a new type of tire may suit your situation perfectly – all-weather tires. Not all-season, but all-weather, these tires carry the mountain/snowflake symbol indicating they meet the rigid standards required of winter tires, especially the ability to remain supple when temperatures plunge below the freezing mark.

But all-weather tires have been designed and compounded to handle warmer temperatures as well. They can be left on the vehicle year-round. Most tests have shown them to be almost as effective in nasty winter conditions as a proper winter tire and almost as good in warm conditions as a summer or good all-season tire. Notice I said "almost."

All-weather tires are a compromise, but a pretty good choice for a wide variety of drivers and situations – such as yours. They will be better in Canadian winter than all-season tires and handle the Arizona heat better than a winter tire. Shop carefully to ensure you are getting an all-weather tire, not an all-season, put them on and enjoy your winter, wherever you are.

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