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ask joanne

Now that the ski season is over, it's time to take off my winter wheels and tires and put the summers back on. The summer tires are non-directional and I want to rotate them from where they were mounted last year. Everyone I talk to has an opinion on where they should be mounted. Is there a hard-and-fast rule? – Ken in Waterloo

Tire rotation is an often-overlooked routine maintenance procedure, which can help extend the life of tires, and improve handling. Tire professionals estimate that only about 40 per cent of us actually take the trouble to rotate.

"It used to be that if you got 20,000 kilometres from a set of tires you were happy, but it's not uncommon to see tires today get 100,000-plus km. But nothing wears perfectly, and nothing is perfect – including wheel alignment. Say there's inside edge wear on a tire; by rotating, you put it in a different position and wear another area. In the long haul, it makes everything last considerably longer," says Len Kreiser of Fountain Tire.

The vehicle you drive and the type of tires you have will determine how they should be rotated. For example, the steering, braking, and driving forces on the front axle tires of a front-wheel-drive vehicle result in a quicker rate of wear than the rear tires.

First and foremost, you want to follow any rotation pattern provided by your vehicle manufacturer, so check your owner's manual. When doing so, make sure you have the recommended tires installed.

Tire manufacturers and professionals also provide suggested rotation patterns for front-, rear- and all-wheel-drive vehicles.

For two-wheel drive vehicles, tires on the free-rolling axle are typically crossed and installed to the drive axle, while the drive axle tires are moved straight to the free-rolling axle. On full-time four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicles, tires from both axles are usually crossed and installed on the opposing axle.

The rotation patterns may sound complicated, but all major tire manufactures have simplified their layouts with online diagrams.

If your spare is a full-size tire, it should be included in the rotation, as outlined in your owner's manual. If your tires are varying sizes, as with BMW's typically larger rear tires, rotation may not be advised. In addition, there are specific guidelines for the placement of directional (also known as uni-directional) tires – where the tread is designed in a V-shape to provide increased resistance to hydroplaning.

So what happens if you don't follow the manufacturer's recommended rotation?

"The tire will wear unevenly, and if it wears unevenly, you won't be able to use it as long. That's one part, and the other part is safety, which is the more important part. If it wears unevenly, it won't perform when it comes to safety the way it is supposed to perform. And that's why you should always take your car into your tire shop and ask them to rotate your tires every six months, or 10,000 to 12,000 km," says Sachin Deshpande of Michelin Canada.

Rotating your tires will ensure that they wear evenly and require replacement at the same time. Changing all four tires together and then maintaining the correct inflation pressure will optimize performance and tread life.

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