Rotation Explanation

Dear Tracy,
I would like to know more about tire rotation. Specifically, I am wondering why is it important to rotate tires, how the tires are rotated, and how often should it be done. I sometimes wonder if services like tire rotation are really necessary or if auto shops try to sell them just to make a buck. Can you fill me in on the facts?
-Fred A.

Dear Fred,
Thank you for your questions about tire rotation! It can be frustrating to pay a mechanic your hard-earned dollars without really knowing what you are getting for the money. The key is to educate yourself with a basic understanding of car and tire care, then find a good and honest service technician you can consistently trust with your business.

Tire rotation is actually an important maintenance operation that will ultimately save you money by protecting your tire investment. Regular tire rotation also enhances driving safety. The reason that tire rotation is important lies in the different ways front and rear tires wear. Front tires are subject to much more pressure than rear tires, and therefore the tread wears more quickly on the front tires. Tire rotation is a way to balance out the wear, getting the most life out of all four tires, and making sure that all four tires have a safe amount of tread.

When your service technician rotates the tires on your vehicle, typically the front tires are exchanged with the rear tires. Usually the driver side tires stay on the driver side and the passenger side tires stay on that side, however with certain types of vehicles or tires this approach may vary. Your service manual will provide details on the proper tire rotation for your specific vehicle.

Generally, tire rotation is recommended every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Again, your service manual will provide you with the best maintenance schedule for your particular vehicle.

Under Pressure

Dear Tracy,

My dad always used to take care of my car maintenance, but now I am trying to do more on my own. One thing I am kind of confused about is tire pressure. I have heard that tire pressure is important, but I am not sure how to check it. When I look at my tires they do not look flat, so that means the pressure is okay, right?

-Elizabeth T.

Dear Elizabeth,

First of all, let me congratulate you on your decision to take responsibility for your own car! You are wise to educate and empower yourself. Not only will you not have to rely on someone else, you will be an informed consumer when you need to have your car serviced.

I am glad you asked about tire pressure. You are right, it is extremely important! Improperly inflated tires can lead to handling and traction problems, as well as premature tread wear and poor gas mileage. Just because tires look fine, that is not necessarily the case. By the time a tire looks underinflated, tire pressure is extremely low, so you will want to catch it before it gets to that point. In order to check your tire pressure, here is what you will need to do:

  • Look up the proper tire pressure for your car. You will find this information in your owner’s manual. You may see a tire pressure number on the actual tire, but that number is the maximum pressure. You should never inflate to the maximum pressure – go by the book instead.
  • If you do not already have a digital tire gauge, you can pick up a decent one for as low as $10.00. Always keep it handy in your car so you can check your tire pressure regularly.
  • Unscrew the valve cap (make sure you don’t lose track of it!) and press the tire gauge on the valve stem. You will probably notice a hissing sound when you first press down, but it stops once you press all the way down. Only a few seconds are needed to obtain an accurate reading. Make note of the reading and replace the valve cap. Do this for each tire.

If your tires need air, you can fill them with either a portable compressor, or you can use the air pump at your local gas station for a nominal fee. The process is similar to how you checked the pressure but instead of pressing the gauge to the valve stem, you’ll be pressing the fitting on the air hose to the stem. Check the pressure as you inflate until you reach the right pressure number. If your tires are over inflated, you can remove air from the tires with your gauge. Remember the hissing sound? When you hear it, let it go for a bit, then recheck the pressure. The more experienced you become with checking your tires, the better sense you will have for how long you need to inflate or deflate to get the right pressure.

One final note – it is best to check your tire pressure when the car and the temperature are cooler.

Am I Dreaming?

Dear Tracy,

I am hoping that you can settle a disagreement that I am having with a friend.  We were talking about museums, I told him that there was a Goodyear tire museum, and that I went there as a kid. He says it doesn’t exist, and thinks that I dreamed it up. I know it exists and that it is somewhere in Ohio. Can you settle this for us, Tracy?

-Danny K.

Dear Danny,

Actually, you and your friend are both correct. Indeed, there was a museum at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, but it is no longer there. Sadly, the World of Rubber museum closed after 61 years in 2009. I personally can vouch for the museum’s existence as the Treadmore family made many a trip there throughout my childhood. Some of the exhibits included Indy-style race cars, a World War II aircraft fuselage, and a tire from a lunar buggy. My favorite, though, was the recreation of Charles Goodyear workshop. You can see a picture of it here. (We visited so often, that might even be my mom & me in the picture!)

The decision to close the free museum at Goodyear headquarters was said to be due in part to a lack of interest. I just can’t imagine why more folks did not go! Clearly, they did not know what they were missing.

Fortunately, tire enthusiasts can still enjoy a virtual tour through Goodyear chronology by visiting the history section of the corporate website.

Balancing Act

Dear Tracy,

I have not been a car owner very long, and I don’t have a full understanding of everything that is done to my car when I take it in for maintenance. I ask what all they are doing, but I am a little embarrassed to ask what some of these services are. Tracy, since you are the tire expert, can you explain to me what “wheel balancing” means, and how it is different from “wheel alignment”?

-Richard D.

Dear Richard,

Great question! Wheel balancing and wheel alignment are often confused, and both are very important services. Not only will wheel balancing and wheel alignment significantly extend the life of your tires, these services will enhance the handling and performance of your vehicle.

Wheel balancing is necessary because tires and wheels lose their balance overtime. The distribution of weight around the tire changes as the tread wears, causing an imbalance that leads to vibration or shaking. When wheel balancing service is performed, the technician will use a calibrated spin balancer.  Technicians will typically test both static (non-moving) and dynamic (moving) wheel balance. Wheels that are out of balance will be adjusted to the proper balance.

Wheel alignment may also be called “tire alignment” or “front end alignment” and involves adjusting the angle of your car’s wheels to the position that is specified by the vehicle’s manufacturer. A variety of things can cause the wheels to become misaligned, from potholes to fender benders. When performing a wheel alignment, the service technician will inspect the tire treads for signs of poor alignment, and also check the toe, camber, and caster, which are the three components for measuring wheel orientation. Once the evaluations are complete, the technician can then perform the necessary adjustments.