Rotation will prolong tyre life and help maintain balanced handling and braking. This is particularly important when using all-terrain or mud-terrain tyres whose bigger-block pattern is subject to added heel and toe wear when used on tar.
What is the correct tyre rotation pattern for a 4WD vehicle? I often find my customers only do their rotations when servicing their vehicles. This is not enough. On a four-wheel drive subject to many additional stresses, and varying loads, more frequent rotation is better – not every 10 000 to 15 000km, rather every 5000-6000km.
Every tyre carries a different weight and front tyres are not subject to the same wear stresses as the rears, so each tyre wears at a different rate. Rotation evens this out.
The guideline is that if tread depth varies more than 2-3mm between tyres, you should replace all of them. Usually, if just two are replaced, the rear axle should get the new tyres as these are most responsible for grip.
In general, regular rotation will add more life to a set of tyres. On a hardcore SUV or part-time 4WD, it is not necessary to adopt a five-tyre rotation system using the same-size spare. There is no danger of transmission wind-up due to minor wear differences if the spare is used as a result of damage to one of the other tyres.
On a four-wheel drive the basic rule is four-wheel rotation in which each of the front wheels is moved to the opposite rear side, and the rears are brought straight forward (see diagram).
Rotation will not cover up mechanical wear or incorrect inflation. If you are picking up uneven wear, getting a tyre shimmy, or the steering is heavier than usual (say, after taking a few big hits from potholes or after driving a trail), have the suspension alignment checked.
Johann Viljoen owns the well-known 1st Alignment Centre and Ironman 4×4 dealer – 1st Outdoor and 4×4 – in Stikland, Cape Town. Do you have a technical question you’d like Johann to answer? Email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pitch it to him.