Maximize Tire Mileage

January 9, 2009 06:00 PM

Want maximum mileage from the tires on your truck, car or SUV? Keep the tires inflated to the manufacturer's recommended air pressure and rotate them in an X pattern when you change engine oil and filter every 3,000 miles.

Mike Smith, a retired engineer formerly with a major tire manufacturer, says rigid adherence to recommended tire pressure and rotating his tires every time he changes the engine oil earns him tread wear on his vehicles that exceeds 60,000 miles.

Most tire manufacturers recommend rotating tires every 6,000 to 10,000 miles. Karl Chevrolet in Ankeny, Iowa, as part of its "Tires for Life” program, which offers tires for the life of a vehicle, requires that tires be rotated in its shop every 6,000 miles.

"That doesn't mean you can't rotate them more often, or that rotating them more often wouldn't be beneficial,” says Denny Rosenberg, service adviser at Karl Chevrolet. "Anything that keeps tread wear even is going to extend the tire's life.”

Rosenberg notes that tread design can affect wear.

"A more open, aggressive tread like on four-wheel-drive pickup truck tires will benefit from shorter rotation intervals more than a passenger car tire with a fairly closed tread design,” he says.

Kevin Rohlwing, spokesman for the Tire Industry Association, says most tire manufacturers now recommend rotating tires in an X pattern on vehicles.

"There was a time when early designs of radial tires could experience a ply shift if a right-side tire was rotated to the left side of the vehicle, and vice versa,” Rohlwing says. "New radial designs and [tire] construction practices cured that problem, so you can switch most radials from side to side with no worries.”

The only radial tires that shouldn't be rotated in an X pattern are tires with directional tread. Mounting a directional tire so it turns "backward” can degrade handling of the vehicle and increase tread wear.

Directional tires are identified by an arrow molded into their sidewall that specifies the direction they should turn when mounted on a vehicle.

Vehicle owner's manuals generally contain diagrams and descriptions for rotation patterns that include the vehicle's spare tire. Otherwise, cross-rotate tires by switching the front tires to the opposite side of the rear axle. Then, move the rear tires forward, keeping them on the same side of the car where they were mounted.

Low-pressure warning. Federal law requires that 2008 and newer cars, vans, SUVs and light trucks have tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) that warn drivers if air pressure in any tire falls below the recommended level. The systems use small battery-powered sensors and radio transmitters mounted inside each wheel. The sensors communicate with a computer that illuminates a warning light on the instrument panel if the air pressure in any tire drops below specifications.

Since each sensor is calibrated for its tire's location on the vehicle, rotating tires to a different location may trigger the TPMS. Owner's manuals have instructions on how to help the computer conduct a "relearn” calibration to shut off the low-pressure warning light.

When to balance. Some tire shops offer to rebalance tires when they are rotated. Most tire experts say balancing is unnecessary unless there is an obvious vibration from the tires.

Service adviser Rosenberg says some vibration problems related to out-of-balance tires require special testing.

"Simple spin balancing may not catch certain balance problems that develop when the tire is rolling down the road,” he says. "Road-force balancing not only spin-balances the tire but also applies a load to the tread to simulate pressing against pavement.

That sort of balancing costs more, but it can solve problems with tires and rims that other balancing machines miss.”

Rotate tires with every oil change and maintain proper air pressure in the interim, and there's a good chance your tires will roll on a bit longer.

You can e-mail Dan Anderson at

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