Nobody likes to spend money on car maintenance, especially for something that doesn't seem like an emergency. And tire rotation just happens to be one of those tasks that gets neglected by a lot of drivers. But it's more important in terms of safety and savings than you'd think. We take a closer look at the significance of regular tire rotation. Though it's not sexy in the least, it can make a difference in your bank account and the safety of you and your family on the road.
The front tires take most of the punishment, even if your car isn't front-wheel drive. They have to take the wear and tear of steering and the majority of the braking forces (this is why front discs are typically larger than the rear in most vehicles), and for FWD vehicles, they have to handle acceleration forces, as well.
We have talked about how long your tires can last with proper rotation. But how much will you actually save over time? Rotating doesn't cost much (around $20-$50), and your mechanic may not charge you at all if you bought tires from the same shop. Let's say you have a 60,000 mile treadwear rating on your tires for your Honda Accord, and those tires cost $150 each. If you rotate regularly (2x per year or 6,000-8,000 miles, on average), you'll likely meet or exceed (but not by much, nor should you push the limits) that treadwear rating.
So, if you bought a set of four tires at $150 each and paid $50 to mount and balance, that total cost comes to $650. For these 60K treadwear tires, if you rotated them every 6K miles and paid as much as $50 per rotation, you'd have spent about $500 on rotation over the life of the tires. The total cost would be about $1,150 on the set of tires and rotation that should last you 5 years. Over 10 years time (considering around the average period of ownership), you'll spend about $2,300 for tires, mounting and balancing, and rotation. We didn't factor in alignment, which is a necessary part of keeping your tires wearing evenly.
If you didn't rotate the tires at all, the tires may last about for about 50 percent of the life if you had rotated them (tire companies typically cut their treadwear warranty in half if you buy different sized tires for front and rear (staggered). There are myriad factors including driving habits, the ratio of left-hand turns to right-hand, wheel alignment, loads, etc., but the general idea is to try to get all four tires wearing out as evenly as possible. You'll obviously save on tire rotation costs, but you'll replace your tires earlier.
Figure you eliminate the cost of rotation, but you'll have to replace tires about two years sooner than if you had rotated them. In this scenario, over 10 years time, you'll have spent nothing on tire rotation but your tire costs would be about $300 more, to the tune of $2,600. You won't pay the $1,000 in tire rotation ($50 a pop, twice a year for ten years), but you'll buy twice as many tires (four sets instead of two, $650 x 4). That's because you may cut your tire wear down by about 50 percent, meaning you have to replace tires up to twice as much.
And though it's ideal to replace all four at the same time, typically the front tires wear out faster than the rears. Whether you're replacing four or two (avoid replacing 1 or 3 for safety reasons), buy the same brand and tire model. Keeping replacement numbers even and brand/model the same means your car will provide even handling/braking characteristics all around, especially in emergency situations.
There are mitigating factors, of course, and this example may be extreme. If your tires cost $80 each, you'll probably save money by not rotating, but that also means putting your safety at risk with unevenly worn tires. If the outer shoulder wears out far more than the center tread or the inside shoulder, that could compromise handling in emergency situations, and in that case, it doesn't matter how much you save if you or your family gets hurt or killed in an accident because the tires are unevenly worn. Four evenly worn tires maximize your vehicle's grip, ride quality, and handling characteristics.
So, in the end, you have to do the math, but we err on the side of safety. You may save money by rotating, as well, so that's another reason to keep up on the tire maintenance. At the end of the day, it's about safety AND savings, so do the calculations and don't just try to scrimp by buying the cheapest tires you can and not rotating since you'll place your family in danger just to save some money.