There’s not much that’s better than revving up the engine of your 4×4, hitting the open road, and taking on all types of difficult terrain. At least, that’s the goal of overlanding, but it doesn’t always go smoothly.
Without exercising proper auto maintenance, your vehicle can only take you so far before you’re left stranded. That means regularly rotating your tires.
How does one go about rotating the tires of their 4×4? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll tackle all the necessary tools and steps needed to rotate your tires and wheels.
After reading our guide, you’ll have all the necessary knowledge to perform this task yourself.
Table of Contents
- How Do You Rotate Tires on a 4×4?
- Tire Rotations: Why and When
- Three Tools for Tire Rotations
- Which Tire Rotation Pattern Applies to Four Wheel Drive Vehicles?
- Final Thoughts
How Do You Rotate Tires on a 4×4?
Next to an oil change, performing a tire rotation is considered one of the easiest auto maintenance tasks to complete. Most amateurs have the necessary tools to perform the task.
With three easily obtainable tools and a fair amount of space, you’ll be able to rotate your 4×4 tires in less than an hour.
Before we dive too far into the process, let’s take a step back and explain why it’s vital to rotate your tires in the first place.
Tire Rotations: Why and When
Tires don’t wear evenly. In just about every vehicle, the front tires carry more weight because they support the heavy engine, which causes them to wear faster. Plus, whichever tires are propelling your vehicle (either the front or rear) will also get more wear from putting the power to the pavement.
A tire rotation is the process of switching the locations of the individual tires on your car. For example moving your tires from front to rear and rear to front. If you don’t rotate your tires regularly, your tires will wear out in pairs instead of all together, which will send you to the tire shop more frequently and hurt your ride quality. You don’t want to drive on brand-new front tires and worn out backs; it’s just not a good idea.
Most shops say this process should be done approximately every 3,000 to 5,000 miles or every six months. 
Rotating your tires is to ensure that the tires wear evenly and can help improve your gas mileage and enable your car to handle any conditions. Plus, tires — especially big, all-terrain tires — are expensive, so you want to take care of them.
Three Tools for Tire Rotations
As any mechanic would say, a job is only as difficult as the tools you have in hand. Without the proper tools, you’ll find yourself in the awkward scenario of damaging your car far worse than where you started—or being frustrated beyond all belief.
Fortunately, many of these tools should be included in your car. If not, we’ll post links for you to buy some of the best tools at an affordable price.
For this procedure, we’ll need these three items:
- Lug Wrench/Tire Iron: This is a type of socket wrench used to loosen and tighten the lug nuts on your tires. They may be either L-shaped or X-shaped. If you don’t have one in your car already, we recommend investing in an X-shaped wrench. Each of the four ends will have different sized sockets, letting you work on multiple vehicles. You’ll also have a better grip with the cross design, making the process much easier.
- Car Jack: This is the mechanical device that lifts up your car. Most vehicles come with a smaller model for quick repairs, but it’s not suggested to use that jack in a shop setting. It’s for emergencies only. The smaller models will only lift the vehicle a couple of inches. They may be perfect for swapping a spare tire on the road but aren’t ideal for shop work. By investing in a higher-grade car jack, you’ll be able to reliably lift your car higher and hold the weight for a longer duration.
- Jack Stands: This tool will act as your support pillar while the vehicle is lifted. Ideally, you’ll want multiple stands to lift different corners for your convenience. Before you buy anything, make sure the stands can support the weight of your vehicle. If not, the stand might collapse, resulting in damages to the vehicle’s axle and frame (or you). To save some money, many people will use a spare tire or cinderblocks as a substitute. This might work, but honestly, it’s better to invest in real equipment that’s designed to support your rig.
Which Tire Rotation Pattern Applies to Four Wheel Drive Vehicles?
Before you start rotating tires, you need to figure out the rotation pattern. You can’t just take your tires off and put them in any other position you choose. There are rules and procedures to follow!
There are many factors to consider when deciding on the rotation pattern: tire directionality, size, and driving system. Improper rotation can cause your tires to wear even faster or make your vehicle dangerous to drive.
Your owner’s manual will most likely tell you the suggested pattern, but we’ll run through them all just in case.
In most cases, your tires will tell you the rotation pattern you need to use. Tires can fall into one of two categories: directional and non-directional.
Directional tires are the most common type of tire on the market. They’re designed to work best when moving in a single direction.
When looking at the tread pattern of a directional tire, the groves will all channel forward and downward. At a glance, the tread pattern should resemble the letter V. You can also easily distinguish the directionality of the tire by examining the sidewall. You should see a marker pointing in the direction of rotation.
As mentioned, the tread pattern ensures better performance and maximum hydroplaning resistance. Since they are only designed to rotate in one direction, directional tires only have one possible tire rotation pattern:
- Front-To-Back: If the directional tires are all the same size, this is the best pattern to use. All the tires are moved to a different axle but must remain on the same side of the vehicle. The left front tire is swapped with the left rear tire; the right side follows this same motion.
For a vehicle with directional tires, a single rotation pattern will make it simple to keep track. You won’t have to worry about which tires swapped where last time. Just do the same pattern over and over until your tires wear out.
Non-directional tires are designed to rotate in any direction, either forward or backward. That means you can rotate your tires to any position on your four wheel drive vehicle. You won’t have to worry about performance issues or unnecessary wear with this type of tire rotation
Tire rotation patterns used with non-directional tires:
- Forward Cross: In the forward cross pattern, the front tires are moved to the rear while the tires in the rear move to the opposite side of the front axle. For example, the front left tire will move directly to the back, replacing the rear left tire. The rear left tire will then move over to the other side, replacing the front right tire. This pattern is best used on front-wheel-drive vehicles.
- Rearward Cross: The rearward cross pattern follows the opposite movement of its forward counterpart. The rear left tire will move straight up, replacing the front left tire. The front left tire will transition to the other side, replacing the rear right tire. This pattern is perfect for rear wheel, all-wheel, or four wheel drive vehicles.
- X-Pattern: The X pattern involves moving all the tires in a diagonal pattern; an X formation as the name describes. The front tires move to the opposing rear while the rear tires move to the opposing front positions. This pattern can be interchanged with a forward cross for rotating tires on a car with front-wheel drive capabilities.
- Side-To-Side: This pattern is rarely used but should be mentioned nonetheless. The side-to-side rotation pattern is exactly as it sounds: swap the right tire on the rear axle with the left tire on the rear axle and the front right tire with the front left tire. This pattern is mostly used for vehicles with different sized tires in the front and back. If your vehicle has all the same sized tires, stick with one of the other patterns. It’ll offer much more even wear.
Here’s a great video on recommended tire rotation patterns for your 4×4:
Prepping Your Vehicle
Before you start rotating your tires, you want to make sure that your car is parked on level ground. Uneven surfaces may cause the car to slip when you jack it up or become unbalanced on jack stands. It’s also a good idea to engage the parking brake to make sure the car stays put.
To help you keep track of tire locations over time, mark each tire with a grease pencil. It might sound unnecessary, but remember, the whole process is to establish a pattern where each tire will receive equal wear and tear. If you lose track of any of the tires, you might accidentally put a tire back in it’s starting position, which defeats the entire purpose of rotating your tires.
Before you raise the vehicle, slightly loosen the lug nuts on all the wheels. Don’t remove them all the way, just enough to streamline the process once the car is raised.
Lifting Your Vehicle for the Tire Rotation
Now that you’ve taken all the necessary precautions, it’s time to lift the vehicle. It’s best to quickly skim through the owner’s manual for the location of the “jack point.” Putting the jack anywhere else will either damage the frame or increase the chances of your vehicle slipping off the jack.
The jack point is typically located behind the front wheels or in front of the rear tires. You can identify the points by searching for a flat metal area along the undercarriage. As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry and refer to the manual.
Place the jack underneath the focal point and slowly raise the jack. Make adjustments on the way up as needed to ensure you’re in the right spot. How you raise the jack might vary depending on the make and model.
While there are many types of car jacks, here are the two most common car jacks you’ll use as a DIY mechanic:
- Hydraulic: This is the type that was listed in the link above. The frame includes a slot to insert a hand lever. The jack will lift the car as you crank the rod up and down. If the jack includes wheels at the base, make sure they’re locked before you raise the vehicle. You don’t want it to go rolling off after your rig is up in the air!
- Scissor: You’ll recognize this jack by the diamond shape formed once raised. It follows the same hand lever mechanism as hydraulic with a slight difference. Instead of cranking up and down, you’ll raise the jack in a circular motion.
For the simple task of switching out our tires, we don’t need to raise the car too high. A few inches off the ground will be enough to perform the task. As we reach our desired height, place the jack stand underneath the car, preferably next to the jack itself. Once aligned, you can begin to lower the jack until the stand catches the car. Then, let the jack drop.
Never work on your vehicle without jack stands. Jacks are designed to drop, which could occur while you’re under the vehicle. Always use jack stands, no matter how simple the procedure might seem.
Rotating the Tires
Finish removing the lug nuts and take off the tire. This is a great opportunity to inspect the tire for any damage. Look at the tread depth and adjust the air pressure if needed. With the first tire off, repeat the raising and removal process on the next wheel, following the proper rotation pattern.
With the second tire removed, begin placing the tire you first removed into that position. Keep in mind when you replace lug nuts, only tighten them with your fingers at first to make sure all the threads catch right.
Once all your lugs are on the threads, you can tighten them with your wrench. Follow a star pattern when tightening the nuts. Tighten one nut, then tighten the one directly across from it. Continue tightening lugs across the tire until they’re all tight. This will ensure all the lugs are evenly tight. Any unevenness can warp the rotors, which will severely decrease the efficiency of the brake pads.
How Often Should You Rotate Tires On a 4 Wheel Drive Truck?
The general rule of thumb is to do a tire rotation on your 4-wheel drive truck every 6 months or 6,000 to 8,000 miles. That is going to be the common manufacturers recommendation. I recommend checking the manufacturers website for your specific tire. If you do a lot of heavy driving, it would be beneficial to rotate your tires every 3,000 miles. That will give you the most even wear and give your tires the longest life possible.
How Do You Increase the Life of your Tire
Rotating your tires is a good start to increase your tire life, but your tires are an essential part of your overland rig and deserve more attention than just the occasional rotation. Here are a few other ways to boost your tires’ longevity:
- Keep Speeding to a Minimum: We’ve all been guilty of being speed demons on the highway, but the high speeds will wear down your tires quicker. High speeds generate more heat, which will reduce your tires’ total tread mileage. By following speed limits, you help extend the tire’s life as well as minimize your fuel usage.
- Routine Wheel Alignment: In a perfect world, we would only drive on smooth, flat conditions, but that’s not the case—or any fun. Bumps and bangs will cause the suspensions to be knocked out of place, resulting in tire misalignment and uneven wear across the tires. While you’re rotating the tires, it’s best to quickly examine the undercarriage to see if an alignment is needed. Also, if you notice your tires getting worn out more quickly than usual, there’s a good chance you’re due for an alignment.
- Adjust the Inflation Levels Based on Weather: Tire pressure is another easy factor to examine when extending a tire’s life. Improper tire pressure will lead to increased wear and tear. The owner’s manual and the tire itself will inform you of the proper PSI level to maintain. But there are some caveats when it comes to a change in the weather. Cold weather will cause your tires to deflate, while warm weather will increase the pressure. Routinely examine the pressure to make sure fluctuations are kept to a minimum.
With all the necessary steps laid out for you, a tire rotation should be a piece of cake. By following this comprehensive guide for rotating your tires, you’ll save hundreds of dollars on labor costs alone by doing the job yourself. Plus, you’ll get to know your rig a little better in the process.