What Is a Tire Rotation?
Before we get into tire rotation pricing, let’s cover what the service really means and why it’s so important. A tire rotation simply rotates the tires around the car. In many cases, this is a simple task—but depending on the type of car, it may be more complex and labor-intensive.
Why is a Tire Rotation Necessary?
Roads are imperfect, and mechanical stress on various parts of a car differs widely. For example, the weight of the engine over the front wheels can cause the tires to wear faster than the back wheels—though a rear-wheel-drive vehicle may wear the rear tires faster.
Another comparison between the front and back wheels has to do with steering. A back tire may never use the outer bands of the tread, as the wheels are laterally fixed. However, the variations caused by steering the front wheels may wear the outer tread more significantly.
A tire rotation moves the tires around, allowing them to wear down more evenly as they’re exposed to the same stresses over the life of the tire. Without a tire rotation, you’ll get unevenly-worn tires that will need to be replaced sooner, even though some areas have very little wear.
How Tire Rotations Work
The tire rotation process itself depends largely on the type of vehicle, wheel sizes, and tire types.
In the past, a tire rotation was performed by simply unbolting each wheel and ‘rotating’ it one forward or one back. By the end of this process, each wheel will have advanced one single position. Another common procedure for traditional rear-wheel-drive vehicles was to simply swap the front and rear tires.
However, modern cars with varied drive lines have a different procedure. The process is further complicated if the wheels on the front are a different size than they are on the rear, which is common in luxury and performance cars made by companies such as BMW.
Average Cost of a Tire Rotation
For most typical cars and light trucks, a tire rotation is one of the least expensive services you can receive. The lowest cost of a tire rotation hovers around $35 to $50, and it’s usually done in less than an hour.
However, luxury cars and larger vehicles tend to be more expensive to service, and tire rotation may be effectively impossible. These vehicles cost upwards of $200 for a tire rotation, and they may require total tire replacement in about half the mileage of a standard car with equally-sized wheels and tires.
Often, people opt to have their tires balanced and (perhaps) receive an alignment as well, which can cost at least $20 to $30 extra. Despite the increased cost, this procedure is usually necessary as wheels should be balanced at regular intervals—especially as tires wear down.
Front-Wheel-Drive (FWD) Tire Rotation and Cost
The vast majority of cars sold today are front-wheel-drive, or FWD. This means that the engine (which is usually horizontally-oriented) sends the power to the front wheels, which also do the steering. As you can imagine, this causes the front tires to wear out faster than the rear tires.
In a standard FWD car, like a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla, a technician will typically rotate the front and rear tires in an “X” pattern. The rear passenger wheel and tire go to the front driver’s side, and the rear driver’s side wheel and tire go to the front passenger side.
Basic front-wheel-drive cars are usually the least expensive to service, as the tires hardly ever need to be removed from the wheels. The average cost of a front-wheel-drive tire rotation is between $40 and $70, and the job time is less than an hour.
Rear-Wheel-Drive (RWD) Tire Rotation and Cost
Rear-wheel-drive (or RWD) vehicles were once the standard configuration for cars and trucks. This began to change in the 1980s, as the advantages of FWD for commuter cars made them a preferable option. Still, the procedure for rotating RWD tires is virtually identical to FWD cars, and the cost remains the same.
The cost to rotate a typical RWD vehicle’s tires is between $30 and $80. It can cost more due to the generally increased size of the tires on older vehicles. Today, most RWD vehicles are pickup trucks or performance vehicles, which have their own sets of challenges that we’ll cover later.
All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) Tire Rotation and Cost
All-wheel-drive (or AWD) vehicles are known for wearing out tires fast. It’s especially important to have your tires rotated regularly if you have an AWD vehicle due to the increased wear speed and the widely varied power loads.
Most AWD vehicles distribute more power to the front wheels. But since the rear wheels also get power, the tires are worn out extra fast (but faster in the front). This complicates the process. Additionally, skipping tire rotations may cause your tires to wear out beyond the point of rotation—in which case you’ll need a whole new set prematurely.
AWD tires should not be rotated front-to-back or in a circle. Most shop techs agree (as do most manufacturers) that AWD tires should be rotated in an “X” pattern. This has become the standard procedure for most vehicles today.
The cost of an AWD tire rotation will be about the same as a standard RWD or FWD car, provided that the wear isn’t too uneven. These tires will likely require balancing at each rotation, which can increase the cost up to 50%. A safe estimate is $80 to $100 at most tire shops for an AWD tire rotation.
Four-Wheel-Drive (4WD or 4x4) Tire Rotation and Cost
Many people incorrectly assume that AWD and 4WD systems are the same. In most cases, they’re not—and a 4WD vehicle likely costs less to service than an AWD car. 4WD (also known as 4x4) is usually designed to run part-time only. This means that, on pavement, the vehicle almost exclusively uses the rear wheels for power unless the operator manually switches into 4WD.
4WD is not designed for dry pavement. In fact, using 4WD on asphalt can seriously damage the entire system—including the tires. Most expensive tire rotations are the result of improper 4WD use over an extended period of time.
If a 4WD system is operated and maintained correctly, the cost (and procedure) to rotate tires is usually the same as a 2WD system and rarely costs more than $100.
Electric Vehicle Tire Rotation and Cost
Electric vehicles are relatively new to the market. Yet they’ve quickly garnered a notorious reputation for burning through tires, and thus, needing more frequent tire rotations.
This is because electric vehicles apply 100% of their torque immediately, which is a massive strain on tires. A conventional car has a powerband and doesn’t reach peak performance until well after the tires begin to move. Electric vehicles are always at peak performance, which causes progressive tire wear.
Electric vehicle tires should be rotated every 3,000 miles for long life. The procedure itself usually costs about $80 to $100 and must occur more frequently than conventional vehicles.
How Tire Types Affect Tire Rotation Cost
The type of tire you have can increase the cost of a tire rotation. For example, large off-road tires (when used primarily on pavement) can wear down unevenly—and quite rapidly too.
Shop techs don’t like lifting massive wheels and tires, and balancing them requires more time and materials. These factors can increase the price of tire rotations for big trucks and SUVs.
How Different Wheel Sizes Affect Tire Rotation Cost
Today, it’s increasingly common for new vehicles to use larger wheels and tires in the rear. This is for traction and stability and may even increase fuel economy. However, it poses a problem for shop techs: cars with different tires in the back can’t receive a full rotation.
The cost of the rotation and balancing will be about the same and range from $40 to $100. However, techs will only be able to rotate the tires side-to-side and not back-to-front. Over time, this will decrease the life of the tires by up to 30% or more.
Can You Rotate Your Own Tires?
Yes, you can rotate your own tires virtually for free—but you won’t get the added benefit of tire balancing. As tires wear down, the need for counterweights increases. An unbalanced tire can cause dramatic vibrations on the highway and even throw off your alignment.
All you need to rotate tires is a jack and a tire iron. These items cost no more than $75 total, and they can be reused indefinitely. For the lowest-priced full tire service, simply remove all four wheels and take them to a tire shop for balancing prior to rotation. Be sure to leave the car on blocks or jack stands.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding