Two New Tires: Better goes in Back

Dear Tracy,
I recently did the “penny test” and discovered that the two front tires on my Ford Focus need to be replaced. The rear tires still have a decent amount of tread left. I asked my dad how the two sets could be so different and he explained that on front wheel drive cars, the front tires wear out faster if the tires have been not regularly rotated. (Then he lectured me about not having my tires rotated.)

So I thought I needed to have two new tires put on the front of my car, but my dad said that the new tires need to go on the rear, and the ones that were on the rear get moved to the front. This does not make sense to me! If the front tires wear faster, why wouldn’t I put the new ones on the front? That way, by the time the front ones wear out, I’ll be ready for a whole new set. Plus if it is a front wheel drive car, shouldn’t you have the better tires in the front?
Ryan G.

Dear Ryan,
Your line of thinking does seem logical, but we are going to have to agree with your dad on this one.  Here is why:

No matter what type of car you have, the driving stability that enables you to brake and steer is provided by the rear tires. Installing  your new tires on the rear will help you to maintain vehicle control on wet roads. This is largely because of the different types of hydroplaning that can occur.

Hydroplaning happens when tires cannot maintain road contact due to the tire’s failure to move water through tread patterns. When front tires hydroplane, the vehicle trends to understeer or stay straight. When rear tires hydroplane, the vehicle tends to oversteer, or spin. While understeering can be alleviated by releasing the gas pedal and slowing down, in the case of oversteering it is much harder to regain control. This is why it is important to have the better tread on the rear tires. To see a demonstration, check out this video.

I know getting a lecture on tire rotation from your dad may seem like adding insult to injury, but again, father knows best. The optimal way to handle this dilemma is to avoid it. Next time you have a new, full set of tires remember to keep them rotated.