The tires on your automobile should be rotated — basically just rearranged on your car or truck — every so often so that the treads wear more evenly. But how often do the tires need to be rotated? Ask 10 mechanics, 10 carmakers, and 10 car sales associates how often you should rotate your tires, and you'll likely get 31 different answers.
Generally, though, a new set of tires should be rotated after 6,000 miles, and then every 12,000 miles (that is, once a year) after that. But tire wear, tear, and care differs, depending on how you drive, where you drive, and what you drive over.
On front-wheel-drive cars, the two front wheels do most of the braking and all of the power transfer to the road, so they wear down faster than the rear tires. Rotating your tires regularly can even the wear on all four tires and get a few more miles out of them before they must be replaced.
On the other hand, another school of thought is that because the rear tires will last so much longer than the front tires, you should just leave them alone, or maybe rotate them from side-to-side but not front-to-back. When the front tires wear out, just replace those two. A pair of rear tires can last as long as two pairs of front tires.
Uneven wear isn't so prominent on rear-wheel or four-wheel-drive automobiles, so rotating all four wheels around the car is your best bet.
Along with tire rotation comes tire balancing. When you get new tires, they need to be balanced. After that, for most cars, you don't need to pay extra to rebalance your tires unless you feel some strange shimmies or vibrations. Tires in balance tend to stay in balance, so don't let unscrupulous mechanics talk you out of your money.
Tire imbalance is more of a problem with four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs. Especially if you do a lot of off-roading, your 4WD's tires will need to be rebalanced more often.
Every bit of car garage work also comes with the inevitable bill. You shouldn't pay more than $25 for a tire rotation. Rotating your tires can save you money by extending tire life, but you can wipe out that savings by paying too much to have it done. Save yourself some money by asking your mechanic to rotate your tires when they're already off the car anyway — for brake work, for instance. You shouldn't have to pay extra for that because the mechanic isn't doing extra work. If you're asked to pay extra, find another mechanic.