Should new tires go on the front...or back?

October 1, 2013 | By Jim Richardson


Twice recently I purchased only two tires instead of my usual four. The first time was for a front-wheel drive car and the second was for a rear-wheel car. Both times, the tire stores insisted on putting the new tires on the rear. The last one tried to tell me there was a “law” that required it.

My dad always put new tires on the front and I have done the same over the course of 50 years of owning vehicles because it makes sense from a “steerability” line of thinking.

Their arguments don’t make sense to me. I was told I couldn’t steer the car if a rear tire blew out and the new tires were on the front. Hydroplaning was never mentioned. One store told me they were “liable” if I was in a wreck and he further stated companies have been sued for putting the new tires on the front.

The front end of the typical civilian vehicle is heavier than the rear. The rear weight shifts to the front upon braking and the rear weight shifts to the opposite front corner upon turning. The faster or harder the turn or braking, the more shift loading is placed on the front end. Tire tread isn’t necessary in dry weather. Race car tires have no tread when used on asphalt or concrete surfaces; so tread depth wasn’t mentioned in their arguments.

My pessimistic line of thinking is they want to keep the more worn tires on the front end so they will wear faster than the new tires on the rear. That way, the customer will have to come back sooner to purchase two more tires for the front end. And the cycle continues.

What are we supposed to do if the front and rear tires are different sizes like the Corvette? Always change four tires? Am I nuts or is there valid proof that new tires should be mounted on the rear?


Before I talked to an expert whom I trust implicitly, I would have agreed with you; I was always taught to put the new tires on the front for safety reasons. But my long-time tire guru says the opposite. Nate Jones of Nate Jones Tires in Long Beach, California, has been trusted to select, mount and balance tires for major league race cars and even aircraft for many years, and he says the new tires should go on the back. When I asked him why, he replied that having a blowout in the rear is much more likely to make you lose control than having one occur with a front tire in normal day-to-day driving.

If you were racing, a controlled slide in the rear might be the quickest way through a corner, and having a front-engine car come loose in back is easier to handle than having such a car come loose in front. For one thing, you can often power your way out of a slide in the rear. But that is in a racing situation that requires an expert driver.

And by the way, when a rear-engine car comes unstuck, it is usually the front end that loses traction, and in that case, the driver is just along for the ride until the front tires hook up again. Of course, if the rear end comes loose on a rear-engine car, you are in the worst situation of all because you will just pinwheel out of control. Having abused a few VW Beetles back in the ’60s taught me these things.

But then, you will not likely be doing silly stunts with your classic, and having a flat in the front rather than the rear is probably the least of two evils in normal driving. Apparently enough knowledgeable people think that is so, because the tire dealers I talked to all said to put the new tires in the rear.

As for cars with different size tires front and rear, obviously you would have to change like for like no matter what. And above all you should never put two different size tires on the rear end of a car. This causes the differential to work against itself and ruins it in short order.

Also, these days, with modern steel belted radials, the casing often wears out before the tread does, so having bald tires is much less a safety factor in any case than outright tire failure in daily driving.