Mechanically Speaking: The two new tires always go in the rear

"Many times a vehicle’s available safety features can be part of your buying decision."

Many times a vehicle’s available safety features can be part of your buying decision. All vehicles now come with airbags for both the driver and passenger. But then some vehicles have side airbags (usually in the side of the driver’s and passenger’s seat) and curtain airbags (up along the corners of the roof) as standard or optional equipment.

Anyone who has been in an accident when these airbags deploy can attest to the fact that airbags save lives and or reduce the severity of injuries.

If you haven’t actually witnessed their operation just check the statistics. They are impressive.

After purchasing a vehicle with this safety feature, keeping that feature operational is fairly simple.

As long as the airbag symbol light goes on with the key on (bulb check) and then turns off the system is functional. On the other hand if that light does not light at all or remains on all the time then that feature is very likely not functional.

These systems are robust and require little maintenance.

There are other safety features on vehicles that are a lot more demanding on your pocketbook yet as important or more important than airbags.

These are a safety feature that prevents you from getting into an accident in the first place.

One of these is tires.

Tires are your connection to the road and their performance combined with your driving skill ultimately may determine you getting into an accident or not getting into an accident.

The tire store wants to sell you four new ones this spring but you think you can get another season out of them. Or, two of them have more tread than the other two.

“How about I just buy two?”

“If I put two new ones on the front driving or steering wheels and do not rotate them they will wear faster than the worn ones in the rear and two years down the road they will be even again.”

It is very likely that your tire retailer will not do that for you. They will resist only selling two tires and if they do they will insist the two new tires go on the rear of your vehicle.

You are thinking that totally defeats your purpose of just buying two tires.

You have a front wheel drive vehicle and the old more worn tires being on the front will wear out even more quickly and they will not provide any better traction, braking, or steering improvement for your front wheels.

Is this not a lose-lose situation?

From an overall safety standpoint the right thing to do is four new tires but given the purchase of only two tires, yes, they must go on the rear.

Why? Time for a physics lesson. There is time but not enough space and actions speak louder than words.

Check out youtube and search “Michelin new tires on rear” or copy this link

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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