Most casual drivers will not give any thought to the wheels on the vehicles they buy. Most know that their tires will eventually need to be replaced as part of general vehicle maintenance tasks, but the wheels around which the tires are wrapped simply exist as a matter of preference.
As such, wheel spacers (also referred by many as wheel adapters) are usually of little concern to most people.
It may only be after your stock wheels are damaged, your brakes need to be replaced or you want to jazz up your vehicle’s appearance that you will want to know about wheel spacers and if they are actually good or bad.
Within the automotive world, wheel spacers’ benefits and safety are heavily debated, but the ultimate question of whether they are right for you, whether they are actually safe, and whether they are truly a good or bad idea comes down to you and your reasoning behind using them.
Let’s take a look at what wheel spacers are, and discuss whether or not they are actually as good or as bad as people say they are.
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What Are Wheel Spacers?
Wheel spacers are devices that are fitted to the wheel assembly hub of a vehicle to increase the distance between the wheel itself and the inner wheel well.
In other words, wheel adapters are added to the wheel assembly to increase how far they stick out from your vehicle, increasing its track width.
Wheel spacers can add anywhere from a few millimeters to a few inches of extra width to your vehicle’s track.
There are several different types of wheel spacers which have their own set of benefits and downfalls:
Lug-Centric vs Hub-Centric:
There are two types of wheels on vehicles: Lug-centric wheels and hub centric wheels. Whatever type of wheels you have, your vehicle will need to match up with the type of spacers you may choose to buy.
Hub-centric means that the wheel bore and axle line up perfectly, and lug nuts are used to secure the wheel to the mounting plate.
Lug-centric means that the lugs themselves do the centering due to an increased hub diameter.
Check out this piece about hub centric vs lug centric if you’re interested in learning more about this.
Floating Versus Bolt-On:
Floating spacers are placed between the wheel and hub of your vehicle, but use the same factory wheel studs to secure the wheel in place. For this reason, they are usually used to accommodate minimal wheel extension.
Bolt-on spacers are generally used for larger wheel extension. These types of spacers bolt onto the hub of your vehicle, causing its wheels to be bolted on the spacer. In essence, this forms a new “hub” onto which your wheels are now bolted.
Why Might You Want or Need to Use Wheel Spacers?
There are several reasons you may want or need spacers installed on your vehicle.
Though spacers are not usually critical components, they often serve as correctional devices, expand compatibility options, or serve to enhance the appearance of your vehicle.
Enhance the Appearance of Your Vehicle
The most basic function of wheel spacers is that they can give your vehicle a unique, more aggressive look. This often simply comes down to personal preference.
It is rare that wheel spacers are equipped for the sole purpose of making a vehicle look different, but it is nevertheless a cheap and simple modification that can give your vehicle a unique appearance without having to do much more than that.
Improve the Handling Characteristics of Your Vehicle
Because wheel spacers set the vehicle track wider than it normally would be, vehicle stability (and therefore the car’s handling) can be greatly improved.
This can be important on a truck or SUV with a high center of gravity. The farther away from the center of a vehicle the wheels are placed, the less likely the vehicle will be to roll over.
Cars usually do not have as many rollover issues as trucks or SUVs, but the concept remains the same, and serious performance enhancements can be achieved by simply extending a vehicle’s track.
Allow for Component Enhancement
Adding wheel spacers to your vehicle may be necessary for upgraded component fitment such as brakes or suspension.
Fitting larger or even different brakes to your vehicle may cause clearance issues with your stock wheels.
There is little point in upgrading your vehicle’s brakes only to find that they will not allow your wheels to spin freely. This may also cause damage to both your new brakes and wheels. Suspension upgrades may also cause the same types of issues.
Lifted pickup trucks are prime candidates for wheel spacers, because a lift kit or some sort of other suspension enhancement may cause tire or wheel rubbing.
Likewise, fitting a wider tire and wheel on a car for a larger contact patch may improve handling, but may also cause the wheel or tire to rub against wheel assembly components.
Spacers can allow for wheel assembly components and your brake or suspension upgrades to remain intact by moving the wheels away from your upgraded components.
Correct Component Clearance Issues
Brake, wheel, and suspension upgrades can be expensive. If any of these upgrades are incorrectly calculated, and you find that any type of fitment issue arises, wheel spacers can provide an inexpensive remedy.
Any kind of aftermarket parts you could add to your vehicle always pose the risk of incorrect fitment. Just because an aftermarket part says it fits your vehicle, this does not always guarantee it. This is especially true with aftermarket wheels.
Wheel offset measurement, the distance between a wheel’s mounting point and its centerline, is a commonly miscalculated piece of information that could cause your brand new wheels to be incompatible with your current brake setup.
Rather than spend thousands of dollars more on different wheels, spacers can correct this issue at a fraction of the cost.
Why Might You Want to Avoid Wheel Spacers?
Just as wheel adapters have their own set of benefits, there are almost as many reasons to avoid them, and there are just as many experts who advise against them as there are those who advocate for them.
Might Pose Potential Safety Concerns
Possibly the main downside to wheel spacers is safety concerns. Ask any professional out there who’s been in this field long enough how many times they’ve been asked the question “are wheel spacers safe?”.
Every component fitted to your vehicle can pose a safety issue if it is not fitted or installed correctly, but wheel spacers that are not correctly installed can have far greater consequences than many other parts.
This is because the entire weight of your vehicle is dependent on the strength of your wheel assembly.
Wheels can come off during normal driving if the stud length is not correctly adjusted after spacers are fitted. This is especially true with floating spacers which just in between the wheel and hub.
It is important that the correct length of stud is used to hold the wheel on tightly.
Additionally, spacers that are not torqued correctly, just like when wheels are mounted, may cause the assembly to completely fail, and your vehicle’s wheel may come completely off. This will not only cause potentially thousands of dollars worth of damage to your vehicle, it may cause a serious accident and personal injury.
Material is also important. Cheaply made wheel spacers can be dangerous because the material with which they are made may not be durable enough to bear the weight of your car or truck.
Many high-quality manufacturers will make spacers from strong, high-grade aluminum to ensure durability, so always ensure you’re getting high quality stuff.
Might Cause Premature Component Failure
Your stock vehicle setup is the way that it is because the manufacture designed it like that. Altering that will always cause a decrease in component life, because you are straying from the designed purpose of that particular component.
Wheel bearings are particularly affected by the use of wheel spacers, since this will alter their load-bearing characteristics.
Suspension parts can also be affected, depending on how much distance from the main assembly you choose to add.
Wheel Spacers Increase Scrub Radius
Scrub radius is the distance between your vehicle’s central tire contact patch and the upper ball joint where it would theoretically touch the pavement if moved straight down.
In short, the scrub radius has a profound effect on how easy it is to turn the front tires of your vehicle.
Wheel spacers increase the scrub radius as the tire track becomes wider, making your vehicle less maneuverable.
For a more in-depth analysis on wheel spacers and their function, watch this video!
Are Wheel Spacers Good or Bad?
After examining wheel spacers and what they exactly do for your vehicle, the question that remains is whether they are good or bad for your vehicle. The answer to this question is twofold.
If you know what wheel adapters are (which you obviously do by now after reading the above sections), you know how to correctly install them or already have them properly installed, and you know why you need them, they can be very beneficial.
If you do not know how to install them, already have them improperly installed by either yourself or someone else, or you do not have a clear idea of why you want or need them (and might not really need them in reality), they can be detrimental to your vehicle’s performance and could pose a safety risk to you and others.
Is There Anything Else You Need to Know About Wheel Spacers?
Regardless of the type, quality, or material of your wheel spacer of choice, it will not be beneficial at all if the fitment or bolt pattern is incorrect.
If you are unsure about any of this or are uncomfortable about installing wheel spacers by yourself, always consult a professional, and definitely have them install the spacers for you if you can afford it.
Also, always purchase wheel spacers from a reputable source. Cheaply made wheel spacers that you can get at a bargain price can lead to premature failure and might cause serious safety concerns with time. It may also cost you more in the long run due to ruined vehicle components or any accidents that may occur due to failure.
Last but not least, understand why you need wheel spacers and what they are intended to accomplish. Knowing this will eliminate installation mistakes, decrease any safety risks you might encounter, and ensure that your vehicle is kept in the best working order as possible.
Wrapping it Up
The answer to the question of whether or not wheel spacers are good or bad is very subjective.
The short answer is that they can be very good for your needs if they are installed correctly, they are of high quality, and you know exactly what you need them to accomplish.
On the other hand, they can be very bad if they are installed incorrectly, made of cheap materials, or if you are unaware of the advantages and disadvantages they offer, as well as what exactly it is that you’re getting them for.
You can always consult a professional for any assistance when it comes to equipping your vehicle with wheel adapters. They can help you answer all of your fitment questions, installation concerns, or any other issues you might have in mind.
In the end, you are the only who can truly answer the question of whether or not wheel spacers are good or bad for your car, and you are the only one who can completely control your entire wheel spacer experience from start to finish!