Stock wheels damaged? Brakes needing replaced? Keen to jazz up your vehicle’s appearance? There are several reasons why you may be considering fitting your car with wheel spacers (aka wheel adapters).
Within the automotive world, wheel spacers’ benefits and safety are debated on an ongoing basis. However, the ultimate question of whether they are right for you, whether they are actually safe, and whether they are a good or bad idea comes down to you and your reasoning behind using them.
Are wheel spacers good or bad?
Let’s dive in!
Don’t Scrimp – If you do choose to install them, make sure you choose high-quality wheel spacers.
The Good – There are several potential benefits of using adapters, including enhanced appearance, better handling, and correcting component clearing issues.
The Bad – On the downside, spacers may lead to safety issues if fitted incorrectly, reduce maneuverability, and/or cause component failure.
Reasons Why You Might Want (or Need) to Use Wheel Spacers
There are several reasons you may want or need adapters installed on your vehicle.
Though adapters are not usually critical components, they often serve as correctional devices, expand compatibility options, or serve to enhance the appearance of your vehicle.
1. Enhance the Appearance of Your Vehicle
The most basic function of 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 adapters are fitted 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.
2. Improve the Handling Characteristics of Your Vehicle
Because adapters 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.
3. Allow for Component Enhancement
Adding adapters 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 adapters because a lift kit or some sort of other suspension enhancement may cause tire or wheel rubbing.
Likewise, fitting a wider tire and wheels 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.
Adapters can allow for these components and your brake or suspension upgrades to remain intact by moving the wheels away from your upgraded components.
4. 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, adapters 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, adapters can correct this issue at a fraction of the cost.
Reasons 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.
1. Might Pose Potential Safety Concerns
Possibly the main downside to adapters is safety concerns. Just 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 adapters 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 that are 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 wheels 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 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.
2. Might Cause Premature Component Failure
Your stock vehicle setup is the way that it is because the manufacturer designed it like that. Altering this 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 spacers, since this will alter their load-bearing characteristics.
Suspension components can also be affected, depending on how much distance from the main assembly you choose to add.
3. Increased 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.
Spacers increase the scrub radius as the tire track becomes wider, making your vehicle less maneuverable.
For a more in-depth analysis of spacers and their function, watch this video!
What Are Wheel Spacers?
Wheel spacers are devices that are fitted to the wheel hub assembly of a vehicle to increase the distance between the wheel itself and the inner wheel wells.
In other words, they are added to the wheel assembly to increase how far they stick out from your vehicle, increasing its track width and widening the wheel offset.
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 and hub-centric wheels. Whatever type 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 wheels in place. For this reason, they are usually used to accommodate minimal wheel extension.
Bolt-on spacers are generally used for larger extensions. 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.
Are Wheel Spacers Good or Bad?
After examining 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 adapters for you if you can afford it.
Also, always purchase wheel spacers from a reputable source. Cheaply-made adapters 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 adapters 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 possible.
Wrapping it Up
The answer to the question of whether or not adapters 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 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 one 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!