Modifying vehicles with aftermarket parts has become an incredibly popular hobby and lifestyle for many gearheads and automotive enthusiasts. From adding custom body kits to installing performance upgrades like turbochargers, there are endless ways to customize a car or truck to match your style and needs. One simple yet impactful modification is installing wheel spacers, which push the wheels outward to create a wider, more aggressive stance. But before you run off to buy a set of shiny new spacers, it’s important to understand exactly what wheel spacers are, weigh the potential pros and cons, and learn about any safety considerations.
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So what exactly are wheel spacers anyway?
Wheel spacers are circular metal adapters that bolt between your wheel hubs and wheels. Some folks refer to them as lug spacers, hub-centric spacers, hub adapters, or even 5-lug spacers. Whatever you want to call them, their purpose is to change the offset of your wheels relative to the suspension and fenders. This has the effect of increasing the track width of your vehicle – also known as the distance between the centerline of the wheels on the same axle from one side to the other.
In essence, wheel spacers make your car wider by moving the wheels further outward. But how does simply adding a chunk of metal between your wheels and hubs accomplish this? Well, on most vehicles, the wheels have some amount of positive offset, meaning the mounting surface is more towards the inside of the wheel. Wheel spacers place thicker adapters on the mounting surface, pushing the wheels further out to that wider, meaner stance us car nuts go crazy for.
But is bolting on a set of wheel spacers as easy and safe as it sounds?
While spacers themselves are simple metal parts, there are definitely some considerations to keep in mind regarding compatibility, proper installation, and potential downsides. Later we’ll dig into the benefits spacers can provide along with their drawbacks and safety concerns. First up though, let’s explore some of the key reasons people turn to wheel spacers to modify their rides.
Why do people use wheel spacers in the first place?
There are a few motivations for installing wheel spacers on a vehicle. Some of the most common include:
- Achieving the perfect fitment and look – One of the biggest reasons people turn to wheel spacers is for aesthetics. Pushing the wheels out flush or beyond the fenders gives your car or truck a super aggressive, in-your-face look that many enthusiasts love. This wider fitment style has become hugely popular in the tuner scene.
- Preventing wheel well rub – Lowering your vehicle or going with a bigger tire size often leads to annoying rubbing against the fenders when turning. Quality spacers can provide those extra millimeters of clearance.
- Improving stance – Truck owners with lifted suspensions frequently add spacers to get a leveled, balanced stance. The spacers help center the wheels instead of that goofy raked look.
- Fitting larger brakes – Upgrading to big brake kits with massive rotors generally requires making space. Wheel spacers allow everything to fit without the wheels rubbing on those sweet Brembo calipers.
- Increasing stability -widening the track width through spacers helps improve handling and stability on some vehicles. Think race cars running super aggressive offsets.
As you can see, there are some excellent reasons to consider running wheel spacers beyond just aesthetics. That wider, more planted look you’ll achieve is arguably reason enough for many car enthusiasts. But it’s still smart to weigh the potential downsides too.
What are the possible cons of using wheel spacers?
While wheel spacers offer some benefits, there are also some drawbacks and risks associated with using them. A few key cons include:
- Increased strain on components – forcing the wheel hubs outward puts additional stress on wheel bearings and suspension parts if not properly installed. This can lead to faster wear of these components.
- Require wheel realignment – the major change in track width means you’ll absolutely need an alignment after installing spacers. You’ll also want your wheels rebalanced.
- Rubbing issues – too much spacer width can push the wheels way beyond the fenders, causing them to rub when steering or hitting bumps. Watch those limits.
- Potential warranty issues – many manufacturers warn that wheel spacers can void your factory warranty, so check before moving forward.
- Legal concerns – going too wide with spacers where your wheels stick out past the fenders might be illegal depending on state vehicle laws.
As with any car mod, it’s smart to carefully weigh the pros and cons of wheel spacers before deciding if the benefits outweigh the potential compromises for your specific vehicle. And those cons bring us nicely into discussing the key considerations around wheel spacer safety.
Just how safe are wheel spacers anyway?
The safety of running wheel spacers depends on several important factors:
- Brand and manufacturing quality – purchasing spacers from a reputable brand that follows rigorous quality standards is paramount. Beware of cheap spacers!
- Materials used – wheel spacers should be constructed out of strong 6061 T6 billet aluminum or steel alloys to handle the forces. Quality matters.
- Size of the spacers – The wider the spacer, the more stress placed on components. Only go as wide as is safe for your specific vehicle and wheels. Bigger is not always better.
- Proper installation – you must carefully follow torque specs and recheck torque after 50-100 miles to prevent wheels loosening up. Don’t cut corners here!
- Wheel and hub condition – spacers should only be installed on undamaged wheels and hubs in good working order. Check for any cracks or flaws before proceeding.
The reality is any modification you make to a vehicle impacts the engineering and safety margins built into it from the factory. But with the right wheel spacers professionally selected and installed, they can be a very safe modification when used appropriately. The risks mainly come from cheaping out on quality or incorrectly installing the parts.
How do you even know what size wheel spacers to get?
Picking the ideal spacer width for your ride isn’t always straightforward. Here are some tips for getting it right:
- Carefully measure your existing track width from wheel center to wheel center across the axle. This establishes your baseline.
- Decide how much additional track width you want to achieve with the spacers. Usually 1-3 inches wider is plenty.
- Check what the maximum safe offset is for your wheels to ensure you don’t exceed it. The wheel specs should list this.
- Consider how much clearance you need for steering, brakes, fenders, etc. Account for how low your car sits too.
- Find a wheel spacer width that gets you to your desired track width dimensions when accounting for the above.
- Consult with the wheel spacer manufacturer if needed to pick the proper adapter size and configuration.
Getting some measurements with chalk or masking tape first can also help visualize how far out you want the wheels to sit at the desired stance. Taking the time to dial in the proper spacer width will help get that perfect fitment you’re after while staying safe.
Any other wheel spacer tips to be aware of?
To wrap things up, here are a few other quick best practices to keep in mind:
- Only use hub-centric spacers that center on the hub bore rather than just the lug bolts. This reduces stresses and vibration.
- Make sure the spacer has the proper lug pattern to match your wheel bolt pattern.
- The wheel spacers and wheels should have an equivalent load rating and size capacity.
- Don’t combine multiple smaller spacers stacked together – use a single, properly sized spacer.
- Follow the recommended spacer torque specs and re-torque the wheels after 50-100 miles.
- Consider getting extended lug studs or bolts to accommodate the thicker spacers.
Following the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and maintenance is always advised to keep your wheels anchored safely. Taking the time to do your research helps ensure wheel spacers enhance your vehicle rather than compromise it.
Are there any alternatives to using wheel spacers?
If you decide the risks or downsides of wheel spacers outweigh the benefits for your ride, there are some alternative options for getting that sculpted, aggressive stance. Here are a few to consider:
- Wider aftermarket wheels with more negative offset positioning the wheels further outboard.
- Full wheel adapters that provide even more clearance than spacers.
- Fender flares to open up space for wider track width and tires.
- Lower profile tires that tuck into the fenders more at standard widths.
- Minor lift kits on trucks to make room for larger diameter tires.
Of course, you can also embrace the iconic look of a classic muscle car or tuner with tastefully conservative offset and tire sizing. Stance is all about personal style and preference at the end of the day. As long as you take the time to understand the implications of modifying your wheels, you can confidently make the best choice for your ride.
Well there you have it – everything you could possibly want to know about wheel spacers summarized in one spot. We covered what exactly wheel spacers are, why people use them, weighed the pros and cons, explored critical safety considerations, how to determine ideal spacer sizing, tips for safe installation, and even some alternatives to spacers.
Hopefully you now feel empowered to decide if running wheel spacers is the right move for your own vehicle goals and driving style. They can definitely be a great modification when done properly and on the right car. But just be smart about selecting quality components and taking the necessary installation and maintenance steps. Your sweet ride deserves it!
Now get out there and achieve the perfect stance that matches your personality. Those winding back roads and cruising the strip are calling your name. Time to answer that call!