Wheel spacers are sometimes described as being a dangerous addition to your vehicle. When you speak with people who actually use them, the outcome tends to be something that is quite the opposite. They are useful when the offset of your wheel is not ideal for the end package that you want to use. Whether it is because your axles are to narrow or the offset is not useful, this option places your wheels and tires where they need to be underneath your fender.
Wheel spacers are only problematic when they are used in an inappropriate manner. Most owners find that there are more issues with packages that don’t offer this option compared to those which do. Because the product offers the proper fit for your setup, there is the potential for improved performance and aesthetics that go beyond your fitment requirements.
You even have two primary options from which to choose if you are considering this option for your vehicle: bolt-on or slide-on. Then you can take advantage of all of the potential pros and cons of wheel spacers when finalizing the look that you want.
List of the Pros of Wheel Spacers
1. You can improve the performance of your vehicle.
Wheel spacers are an easy way to improve the performance of your vehicle when you are in the driver’s seat. The design of this option will push the wheel further away from the chassis, creating a wider track and a lower center of gravity. That means you will experience more grip as you come into a corner, allowing for a faster acceleration response as you come out of it. You should install spacers on all four wheels to ensure that this benefit is something that you can experience while driving.
2. Wheel spacers can help with the aesthetic value of the vehicle.
When you have wheels that come out to the edge of your bodywork, then you offer the vehicle a better driving stance for how it performs on the road. This look creates a more aggressive aesthetic that visually speaks to an ability to handle corners consistently well. Porsche has used this design element for nearly a generation to include handling and take advantage of this specific benefit. You must keep the wheel within the body for this to work. Pushing the tire outside of the frame can create an additional set of problems to consider.
3. High-quality spacers use billet aluminum to create advantages.
When you choose to use wheel spacers with your package, then you should work with the highest quality of materials possible to ensure your vehicle performs as it should. That means you should look for products manufactured from billet aluminum. This material is just as strong (if not stronger) than the wheels to which they are attaching. They will also have studs to make the process easier to install. Although this alters the difficulty in your slow-speed turning, it is an option to consider if your wheel bolt patterns require a change for some reason.
4. It is an option that allows you to ensure your wheels will fit the vehicle.
The most common reason why wheel spacers are used in the first place is to ensure that a specific set of wheels for a vehicle will fit properly. You need this option if the wheels have the incorrect offset for your package. Just as there is the damage potential with them in place, an incorrect offset can interfere with your bodywork or suspension components to create driving issues. Installing wheel spacers that place the tires further away from the bodywork can resolve that issue, assuming that you don’t create an interference issue with the lip of your fender as a result.
5. You have multiple choices available with today’s wheel spacer designs.
If you need to add a significant amount of clearance for your package, then the bolt-on type of wheel spacers is your best choice. They will connect to your existing hub, and then you can bolt the wheel to the product.
The washer type of wheel spacer is extremely affordable since it doesn’t require any additional mounting hardware to offer you these advantages. If you only need a few extra millimeters of clearance, then it only takes a few minutes to install this option since it sits between the hub and the wheel.
6. It can allow you to install a bigger brake kit on your vehicle.
If you decide that a larger brake kit is necessary for your vehicle, then the wheel spacers can give you enough interior room to potentially make that happen. Most of the larger kits require rims that are 17 inches or larger, which means fitting can be tricky using the standard setup. This advantage may not apply in every situation or for every vehicle, but it may be something worth considering in specific situations.
7. You can find generic and hub-centric spacers available in the market.
If you want to test out the idea of using wheel spacers with your vehicle first, then a generic product that works with the different bolt patterns that are available with your wheels is a good step to consider. You can get to know how the vehicle will handle and if you like it. If you want to proceed from that step, then you can install hub-centric spacers that are specific to your make and model. Then torque them properly, check them during your regular maintenance, and you can usually avoid the most pertinent disadvantages which are usually discussed with this equipment.
List of the Cons of Wheel Spacers
1. The design can sometimes lead to heavier steering.
Depending on the size of the wheel spacers that you use for your package, the steering can sometimes feel heavier while driving compared to when they are not equipped. You are creating a wider track for your vehicle to follow when using this option, which means more effort becomes necessary to navigate curves and turns. That means there is more skill required in the driver’s seat to stay on the proper track.
This disadvantage is often dependent on the actual width of the wheel spacer used on the vehicle. If you install a half-inch product, the effect will not be as robust as it would be with a 2-inch spacer on there.
2. There is the possibility of additional wear and tear on your vehicle.
Wheel spacers can sometimes cause an accelerated pattern of wear on the hub components of your vehicle and its suspension. Because you are creating a wider track than what the frame was initially designed to support, you can place stressors that go beyond the tested tolerances that are recommended by the manufacturer. The extra width is particularly problematic for the axles, hubs, and wheel bearings, all of which can be at a higher risk of failing prematurely compared to setups where the spacers are not necessary.
3. You must install wheel spacers for all four tires.
If you were to install wheel spacers at the back of your vehicle while excluding the front, then you would only receive the advantage of more grip in the rear. That means your car would want to understeer as you approached a corner, with the front trending towards the outside, which could adversely affect the overall balance of the vehicle. Having them in the front would create a similar result, causing the back to get loose and potentially fishtail as you attempt to accelerate through coming out of the turn.
4. It is possible to push the width of your wheel outside of your frame.
If your wheel spacers have too much width, then there is the potential of placing the edge of your tire outside of the frame of your vehicle. This issue may not be problematic for some packages, but it will extend the overall dimensions of the vehicle and impact your driving style. You will need to be conscious about narrow lanes while driving, rubbing concerns with the fender, and added stress placed on your critical key points to ensure that the vehicle continues to function as you expect.
5. More components on a vehicle mean more opportunities for failure.
When you add wheel spacers to your vehicle, then you are creating an additional risk of a failure occurring while you drive. Even if all of your intentions are reasonable when choosing this option, there is no way to get around this disadvantage. Make sure that you take the time to correctly tighten and torque all of the bolts and nuts on your spacer to reduce the risks of an incident occurring, and then review at 50 to 100 miles to ensure no unexpected loosening occurred.
Proper seating is an ongoing issue that you must check with wheel spacers as well. Toyota recommends that anyone using them on their vehicles perform a torque check every 25,000 miles after the initial installation, torque, and re-torque. Loose spacers create an incredible amount of sheer on your wheel studs.
6. Some options can reduce the number of threads for your lug nuts.
When you decide to use a washer-type wheel spacer to increase your clearance, then you are pushing the wheel out further than normal. That means your lug nuts will have fewer threads available for latching and securing the wheel to your vehicle. Every millimeter of thickness you add with a washer is that much length you can’t use on the outside of the rim. Fewer threads will always increase the risk of having your lug nuts become loose.
As a general rule, if you run spacers that are thicker than 5 millimeters, then you will want to use longer bolts for your wheels.
7. Cheaper wheel spacers are typically made from cast aluminum and can cause a safety issue.
The reason why you need to invest in the billet aluminum spacers and their strength is because cast aluminum is less structurally consistent. When manufacturers take the metal through the casting process, the crystalline structure becomes less uniform, which means there isn’t as much power in the support that it can provide. This challenge makes it difficult to manufacture items with precision. When you compare two cast products, it is not unusual to see differences in thickness. Some can even be out-of-round, which would create another set of problems to correct with your vehicle.
Some people have reported that the cast aluminum spacers fit somewhat loosely around the hub, and the lug nuts can contact the edge of the spacer material first rather than fitting completely through the hole in the spacer. This issue can lead to an incomplete tightening of the lug nut. During driving, the lug nut may loosen and eventually come off, resulting in losing your lug nuts while driving and becoming a safety issue.
8. It could cause your wheel mounting holes to go out-of-round.
If you try to use cheaper wheel spacers to get a quick boost in performance, then you must check on the manufacturing quality of the product before completing the work. Even if your product is only a little out-of-round, this defect could cause the entire spacer to move up and down slightly during use. This continued motion will eventually make all of the wheel mounting holes become out-of-round as well. That results in more sheer stress being placed on your factory wheel studs.
9. The firms that service your tires and rims might not guarantee their services.
When working with a company like Discount Tires to have new products installed, you may find that the business may not install any tires or wheels if your vehicle has spacers installed in it already. If you come in to purchase these items and insist that they be placed on your vehicle that day, then the staff may either refuse to serve you, or they will remove your spacers and place them in the back of your vehicle. This issue has to do with the liability of their work since the torque on the wheel spacer could be unintentionally adjusted during the work. Their policy includes not rotating wheels or spacers that are in place, whether they are hub-centric or not.
10. Using wheel spacers can hide other issues with the vehicle.
Wheel spacers are often used to correct an offset that occurs in the vehicle. If this process is done intentionally, then it can make the vehicle a lot easier to drive. When you use this option full time with your vehicle, it can also mask some of the alignment issues that may be developing, especially if you are working with an older vehicle. If you have a significant amount of offset that you are continuing to fix, then it might be a better option to have an alignment done of the vehicle instead.
11. There is a risk that the spacers could crack.
Although the risk of this disadvantage is minimal, there are rare situations where you might have one of the wheel spacers crack while driving the vehicle. The most common reason for this issue to occur is an installation error or incorrect bolts being used, but since it is an add-on part, there is not always control over the quality that you can use. A vast majority of drivers will never encounter this issue.
12. You could encounter issues with vibrations.
When you use generic wheel spacers for your vehicle, then the change could result in additional vibration while driving. Some vehicles can experience this issue to such an extreme that it feels like you’re driving with cables or chains on your tires. Hub-centric spacers can help you to avoid this issue somewhat, but it may still be present with some models. Make sure to use the ring and lip to catch your wheel hub to reduce this disadvantage as much as possible.
A Final Thought on the Pros and Cons of Wheel Spacers
Adding wheel spacers to a vehicle has been a subject that creates passionate debates both for and against for about as long as anyone can remember. There will always be some people who say that running a spacer is a terrible idea, and it should never be done under any circumstances. Then there are the owners who run them on everything, including track cars, without experiencing any of the potential disadvantages that are listed above.
As long as you maintain a modicum of common sense and don’t use spacers are that exceptionally thick, then you shouldn’t encounter any issues.
The pros and cons of wheel spacers are ultimately about your vision, skill, and handling capabilities. Although there are potential dangers to consider with this option, most of the problems occur when inexperienced owners attempt to adjust their package in ways that go beyond what the specs can support. If you take a cautious approach, use common sense with your spacing, and stay within your maximum tolerance levels, then you will experience superior handling and improved traction with this minor modification.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.