Wheel spacers are commonly used on many types of vehicles for various purposes. They’re inexpensive upgrades that install directly on your wheel assembly.
You might hear the term “wheel adapter” used interchangeably with “wheel spacer,” but they aren’t the same thing. As opposed to wheel spacers, wheel adapters take one wheel bolt pattern and adapt it to another.
What Are Wheel Spacers?
Wheel spacers are designed to increase the space between your wheels and their original mounting surface (the wheel well). They’re after-market parts ranging from 5 mm to 45 mm in thickness. When installed correctly, wheel spacers can benefit off-road and street cars.
There are different types of spacers, but both can be mounted in two general ways:
- Attached to the wheel hub and studs before the wheel
- Bolted to the wheel studs and hub like a miniature wheel
Most wheel spacers are made of cast or machined metal and are generally considered safe to use. However, they must be high-quality and provide an exact fit.
Wheel Spacers: What You Need to Know
Along with their safety, one of the things many people wonder about wheel spacers is whether they’re legal.
The legality of wheel spacers varies by country and specific requirements imposed by different municipalities. For example, in the United States, there are no federal laws governing their use, and the Department of Transportation doesn’t currently regulate them.
With that being said, some state and local laws may prohibit wheel spacers. In Australia, they’re illegal unless fitted by the original manufacturer. When properly fitted, they’re entirely legal in the U.K.
Not all automotive enthusiasts agree that wheel spacers are a good idea, regardless of whether a manufacturer installs them or not. As such, it’s wise to consider their benefits and drawbacks.
The Benefits of Wheel Spacers
There are many benefits to using wheel spacers. For instance:
- They allow for larger tires or wheels
- They allow for a larger brake kit
- They offer improved handling
- They’re inexpensive
- They’re generally easy to install
- They can lend a vehicle a unique appearance
Additionally, wheel spacers can add track width, help clear brakes, and alleviate tire rubbing on the vehicle they’re installed on.
The Drawbacks of Wheel Spacers
There are three main drawbacks most often cited in regard to using wheel spacers:
- They result in increased effort when steering
- They can decrease the quality of the ride
- They can cause faster suspension wear
Furthermore, all four wheels must have the spacers installed, and it’s possible to push them outside the vehicle’s frame.
Finally, some wheel spacers reduce the number of lug nut threads, diminishing their ability to latch on and secure the wheel to the vehicle. However, a simple fix is to use longer bolts if the spacers you’re working with are thicker than 5 mm.
Are Wheel Spacers Safe?
Most people agree that wheel spacers are safe when properly fitted and installed. While they present a few drawbacks, they also offer certain advantages for road-focused and all-terrain vehicles.
If you’re considering getting wheel spencers, make sure they’re high-quality, have them installed by a professional, and check the lug nuts and bolts regularly.