What Are Wheel Spacers?Last Updated August 8, 2023 | C.J. Tragakis
Wheel spacers are aftermarket parts with one purpose: moving your wheels farther away from the vehicle's body. They're a common and inexpensive upgrade with a lot to offer both street-focused cars and off-roaders.
What Do Wheel Spacers Do?
Wheel spacers install onto your wheel assembly. This increases the space between the wheel hub assembly and the wheel itself, which sets the wheel farther outward. It's important to note that spacers don't move the hub assembly, they only move the wheel. The result is a more significant gap between the wheel and the wheel well.
The benefits of adding wheel spacers make them a popular choice for those in both street-focused and off-road scenes. Wheel spacers are only found as an aftermarket part and don't come pre-attached to any vehicles.
Wheel spacers can run from just 5mm (0.20 inches) on the small end to 45mm (1.75 inches) or larger. The larger sizes are more common for off-road vehicles.
Pros and Cons of Wheel Spacers
Though they mostly provide benefits, there are a few things to consider before you pop a set of wheel spacers on.
What Are The Benefits of Wheel Spacers?
One of the main wheel spacer benefits for performance-oriented drivers is improved handling. By widening the distance between the left and right wheels, the car is more planted. This improves overall handling, grip, and cornering.
Allows for Wider/Larger Wheels or Tires (without Rubbing)
For road-focused cars, wheel spacers let owners put wider tires on for better traction and handling. Off-roaders often choose larger tires that are taller than the factory ones. Without spacers, larger tires could rub against the wheel wells or fender flares.
Adding larger wheels is another reason to get spacers. Drivers often choose to put larger rear wheels on, which is why some wheel spacer sets have a larger pair for the rear or come as a pair for the rear only.
Allows for Larger Brake Calipers
Performance brakes are often wider than the stock set. A wheel spacer makes room for a larger brake caliper that wouldn't fit in the factory wheel space.
Gives Vehicle a Unique Stance/Look
Whether you're a fan or not, it can't be denied that wheel spacers change the style of a vehicle. Mild spacers can bring your wheels flush with the factory fender flares, which many find attractive. More aggressive spacers will push the wheels out past the fender flares, creating a look that will really stand out from stock vehicles.
A good set of wheel spacers can cost around $125. Considering the large impact on performance and style, this is good bang for the buck. There aren't many aftermarket mods that make this much difference per dollar.
Simple to Install
Wheel spacers are very easy to install. The difficulty is about the same as putting a new wheel on. You can do it in your own garage or driveway with basic tools. Each wheel can be knocked out in about 15 minutes, making this a simple project for any day of the week.
What Are the Cons of Wheel Spacers?
Increased Steering Effort
The improved handling wheel spacers grant has a downside: increased steering effort. With the wheels farther apart, it takes more steering wheel input to get the tires to turn. This is due to the increased tire scrub radius, or angle of the steering axis with the tires. You'll notice the effects more at low speeds. However, with modern power steering, this downside is easy to overlook.
Decreased Ride Quality
The engineers who designed your car did a great job optimizing it from the factory. But installing spacers throws things a bit out of balance. Having the wheels farther out from their suspension components means worse ride quality. The larger the spacers you get, the worse the impact on comfort will be.
More Wear on Suspension Components
Since the wheels are farther away from the vehicle, more strain is put on the suspension. With a wider geometry, components like your wheel bearings will wear out more quickly.
Wheel Spacers vs Wheel Adapters
Wheel spacers and wheel adapters sound similar and are related in many ways. Wheel spacers are used to move a wheel outwards. This is done for performance and style reasons. Wheel adapters also serve as spacers due to the nature of their design. However, they add another benefit by changing the lug nut pattern of a wheel. This allows a vehicle's owner to get new wheels of their choice.
For example, someone with four-lug wheels might use a five-lug wheel adapter. Or they could change their five-bolt pattern from a 5 x 4.5 to a 5 x 5. This would allow them to install aftermarket wheels that otherwise wouldn't fit.
Though each offers a different benefit, wheel spacers and wheel adapters are sometimes combined into one product. For a similar price to regular wheel spacers, you can get a wheel spacer adapter kit. This will space your wheels and let you change the bolt pattern in one fell swoop.
Do Wheel Spacers Add or Subtract Offset?
Wheel spacers subtract offset since they increase the distance from the center of the wheel to the wheel hub. The more you lower the positive offset, the farther out your wheel will be towards the fender. If you increase offset too much, your wheels mihght interfere with your suspension components.
Related: Learn more about wheel offset and backspacing here.
Are Wheel Spacers Safe?
If properly installed, high-quality wheel spacers are very safe. However, having wheels that aren't covered by the fenders or wheel wells may be illegal in your locality. Vehicle codes are designed to prevent the likelihood of rocks and debris striking other drivers or pedestrians. Check your local laws to see what the regulations say.
As mentioned above, wheel spacers can also wear out suspension parts more quickly. This can be detrimental in the long term, but it isn't inherently unsafe.
Sometimes, wheel spacers can cause your tires to rub on the edges. This depends on the shape of your wheel wells. If you're having this issue, don't ignore it!
Source: Wheel Spacers Purpose (and Pros and Cons), Oards