Wheel spacers have become among the most common modifications for many car enthusiasts. For what they add in aesthetics, wheel spacers aren't all that difficult to procure and install. They work with anything from pickup trucks like the Mitsubishi Strada to sporty sedans like the Honda Civic Type R.
That said, some people still turn their noses away at this piece of kit, citing safety issues and other concerns. So, what is the truth about wheel spacers, and could this accessory be for you?
How do wheel spacers work?
A wheel spacer is a part that bolts between the wheel and the stock mounting hub, spacing it away for a visible difference. Many wheel spacers feature all-aluminum constructions, and some are made of aluminum alloy material.
People use wheel spacers on their vehicles to add track width, help clear the brakes, or help combat tire rubbing. Spacers can generally be distinguished by their design. Common types include bolt-on and slip-on spacers.
Hub-centric bolt-on spacers attach tightly against the hubs as the wheels bolt to the spacers. These typically use your wheel's stock studs, and you may need a model-specific product to install these properly. Lug-centric bolt-on spacers bolt directly to the wheel's studs, putting all torque directly to the studs instead of the hub. This method can be unsafe as you'd be essentially putting the vehicle's weight onto the lug nuts, something it's not designed to withstand.
Meanwhile, slip-on wheel spacers present a more straightforward method. Hub-centric slip-on spacers slide over your existing lug nuts, while their grooves attach to the hub. The grooves transfer torque to the hub, effectively alleviating stress from the studs. Lug-centric slip-ons attach directly to the vehicle's lug nuts and put all the weight into them. Like lug-centric bolt-ons, this method can be unsafe and cause trouble for you in the long run.
A similar accessory called the wheel adapter can add width to a vehicle while adapting one wheel bolt pattern to another. Wheel spacers can't change a bolt pattern, so if this is your objective, you're going to need a wheel adapter instead.
In any case, you need to exercise caution in installing either of these accessories, as many of the safety issues arise from incorrect or improper installation.
Should I install wheel spacers on my car?
As with any car modification, wheel spacers on your vehicle are a personal choice. You'll have to consider several pros and cons to determine if this accessory is right for you and your vehicle.
Like we mentioned, wheel spacers add width to a car. Added width can increase stability, making your vehicle more capable of cornering in some cases. It also allows you to fit a larger brake package than what is otherwise possible. That's due to the spacers pushing the wheel out further from the wheel arches allowing more brake clearance from the spokes of the wheel. In addition, the extra width can help alleviate tire rubbing issues so you can have more steering throw while preventing tire and body damage.
So, what are the disadvantages of wheel spacers? It starts with engineering. In all likelihood, your vehicle wasn't designed to support the wider tracks that wheel spacers provide. It can result in more wear and tear than you would probably like, but that's a trade-off you have to be willing to make if you want wheel spacers.
More than that, adding wheel spacers can result in heavier steering. How much heavier largely depends on the type of spacer, as a half-inch set wouldn't be as noticeable as two-inch spacers would be.
Also, there could be some issues with installing wheel spacers. You're adding more components to an already complicated piece of machinery, meaning there would logically be more points of failure. If you don't know what you're doing, it could turn nasty quickly. One example is your vehicle using a certain length of wheel studs. If you install a slip-on spacer that's not up to spec, it may not give enough length to provide enough contact points with the stud and the bolt for safe wheel installation.
For best results, enlist a professional to do the job for you. Don't forget about maintenance, either, as cars with wheel spacers may require added attention. For example, Toyota recommends a torque check every 25,000 miles (around 40,000 kilometers) for vehicles with wheel spacers. As long as you do it with careful thought and for the right reasons, wheel spacers can make sense as an aesthetic and performance modification.