Wheel spacers and wheel adapters can be a taboo topic. In essence, they seem almost too good to be true, right? They can make wheels fit that you may have lost hope for, and they can increase performance or improve clearance. Regardless of the benefits, there are many people who will try to steer you away from them, and this makes them something of a forbidden fruit. So, what gives? What are these products? Why would you want to use them? And, above all, who provides a safe aftermarket solution to do it?
What’s the Difference?
Spacers and adapters are similar, but there are still some major differences in their characteristics. Wheel spacers serve a very basic function. They are designed to put space between the wheel and the mounting pad. Often wheel spacers come in a variety of sizes and, depending on the size, they may bolt onto the hub of the car and provide studs to mount the wheel too.
Ryan Osborne, Product Manager with the TrailFX family of brands, elaborates: “Wheel spacers will be specific to a wheel bolt pattern. Though some spacers may be interchangeable with multiple bolt parts, typically these spacers are less than 3/8” in thickness and there are not any studs that securely mount to the mounting hub or wheel. FX Wheels will be 1-1/4”, 1-1/4”, 1-3/4” or 2” thick and include wheel studs, open end lug nuts and thread locker to securely mount.”
Side-by-side, a thick wheel spacer that bolts to the hub and a wheel adapter will look extremely similar. The main difference is the fact that the bolt pattern meant for mounting the wheel is in a different pattern than the hub. This effectively adapts the vehicle to fit a wheel with a different bolt pattern. Because of this, wheel adapters will always be on the thicker side and will always need to be bolted to the hub. This also means that even with the thinnest adapter size, the wheels will sit out further than they would on a vehicle in stock form and this may need to be accounted for.
Osborne helps put things into perspective. “Wheel adapters, in general, do exactly what the name says: adapt from one bolt pattern to a different pattern. One of the more popular is for Jeep applications. Since Jeep has made production run changes and updates throughout the years from 5×5.5 – 5×4.5 – 5×5.0, some consumers want to upgrade/update their vehicle with the later model wheels, or need a way to adapt from their current pattern for something more fitting. Without wheel adapters, more extensive work—as well costly—would be needed. This is a far less expensive offering. Wheel adapters from FX Wheels will be 1-1/4” or 1-1/2” thick and will include wheel studs, open end lug nuts and thread locker to securely mount,” he adds.
When to Run Wheel Spacers
To help further explain the roles of wheel spacers and adapters, we turned to the leading and largest wholesale distributor of automotive aftermarket parts and equipment—Keystone Automotive. “There are different sizes out there,” says Dan Guyer, Category Manager of the Wheel and Tire Category at Keystone. “There are the bolt-on ones and there are the small ones that just give you a smidgen of clearance. I actually have those under my own car because I have disc brakes, and the way the wheels are I have a quarter inch spacer,” he explains.
Small spacers are great solutions to clearance issues. As we mentioned earlier though, there are wider offerings that physically bolt onto the wheel hub. These types of spacers will come in thicknesses typically starting around an inch and a quarter, moving up from there. “Typically the reason for using a bolt-on spacer is when someone says ‘Hey, I really like the stock wheels or I can’t afford new wheels and they just won’t work with bigger tires,’” says Guyer.
Another reason many will opt to run a wheel spacer is to accommodate for the fact that a wheel and tire package may not sit in a position that they would like it to. Of course, to bring the wheel and tire to the edge of the fender or a little past can really define the appearance of a vehicle, but investing in a new package can be quite costly. So, to save a few hundred dollars, many choose to use spacers.
“Wheel spacers from FX Wheels are suitable for Truck, Jeep & SUV applications, for the consumer who wants to keep their OE wheels after installing a suspension lift, leveling kits or changing to a non-factory spec tire to help with clearance within the fender well,” adds Osborne. “The factory specs for the wheels typically offer a positive offset. Once a lift is installed, the vehicle will need clearance from an even or negative offset wheel for the control arms, ball joints, frame, etc. while adding taller and/or wider tires.”
When to Run Wheel Adapters
The time to use wheel adapters is a lot more straightforward. Wheels and tires are not cheap, unless you hit a swap meet, the classifieds, or your buddy offers to give you a set of take offs for nothing. Well, when you come across good deals, the bolt pattern may not match your vehicle and this will steer many away. Those who are savvy with aftermarket offerings however, can go ahead and pick up the cheaper wheels and then use wheel adapters to fit them to their vehicle.
Osborne agrees, explaining that, “In addition to swapping out factory take offs, sometimes you find a deal on set of wheels you can’t pass up, even if they are not specifically for your vehicle. That is where a set of adapters or spacers can come in handy.”
A Common Concern
It’s impossible to approach this topic without discussing why it tends to be a bone of contention among enthusiasts. There are a lot of people in the automotive community that will tell you to stay away from wheel spacers and wheel adapters, backing it up with examples of ‘cheap product behaving like cheap product’ or examples of user failure.
“I think they get an undeserved bad reputation,” says Guyer. “I look at it like this: it is a solution that works. I’ve seen very few product failures. And most of the time I have seen failures, it’s because someone was being He-Man and put an air-gun on it that’s putting down 200 ft-lbs and the stud broke. Is that really the fault of the product?” asks Guyer.
“Any time a change is made there is room for error,” adds Osborne. “You have to be sure you are following the directions. An example of this is simply using the proper torque specs and tools. And re-inspect every so often to ensure that everything is working properly.”
FX Wheels: Quality & Style
FX Wheels knows that a simple product doesn’t equate to cheap materials. Money talks, and a no-name internet brand is a good way to put yourself at risk. But a name like FX Wheels is reliable and guarantees a sturdy, custom look. Made of high-grade aluminum and manufactured with pressed in grade 10.9 wheel studs, lug nuts and thread lockers, FX wheel spacers and wheel adapters are durable and long-lasting. They also come with a corrosion-resistant anodized finish that reduces the chance of them locking to your hubs.
When it comes to spacers and adapters, like anything else, you will get a lot of input that challenges the idea of using them safely. “Honestly, I think the biggest thing is to pay attention to the directions,” adds Guyer. “If you read the directions, I don’t think you’ll ever have a problem with them.”
With the use of a quality product and proper installation, it’s fair to say that you can run wheel spacers or wheel adapters of any dimension safely.