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Can using wheel spacers affect your off-roading experience? Does the use of spacers offer any positive or negative consequences? Wheel spacers are circular metal disks that serve the purpose of placing your wheels farther away from the frame of the vehicle. They are a common aftermarket part and remain rather inexpensive compared to other modifications.
So should wheel spacers be used while off-road? The consensus seems to be that wheel spacers can be, and are actually meant to be used off-road. However they can lower the lifespan of your different components of your vehicle. They add risk, but there can be a big payoff of better off-road capabilities to your vehicle. In the end though, while more expensive, getting wheels with a better off-set are going to be a better option.
What are wheel spacers?
Wheel spacers are installed between the wheel assembly and the actual wheel. They do not change the position of the assembly but create a larger gap between the wheel well and the wheel itself. Wheel spacers are not to be confused with a wheel adapter.
It does all the same things a spacer does, but it changes the bolt pattern so you can install wheels that would not fit your factory bolt pattern,
Some of the benefits to having wheel spacers are improved handling, a wider stance, room for larger-sized tires and wheels, and allow for larger brake calipers. The downsides include extra wear and tear on your suspension, increased difficulty steering, and a decreased ride quality.
However, do they help or hurt your vehicle on steep once you step off the safety of the pavement? There is a lot of split opinions on the subject. Some enthusiasts claim they should never be taken off-road. Others claim to have used them for years without an issue.
Common upsides of wheel spacers off-road
The most obvious reason people choose to use wheel spacers is that they give you better clearances on hard-to-traverse terrain. With the ability to add bigger tires to your wheels, you can achieve a smoother ride as obstacles become smaller.
This also provides a greater clearance under the axle which will keep you from scraping the dirt. With spacers, you have better control of where you want to place your tires under your fender allowing you to be better prepared for the trail.
Downsides of wheel spacers when not on the road
Wheel spacers do add excess wear to your suspension. This could shorten the lifespan of your bearings and bushings. A majority of the concerns around the use of spacers are issues focused on safety. Altering the position of your tires will change the center of gravity on your vehicle.
This could be dangerous if you tend to drive aggressively. The added weight from the upgraded tires will add extra stress on your wheel studs and could result in them snapping while you are on a drive. Both of these factors could lead to an accident or injury.
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How much should you spend on wheel spacers?
Wheel spacers can be bought for crazy cheap, however by no means should those be purchased for your vehicle. Especially if you plan on taking them off-road.
Many wheel spacers will replace the studs on your truck with new ones, and this is the weak point of the vehicle. All of the weight is placed on those cheap wheel studs, and can result in them sheering off, leaving you without a wheel.
You should instead plan on spending $200 or so on a good set of wheel spacers if this is the direction you are going to go.
This is something you should always do right, and not go the budget route with, as it can be dangerous to do it wrong.
Alternatives to wheel spacers
Alright, so you have decided that wheel spacers just aren’t worth the risk for you. So what do you do instead? You get better wheels. By better wheels, I mean wheels with a negative offset.
Essentially, this means that the inside of the wheel is pushed further towards the vehicle, and this pushes the tires farther out from the vehicle. This essentially does the same thing as the wheel spacers, just in a way that doesn’t damage your vehicle, and is more reliable long term.
Of course this also means you are spending $1000 or more, however it is the better way of doing it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you use Loctite on wheel spacers?
It is not recommended to use Loctite on your wheel spacers. As long as you have done everything correctly, and tightened them down to spec, you should have no problem with them backing off.
Can wheel spacers cause shaking?
If installed incorrectly, wheel spacers may cause crunching, or shaking in the vehicle. This generally means they are loose, and should be tightened down to specifications from the manufacturer of your wheel spacer.
It is recommended not to use wheel spacers without taking the necessary safety precaution to avoid injury and damage to your vehicle. Spacers do offer a handful of benefits for off-road activities, but it is up to you to decide if it is worth the risk.
They have many negative drawbacks that are costly such as higher maintenance costs and replacement parts. The larger surface area of added tires will also result in more power needed to move which will cause your fuel consumption to go up.