Beadlock Wheels: What Are They?

These special wheels help keep aired-down tires in place in serious off-road situations.

A beadlock wheel in the back of a 2021 Ford Bronco 4600 race vehicleFord


If you're in the market for a new off-road-oriented truck or SUV, you may have come across mentions of beadlock wheels. Here's what you need to know about these off-road-oriented wheels.

Beadlock Wheels Make Airing Down Tires Less Risky

When driving off-road, it's a common practice to air down, which means to let air out of the vehicle's tires. Over technical terrain, airing down creates a larger contact patch, significantly improving traction and letting your rig climb over even more challenging terrain. The more you air down, the bigger the contact patch and the plusher the ride. This is why Ford equipped its Bronco 4600 race vehicle with beadlocks.

Conventional tires operate with a bead on the inside of the wheel rim. The bead is a reinforced ring of rubber that presses against the inner edge of the rim and forms a seal, allowing you to fill the tire with air. Air pressure inside the tire keeps that bead tight against the wheel. When airing down eliminates too much pressure, the tire can slip off the rim — a problem that's difficult to rectify on the trail.

Beadlock wheels include a separate outer ring that physically locks the tire bead to the wheel. With beadlock wheels, the bead of the tire sits on the outside of the rim, up against the face, and the beadlock ring, attached with a series of bolts, clamps down over the tire bead, sandwiching it in place.

While they're a great solution to a particular problem, there are drawbacks to beadlock wheels. They are heavy, cost more, require maintenance, and above all, most 4x4 owners simply don't need them.

Beadlock Wheels Aren't Meant for On-Pavement Use

Most aftermarket companies that sell beadlock wheels will note that they are designed for off-road use only. Before installing beadlock wheels for use on public roads, check with your local authorities.

If they're legal where you drive, it's important to exercise caution when on paved roads. Using these wheels increases the risk of sudden tire deflation, especially during hard cornering.

Beadlock-Capable and Beadlock-Style Wheels Differ Considerably

No original equipment manufacturer offers its 4x4s with genuine beadlock wheels from the factory. Instead, models such as the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 come with "beadlock capable" wheels with a removable ring that looks like a beadlock but doesn't physically hold the tire bead onto the rim.

The tire is installed normally, with its bead inside the rim. Many automakers sell the beadlock rings through accessories catalogs, as with Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, and Jeep. Move over to the aftermarket, and beadlock wheels are available for a wide variety of vehicles, even the Tesla Model Y.

Beadlock-style wheels are one-piece designs with no removable ring but rather a design stamped into the wheel itself that looks like a beadlock. These wheels function like regular alloys, offering no added functionality, only aesthetics.

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Chris O'Neill
I am an auto-industry veteran and a current MBA candidate at the University of Utah. After moving to Utah in October 2015 and being fascinated by the unique car culture of the region, I started an Instagram project highlighting the rare and distinctive vehicles I see in the Mountain West region. I enjoy sharing with others my unique perspective and passion for all things automotive. In my free time, when I’m not thinking and writing about cars, I enjoy photography, toying with my 2011 Volkswagen GTI and 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser, and exploring Utah with my girlfriend and two dogs.