What Are Wheel Spacers?

These inexpensive accessories can do a lot for your ride, both good and bad.

Hub/wheel spacers on a wooden table with black backgroundShutterstock

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You may have seen a truck or Jeep on the road with its wheels sticking out from its body and thought: What the heck is going on here? Someone has installed wheel spacers on the vehicle. While these aftermarket goodies are inexpensive, easy to install, and can make your ride look and perform better, they are not without their drawbacks.

What Is a Wheel Spacer?

A wheel spacer is an aluminum disc that fits over a car's wheel hubs. This pushes the wheel outward from the body of the vehicle. Wheel spacers can range from an eighth of an inch thick all the way up to 2 inches or more.

You can buy wheel spacers with the same bolt pattern as your vehicle or you can get a spacer that works as an adaptor. In this way, not only can you push your wheels outward, you can also fit a wheel with a different bolt pattern than it had originally.

When You Should Use a Wheel Spacer

Most people add spacers to accommodate larger tires. Without them, a larger tire than was originally installed will often rub against fenders, usually while the vehicle is turning, or on the suspension components. Pushing the tires outward helps mitigate this rubbing.

Others might add spacers to fit a larger brake package. Pushing the wheels outward also increases track width for a more stable ride. Some drivers will add spacers purely for aesthetics, filling out the wheel wells a bit with some good-looking wheels and rubber.

However, spacers can put a strain on your car's components. Keep an eye on your bearings, axles, ball joints, tie-rod ends, and the original wheel studs. The added width can also make your car harder to steer at lower speeds, as spacers can modify the geometry between the steering axis and the tire's center line.

How to Install Wheel Spacers

Installing spacers is generally as easy as changing a tire. Thinner spacers are just a flat disc, and the stock wheel studs are used to attach the wheel. Thicker wheel spacers have studs on the spacer itself that the wheel bolts onto.

If you are installing thicker spacers, be sure the stock studs do not extend past the spacer. You might have to trim them. You should also use threadlockers on the stock studs, and it's a good idea to mark the lug nuts and spacer with a paint pen once they are torqued. If you check the spacer and see that the two lines no longer line up, you'll know that lug nut is loose.

Spacers are safe to use as long as they are installed correctly. You should never stack spacers, nor should you use an impact wrench on spacer lug nuts. You do need to use a torque wrench set to the manufacturer's spec. Follow these tips and you'll find that wheel spacers can be an economical way to improve your ride and make it look better, too.

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Emme Hall
Emme Hall loves small convertibles and gets out to the canyons in her 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata whenever she can. You can also find her in the dirt in her lifted (yes, that's right) 2001 Mazda Miata, or racing air-cooled Volkswagens in races like the Baja 1000. She's taken first place twice in the Rebelle Rally — once driving a Jeep Wrangler and then a Rolls-Royce Cullinan the second time. She was also the first driver to take an electric vehicle to the Rebelle Rally when campaigning the Rivian R1T to a top-five finish