Many off-roading enthusiasts enjoy hitting the trails, driving on rough tracks, or cruising for miles over desert trails. But if you are a newbie, you might be anxious about going off-roading with spacers and messing up your vehicle. Should this be a concern?
You can go off-roading with spacers with no trouble if all you need is more clearance to fit larger tires. Still, they are not suitable for hardcore rock crawling. They might also reduce your wheel bearings’ lifespan, plus too much lifting is detrimental to your vehicle’s safety and performance.
Many people in the off-road community oppose wheel spacers for off-road purposes, while others insist that they pose no harm. In this article, we explore why you might want to use spacers and whether this is safe. Stick around to learn more on this and how to use spacers safely when you go off-roading.
Why Use Spacers Off-Road?
The major reason most people run spacers off-road is for help with clearance issues, the goal being improved off-road performance.
When the wheel offset is not as ideal as you might want – due to too narrow axles or not enough wheel offset – you may want to use stock (high offset) wheels on wide tires. But to avoid the wider-than-stock tires grating against your suspension components, you need to invest in new wheels with less backspacing (placing the tire a little further from the hub) or buy a wheel spacer.
Wheel spacers can place your tires and wheels where you want them under your fender.
They help keep the tire well at the edge of the wheel, thus preventing gunk from being flung to the side of your Jeep.
Wider tires not only offer you more under the axle clearance, but they also make obstacles much smaller. With the larger tire diameter, you might not even feel the bumps. On the flip side, your acceleration decreases, and you’ll need to use more fuel to maintain your usual pace.
Some people also use spacers for other reasons, including:
- To run specific rims and tire combinations.
- To aid the wheels in clearing suspension or protruding hubs.
- Aesthetic purposes as they help improve the looks of your off-road vehicle.
Is It Safe to Go Off-Roading With Spacers?
Many drivers consider fixing spacers when putting a small lift on their off-road vehicles but worry it could lead to excessive wear on their bearings and bushings. So, are spacers dangerous to use? The simple answer is no.
Some off-roaders maintain that spacers are unsuitable for off-roading since:
- Big tires are heavy; hence they require more power to get rolling.
- The resultant stress would cause your wheel studs to snap off on the trail.
- Larger tires alter your center of gravity and could pose a danger depending on the way you drive.
However, spacers that you merely place in-between the axle and rim, relying on the latter to hold them in place, are typically the unsafe ones to use. Besides, some spacers perform better than others and last longer too.
It’s also important to note that your spacers might not pass safety in some locations, while some tire shops often refuse to handle them all together. Spacers are also illegal in some states, so you might need to buy new wheels.
How to Keep Safe When Off-Roading With Spacers
If installed properly, high-quality spacers won’t exert more force on your suspension than wheels with similar backspacing – thus, you won’t have any problems. Besides, adding heavier or wider tires is what puts more strain on front suspension components. And spacers are typically used to facilitate this.
Again, spacers are safe for off-roading as long as you use hub-centric ones as they allow balanced-wheel rotation. Wheel spacers (or adaptors, as some prefer to call them) become a fundamental part of the axle since they are screwed on. All you need to do is follow these basic guidelines:
- Install the spacers properly
- Use Loctite on the spacer nuts
- Use quality billet aluminum wheel spacers
- Check on the torque when you rotate the tires
- Check the lugs before every trip and ensure that all nuts are tight
- For additional clearance, opt for bolt-on wheel spacers rather than washer-type spacers
Nonetheless, there’s indeed some degree of additional strain on the hub, and spacers – like any other vehicle part – could fail.
While you need to check the torque on your wheel spacers with every oil change tire rotation, this cost far outweighs the high cost of replacing damaged rims. This is especially so if you run rocky trails. Moreover, you can put your savings to much better use, such as towards other essential upgrades.
Still, if you want to do more aggressive off-roading, it’s advisable to get a real suspension designed for this purpose. This is because the activity entails using lots of force as you take your vehicle over dunes, hit trails at high speeds, climb over rocks, or jump over curbs. For this, the best thing to do is to get properly backspaced wheels.
Some people argue that proper backspaced and offset wheels are more suitable than installing spacers. They dislike having their rims bolted to spacers that are then bolted to the hub and would rather buy new rims with the right backspace.
However, high-quality wheel spacers are typically as strong as – if not stronger than- the wheels they attach to. The spacers bolt onto studs on the axle while the wheels attach onto the studs on the spacers.
Still, it’s important to note that increasing the offset of your wheel:
- Puts extra stress on the axle’s studs
- Puts more strain on the unit bearings and ball joints in a front axle application
- Increases the tire scrub radius, thus altering the way the vehicle handles turns
- Makes slow-speed turning more challenging
The Downsides of Going Off-Roading With Spacers
Wheel spacers present a cost-effective way to retain your current wheels while increasing the track width or adopting a different lug pattern wheel.
Again, though they increase wear on your ball joints and bearings, the increased wear is because of the decreased backspacing and not due to the spacer. In any case, new wheels with the same backspacing would have a similar effect.
However, like any good thing, spacers have their disadvantages as follows:
- Wider tires create further suspension strain. Wider tires affect every suspension component, so it’s important to consider whether the enhanced off-road ability is worth reducing the lifespan of your ball joints or wheel bearings. You may also want to prepare yourself for high and recurrent suspension repair bills if you are looking to build a powerful off-road machine.
- Incorrect spacer seating could hamper safety. Make sure you torque your spacer bolts and re-torque them every 25k miles (40233.6 km). Failure to do this could lead to loosened bolts, causing the spacer to put tremendous weight on the wheel studs. Excessive shear loads eventually lead to failure, with wheels falling off at the most inopportune moments.
- Spacers alter suspension characteristics. When you place the wheels further from the stock wheel hub, you give them extra leverage and make them more resistant to rollover. Unfortunately, the springs won’t absorb bumps as well as before, shocks become less effective at damping harshness, and steering requires additional effort.
What’s the Ideal Number of Spacers to Use?
The best option is to install your spacers on all four wheels for overall vehicle balance and stability. Spacers push the wheel further away from the chassis, thereby creating a much wider track plus a lower center of gravity. As a result, you experience more grip when taking corners, which allows for rapid acceleration as you exit curves.
Wheel spacers are safe for off-roading if you follow the basic guidelines outlined here. Also, the failures that occur are mostly because of driver errors and not the spacers themselves. So, if you exercise caution and stay within reasonable tolerance levels, you will get to experience the superb handling and enhanced traction that spacers can offer.
- Wrangler Forum: Jeep Wrangler Forum
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- Green Garage Blog:18 WheelSpacers Pros and Cons
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- Summit-Offroad: Are Wheel Spacers Safe? Will They Kill Me?
- Jeep Forum: Do Wheel Spacers Really Damage Wheel Bearings?
- F80-Bimmerpost: Wheel Spacers…Do They Make the Ride Softer or Harder?
- Auto Anything: Off-Road Suspension 101: What to Know Before You Go