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Should You Avoid Using Wheel Spacers?

By Ben Boxer

Last updated on February 14th, 2024

There’s a lot of debate surrounding wheel spacers. Are they safe? Are there better ways to get the fitment I’m looking for? Will they destroy my wheel bearings in 3 weeks? The web has no shortage of opinions regarding wheel spacers. But we’ll explore some of the different benefits and proper uses for them to help you decide if you think they’re right for your off-road build.

What are wheel spacers used for?

For many builds, wheel spacers are used for strictly aesthetic purposes. People use them to create an aggressive look by pushing the wheel out past the fenders. However, for those of us who are interested in lifting our Subaru, they can play an important role in fitting larger tires.

If you own a Subaru with macpherson style struts in the back, you may have noticed that the rear spring perch severely limits your ability to fit a larger tire. You’ll run out of clearance there before you even come close to the fenders. So in this situation, a spacer may allow you to get an additional 1-2 inches of tire stuffed inside your wheel well.

Wheel spacers and wheel adapters are very similar in function except that instead of just spacing, an adapter changes the bolt pattern of your vehicle. Many folks will use adapters to run a specific set of wheels that don’t technically fit their car’s bolt pattern.

lifted wrx with basset racing steelies and wheel spacers

"I've heard wheel spacers help with braking. Is this true?"

No, but we’ll explain how they do help. For those of us running bigger tires, strong braking on a stock setup is a thing of the past. So you may want to upgrade to a bigger brake kit. However, your current wheels may not allow you to accommodate a bigger caliper. A spacer can help pull the wheel safely away from the braking components and give you the room needed to install a more powerful set of pads, rotors, and calipers.

Check out our friend Michael’s Forester Wilderness that he has been using spacers on with no issues.

kumho road venture on forester wilderness edition

Are wheel spacers safe?

Yes. Properly installed, high quality wheel spacers are perfectly safe to use. Notice the emphasis on properly installed, and high quality. You should never install a cheap wheel spacer on your vehicle, and you should never install them without properly torquing them down and making sure they’re flat against the hub. If you’re not sure how to safely install spacers, take your car to a professional or check with the manufacturer to find out how to put them on properly. You should also perform a torque check frequently. Whenever you have your tires rotated, just go ahead and give them a quick check to ensure optimal safety and performance.

But what does high quality mean? There are different types of spacers, but we recommend looking for a reputable brand that produces a good aluminum hub-centric spacer. A high quality aluminum is more than strong enough and is light-weight. For applications larger than 20mm we suggest a bolt-on construction. We’ve used these and had no issues in the past.

Will spacers destroy my wheel bearings?

While any additional wheel offset will technically decrease wheel bearing life, it is not as big of an issue as people may say. If a properly fitted wheel spacer is correctly installed on your vehicle, your wheel bearings will be fine. You will want to make sure that your center bore matches and that all lugs are tightened down properly. Again, we recommend professional installation since this is a crucial part of your vehicle.

We’ve been running spacers and adapters on our Subarus for many years with no issues. Our current Forester has had spacers on it for 25k miles so far. However, we have never gone larger than a 1.5 inch wheel spacer or adapter. We prefer to stick with a one inch spacer when possible.

Also, avoid over-torquing wheel spacers. We’ve heard stories of people tightening them TOO much and cracking the spacer. While not tightening enough is a bad idea, tightening too much can damage the spacer and the studs. Check with the manufacturer to determine the correct torque specs for your situation.

Always research your options

Before making a final decision, be sure to consult with a trusted professional and read reviews on any wheel spacers you may be considering. It’s tempting to save a few bucks on an Ebay special. But the peace of mind that comes with paying for quality, reputable parts is priceless; especially on such a crucial portion of the vehicle.

We have used Perrin wheel adapters with very good luck. Yes, they are a bit more expensive but they’re great. Bora is another good quality spacer that you can use if you want to avoid no-name brands on Ebay or Amazon.