method-mr502-wheels-on-redd-racing-rally-car

Offroad Wheels For Subarus: Every Buying Tip I've Learned Over The Years

By Ben Boxer

Last updated on February 9th, 2024

For roughly a decade, I’ve been testing the offroad limits of Subarus, experimenting with various accessories and parts along the way. Among the wide range of aftermarket parts, one category has become my personal favorite – wheels. Installing new wheels on a lifted car not only serves a functional purpose but also introduces a visually pleasing aspect to the modification experience.

In this article I want to cover the six main things that I take into consideration when wheel shopping:

  • Wheel size
  • Wheel offset
  • Overall weight
  • Strength
  • Customer support
  • Availability

Let’s jump in!

Table of Contents

Wheel Size

When I buy a wheel for offroad use, I look for the smallest diameter wheel that will fit over my brakes. There’s two reasons why I look for the smallest wheel possible:

  1. More room for tire sidewall
  2. Affordability
When you are offroading, additional tire sidewall provides more “cushion,” durability, and room to air down. Subarus have a very finite amount of space in the wheel wells which limits the overall diameter of the tires that you can fit.

Since we have a limited amount of space to work with, we have to get creative with the ways we can maximize tire sidewall. 

You may, for example, have a maximum overall tire diameter of about 29 inches that will fit on your Subaru without rubbing. A 235/65R17 and a 235/75R15 tire both have roughly 29 inches of overall diameter. They take up the same amount of space in the wheel wells but the 15 inch 235/75 has a sidewall height of 176.25mm and the 17 inch 235/65 sidewall comes in at 153.4mm.

By using a 15 inch wheel in this case we can gain over 20mm of sidewall height which translates to a much more durable and capable offroad tire.

If you want to experiment with sidewall heights, you can find it by taking the first two numbers of a tire size and using the following calculation for the 235/75R15: 235(.75) = 176.25 

The first number of a tire size is the width of the tire in millimeters and the second number is the sidewall height expressed as a percentage of the width. So with a 235/75R15 means 75% of 235mm is a 176.25mm sidewall height. The last number is the “rim” diameter in inches. 

wheel size and sidewall for offroading

The second reason I like using a smaller wheel is the cost savings. Smaller wheels are cheaper than bigger versions of the same thing. 

Additionally, tires that are made for a smaller wheel are less expensive despite the fact that they require more physical material to make. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but using the same two sizes we just covered, we can see the drastic price difference in two tires with almost the same overall diameter.

The Falken Wildpeak in 235/75R15 is $163 while the 235/65R17 is $203. The 235/75 weighs in at 35 lbs while the 235/65 is only 31 lbs. Even though there is 4 lbs more mass to the 15 inch version of this tire, it’s less expensive to the consumer.

2012 Subaru Outback With Method Race Wheels and Offroad Tires

Depending on your vehicle, you may not be able to run a 15 inch wheel due to brake clearance. Many Subarus that are a higher trim level which include bigger engines or turbochargers will occasionally come with a larger brake system. For example, the turbocharged Forester XT had a bigger brake kit than other Forester trim levels. The same can be said for many of the turbocharged Outbacks. But it is usually still possible to size down up to two inches if you use a “rally style” wheel. Many people who own a Subaru with 19 inch wheels size down to a 17 inch wheel and tire combo. Similarly, there are people sizing down from 20 inch wheels to 18 inches.

While you may not be able to simply take a smaller Subaru factory wheel and fit it on your car. But many of us can use aftermarket wheels to accomplish more tire sidewall.

What is a rally style wheel? “Rally style” is an unofficial term that many people use to refer to many aftermarket offroad wheels available for Subarus. These are wheels that were either made for or inspired by rally racing. They are typically alloy, lightweight, and made to fit over the largest brake caliper possible while still being structurally sound enough to handle rallycross and stage rally events.

The Method MR502 VT Spec pictured above is one very popular rally wheel that is used in race events and was specifically designed for the Subaru Rally Team to fit over WRX 4 pot brakes even in though it’s only 15 inches. By prioritizing material strength and proper construction, they were able to increase the barrel to fit over relatively large brakes. The MR502 is quite literally used by professional rally teams and is available for us to use on our cars.

If you’re unsure about fitting a smaller wheel on your vehicle, it’s best to contact the manufacturer or ask someone who has installed them on the same vehicle. We always recommend working with professionals when choosing new tires for your unique situation.

Wheel Offset

Offset is the distance between the wheel’s mounting surface (where it attaches to the hub) and the centerline of the wheel. This measurement determines whether a wheel sits more towards the inside or the outside of the vehicle.

When I’m wheel shopping for a lifted Subaru, I like to find a wheel with a 15mm offset. It gives more than enough room for the suspension and brake components. It also gives the car a slightly wider track which I like. And contrary to rumors that I had heard, 15mm offset wheels haven’t caused any wheel bearing issues in any of my Subarus even with larger tires. Yes, it will technically put more pressure on the wheel bearings. But it has become much less of a worry for me over the years as I’ve had no bad experiences.

You may want to purchase a wheel with more or less offset, but 15mm is what I prefer. The Method MR502 pictured below and the Black Rhino Boxer are both great examples of wheels available in a 15mm offset.

Other popular wheel offsets among lifted Subaru owners are 35mm and 40mm. Usually as the wheel diameter increases, the offset also increases. When the offset increases, this means that the wheel will be further closer towards the inside of the vehicle.

Wheel Weight

When I’m wheel shopping, I always look for a lightweight option. If I’m buying a 15 inch wheel for an offroad Subaru, I typically look for something that weighs less than 20 lbs. For those purchasing 17 inch wheels, aiming below 23 lbs is a a good idea.

By reducing wheel weight, we can offset the additional weight of installing all-terrain tires. Since our Subarus don’t have a transfer case that allows us to access lower gearing, minimizing unsprung weight is one of my biggest goals. This will provide better performance offroad and less wear on the engine and transmission.

Strength

Most of the reputable aftermarket wheels on the market today will be strong enough to handle the offroad driving demands of most lifted Subarus. Again, I really like Black Rhino and Method which both offer many wheels with a load rating of at least 1300 lbs which has been more than enough for me. I’ve taken my Subarus on true 4×4 trails and bashed the wheels into boulders. They all still run straight down the road and have shown no signs of cracking.

Some of the most common wheel brands that I consider when buying are:

  • Method
  • Black Rhino
  • Motegi
  • F44
  • Reika
  • LP Aventure
  • Fifteen52
Of course there are countless wheels on the market, but these are my go-to brands since they are well made, affordable, and come in sizes & specs that are perfect for Subarus.

Customer Support

Over the years, good customer service has become paramount for me in the purchasing process. I used to be willing to risk a bad experience to save $100 buying something used on eBay. But after dealing with defective products from unresponsive sellers and lots of headaches, I’m willing to spend the extra money to buy from a brand that offers great customer service.

Here are four easy customer service markers you can look out for before ordering your next set of wheels:

Responsive:

Assess customer support responsiveness by contacting them to ask questions. If you have a good experience reaching out to a company for general guidance before buying, your chances of getting help are much higher if you have a problem post-purchase. I also prefer doing business with brands that make it clear that they appreciate their customers. If I feel like I’m not valued when speaking with a brand rep, I will likely take my money elsewhere.

Fitment Expertise:

Verify if the company has knowledgeable staff to assist with technical details and ensure the right wheel fitment for your vehicle. Your specific fitment may be unorthodox, but are the product reps able to offer general knowledge about whether or not the wheels will fit your needs? Can they help you make sure the bolt pattern, hub bore, and load rating will be right for your application?

Transparent Process:

Check for clear information on order tracking, shipping, returns, and warranty policies to guarantee a smooth purchasing experience. Read the fine print before purchasing from a specific vendor. Do they stand behind their product and service?

Reputation and Feedback:

Research the brand’s reputation, read customer reviews, and evaluate feedback on social media to gauge overall customer satisfaction and the company’s commitment to customer support. I have specifically avoided a large wheel company after seeing multiple reports in Reddit and Facebook groups of people getting defective product and receiving almost no help to rectify the issue. I don’t want to wait months to get help after I paid $1500 for new wheels.

I simply won’t do business with a company if I have any suspicion that they won’t work hard to resolve any potential problems. Problems arise and that’s okay. But they need to be handled quickly and with appreciation for the customers who keep them in business.

method race wheels and offroad tires on subaru crosstrek

Availability

When I’m buying wheels, I try to get something that is easy to find and in relatively high demand. Here’s six benefits of buying wheels that are widely available:

Easy Replacements:

If you ever need to replace a damaged wheel, having a widely available wheel model can make the process easier and more cost-effective. Popular models are often stocked by more retailers, increasing your chances of finding a suitable replacement quickly. You will also be able to find them on the used market if you need to buy a spare wheel in the event that you damage one of your wheels.

Variety of Options:

Widely available wheels are likely to come in various sizes, finishes, and designs. This allows you to choose a style that suits your preferences and complements your vehicle.

Competitive Pricing:

Popular wheels that are widely available may benefit from economies of scale, resulting in more competitive pricing. You might find better deals and discounts on wheels that are produced in larger quantities.

Accessories and Spare Parts:

Widely available wheels are more likely to have compatible accessories and spare parts, such as center caps, lug nuts, and hub centric rings. This ensures a seamless fit and easy replacement of these components.

Community Experience:

If a wheel model is widely used, there might be a community of enthusiasts who share their fitment experiences, tips, and advice online. This can be valuable for troubleshooting issues with fitting them on your car and making sure you get something that works best for you. One great example of this is the Method MR502. Yes, it’s super common and some folks like to be different. But there’s thousands of people using this wheel and know for a fact that it’s strong. We also have a wide range of confirmed fitments on a variety of different vehicle and suspension combinations.

Resale Value:

If a product is widely available and has healthy sales, it means people are willing to spend their hard earned money on them. Popular wheels with a good reputation may hold their resale value better than lesser known options. If you decide to upgrade or change your wheels, having a model that is in demand can make it easier to sell or trade them.

Finding the correct wheel for your offroad adventures may seem daunting at first. But if you follow these basic guidelines that I use, the process should be much easier. By selecting a wheel that’s the best size, offset, weight, and is strong, you’ll land on something that can compliment your lifted Subaru’s modifications. Finding a reputable wheel that’s widely available and purchasing it from a retailer with a proven track record of excellent customer service will insure that you have a good experience after your purchase.