Wheel spacers are popular items among tuners and car guys. They allow you to push the wheels of your car further out at each corner. This is done to reduce the factory gap that most stock cars have. The main reason for doing this is cosmetic, even though many wheel spacer manufacturers claim they help with stability. We talk with H&R about their TRAK+ wheel spacer system to help clarify a few doubts.
Most cars look better when wheel gap is not as pronounced or is just plain non-existent. Because wheel gap is not simply based on the height of the car alone but also on the horizontal space between the tires and the inner wall of the fenders, wheel spacers can easily afford an improvement in that area at a relatively low cost.
Now, why the heck don’t car makers simply make cars with little to no wheel-gap and space out the wheels a little bit better by pushing them more towards the edge? The obvious reason is universal compatibility. Cars need to be able to accept slight changes in tire size and tread. Also, since tires can vary by market and laws governing a car’s ride height from factory exist in many places, car makers need to find a middle ground.
Not only that, but imagine Flo in Idaho buys a neat little Volkswagen Golf GTi. Say VW decided that since that car looks better with no wheel gap and tires flush to the fender, they were going to produce it that way, stock. Come January, Flo needs to leave the office in a blizzard and decides to put tire chains on her new hatch. (This is probably happening in the mountains of Southern California where chains are required when there are 3 millimeters of snow). Oh crap! How the heck is Flo going to install those chains? There’s no gap for them because her little Golf came all Hellaflush from factory. See what I mean?
I know that back when we did the wheel lug nut torque article we somewhat condemned spacers. However, after many months of thinking and careful consideration, there are certain moments when we could accept the the use of spacers. Bear with me here.
Let’s establish something though. There’s no question the best performance is going to come from a set of proper-offset wheels for your particular car. Mainly because of a whole number of considerations such are unsprung weight and the reduction of attached parts.
Having said that, there are 3 reasons why one would still consider using spacers.
- You can’t afford a new set of wheels in the correct offset or simply don’t want to spend the money.
- You can afford the wheels but your current tires are new-ish, they wouldn’t fit your new wheels and you would rather burn through them before you invest in another set.
- You simply love the look of your stock wheels and would rather put spacers on them than switch them out for aftermarket wheels.
Those are all very valid points. To simply return with an answer like, “wheel spacers are bad” would be arrogant. Plus, someone that holds at least one of those points true is simply going to ignore you and buy the spacers. So, let’s not put up our noses and consider it.
Like with anything, you get what you pay for. If you go to Autozone and buy a set of generic wheel spacers made in China that look like swiss cheese, you are doing it wrong. Wheel spacers like that are unsafe because they try to be a one-size-fits-all solution. One-size-fits-all is only good for baseball hats with elastic fit – and even then they don’t do as great a job as fitted ones.
The most important thing to remember is HUB-CENTRICITY. What the heck is that? Simply put, the spacers need to be hub centric to your application on both sides. This means that the spacer needs to fit the diameter of the center of your wheel hub and the outside center-lip of the spacer needs to fit the center bore of your wheel mounting surface with no gap. That’s the way wheels are mounted from factory and that’s the way your spacers should fit.
Remember, the weight of the car is not supported by your wheel studs but rather by the wheel center bore that fits onto the hub center. The studs are simply there to keep the wheel attached.
Because different cars use all kinds of different hub center diameters, there is simply no one-size-fits-all solution. A manufacturer needs to design many different wheel spacers with different center-bore diameters to fit a multitude of cars if they intend to cover the entire market. Not to mention, different bolt patterns and mounting options.
I was talking to one of the guys from H&R at SEMA and he helped clear a few things up in regards to H&R Trak+ wheel spacers.
Thick wheel spacers have enough material to allow the wheel to bolt straight into them. When dealing with thin spacers where you would need to install longer studs, or use longer wheel bolts, how is it that these can be safe? Well, again, it’s a matter of hub-centricity. These thin spacers, when bored out with precision for the correct application, still allow enough lip on the hub centers to support both the weight of the spacer and the wheel at the same time while keeping everything centered and in line. Thicker spacers will sit perfectly on the wheel hub and the spacer itself has a lip so the wheel can fit into it. Again, say NO to swiss-cheese wheel spacers that are not hub centric.
There are 2 types of these single-bolt-set wheels spacers offered by H&R:
DR® Series – These are for cars that use wheel bolts like Audi, BMW and Porsche. These are usually thinner spacers that use only one set of bolts, but you must use longer bolts than stock to accommodate the thickness of the spacer. While most are relatively thin, they do go up to 40mm.
DRS® Series – These are just like the DR series but are for cars that use wheel studs instead of bolts.
Then there are the spacers that use 2 sets of bolts or studs – One set to attach the spacer to the hub and another to attach the wheel to the spacer. These types of spacers are the better option when more thickness is needed. Here are the 2 types in the series:
DRA® Series – These spacers use included wheel bolts to attach the spacer to the hub. Then, the spacer itself includes threads to use your stock wheel bolts to attach the wheel to the spacers. Again, these are for cars that use wheel bolts instead of studs. Think BMW, Audi and Porsche. These go all the way up to 60mm in thickness
DRM® Series – These are just like the DRA Series above, but are for cars that use wheel studs instead of bolts. Think American and Japanese cars for example. These are relatively thick to allow space for the lug nut that holds the spacer in place while also allowing the spacer to have its own set of studs for the wheels. These go from 40 to 90mm. So, pretty darn thick.
H&R also has wheel adapters to allow for both widening stance (widening track) while also changing the bolt pattern to allow the use of different wheels that wouldn’t normally fit a particular car.
H&R calls their spacer system, TRAK+ (Track Plus)
Honestly, it’s the only way I’d consider wheel spacers.
So let’s review… Good wheel spacers must:
- Be hub-centric on both side
- Be of high-quality with a specific application goal (no one-size-fits-all)
In fact, I’m going to try these first hand on the RallyWays MX-5 NC. That car fits both points 2 and 3 in the reasons why someone would use wheel spacers, near the beginning of this article – I would prefer to burn through the stock rubber first AND I love the look of the stock wheels so much that I wish they were fitted like they are on Flo’s imaginary Golf GTi.