Are Wheel Spacers Safe for the Track?
When I picked up my new track wheels, they weren’t a direct fit on my car – they sat too far into the fender and had to be pushed out some to avoid rubbing against the suspension. To do this, I used wheel spacers – but there is a lot of differing opinions about spacers out there, so first I wanted to determine if it was safe to use spacers, especially for the track.
What are Spacers?
Simply put, spacers are metal (typically billet aluminum) discs that go over your hub in various thicknesses to help push your wheels out further. They are useful to give your car a more aggressive look with the wheel closer to the outer fender, or to make wheels that wouldn’t normally fit clear your brakes, suspension, or control arm components. There is no such thing as a negative spacer, all spacers push the wheels further out. Spacers are typically measured in millimeters of thickness, and you can calculate the final offset by simply by subtracting the thickness to your current wheel specs – for instance if you have ET45 wheels and add 10mm spacers, then your final offset is ET35.
Are Spacers Safe at the Track?
Simply put, yes. Spacers are safe for both daily driving and track duty if installed correctly. Quality spacers are made of materials that are as strong if not stronger than the wheels and hub, so they shouldn’t be the weak link in your setup. There is a risk of failure, like any automotive part, and the spacers do change the geometry of your suspension components which could inhibit performance of not done carefully – but are they safe? Absolutely yes when quality products are used and installed correctly. I have tracked with spacers and know countless others who do this regularly without issue. In fact, some automakers equip cars from the factory with spacers, as well as many racing teams over the years.
Some companies like Discount Tire will not install wheels/tires with spacers for liability purposes. They do this because they don’t know if you have the right lug bolts/studs, if the spacers are well made, and other factors out of their control and don’t want to be held liable – Discount Tire in particular is pretty much against any form of modification that deviates from OEM spec and is also leary about load ratings, widths, and even upsizing wheels – so take that for it’s worth.
Spacers are also safe for four wheeling, daily driving, and obviously show cars too. Check out this great article from FourWheeler for those interested in offroad capabilities (the TL;DR is that yes they are even safe for offroading): http://www.fourwheeler.com/how-to/1110or-truth-about-wheel-spacers-safety/
How do I improve the Safety of my Spacers?
- Use quality products – not just the spacers themselves, but the lug bolts or extended studs too. The spacers put more stress on the lug bolts or studs, so ensuring you have equally if not more strong lug bolts or studs as OEM will ensure that your car can handle the stress
- Use the least amount of spacer possible – pushing the wheels out changes the suspension geometry, steering, and stress on the wheels and hubs, so don’t go overboard here. If a 3mm spacer will do, then don’t use anymore than that. And while I don’t have concrete research to back this up, personally I wouldn’t go over 20mm just as an extra precaution.
- Inspect regularly – if for whatever reason your spacers do go bad, they will crack before they fail entirely. If you inspect them after hard use (i.e. track days, offroading, etc.) or whenever you rotate your tires, you can catch issues before they happen.
- Use hubcentric spacers – make sure the spacers are hubcentric to your hub size as well as the aftermarket wheel size. You don’t want to use hub (centering) rings on top of spacers, that is just too many unnecessary components all at once.
- Buy wide spacers – you want to make sure the diameter of the spacers is sufficient, and that the spacers are wider than the mounting surface of the wheel. The more surface area you have, the better, as it will evenly distribute the pressure. for instance if the wheel has a 3″ diameter, your spacers should also have at least a 3″ diameter, or as close to that as possible.
- Don’t use them if you don’t have to – ideally, you should get wheels that won’t require spacers…but for a multitude of reasons, this isn’t always possible.
When are Spacers Dangerous?
There are a ton of differing opinions, but there are two scenarios where spacers are definitely dangerous and a vast consensus in the automotive community:
- If your studs or bolts aren’t long enough – If you add 10mm spacers, your lug bolts (or studs) should be extended by 10mm to allow enough threading for the wheels to stay secure. If you reuse your stock bolts/nuts, your wheel may fall off as the bolts cannot be tightened enough. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to thread your lug nuts or bolts eight full turns at a minimum but the best course of action is to add the same amount of length as the thickness of your spacers.
- If your spacers are cheaply made – you get what you pay for, and if your spacers crack and break, your wheel will wobble and quickly break itself free from the car. This is not an area you want to skimp on, so buy quality spacers from known brands to ensure you are not putting yourself at risk for failure. Your wheels get very hot and absorb a lot of stress & trauma, and will fail at the weakest point – so don’t make your spacers the weakest link.
Where do I buy quality spacers & what brands are best?
Stick to the big brands like Eibach, H&R and the like for the safest route. Make sure to get your exact bolt pattern (5×112) and hubcentric rings (i.e. 57.1 hub for B6/B7 Audis, or 66.5 for B8 and newer Audis) along with extended bolts. Your stock lug bolts are 27mm for a B7 Audi, so if you have 10mm wide spacers you need at least 37mm lug bolts although typically they sell them in even numbers so just go for 40mm 14×1.5 lug bolts in that case A lot of the bigger brands will sell you a set which is a great way to go, such as the below for a B8:
If you have a B7, check out these links for a good 10mm spacer setup:
If you don’t know the exact thickness you need, reach out to local enthusiasts or shops to see if they have any spacers you can borrow for a test fit, or worst case scenario buy some cheap ones off eBay (chinese knockoff ones can be bought for $20 per pair on eBay) then throw them away when you find the right size and order some better (more expensive) ones when you have the exact specs figured out.
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Good advice. I just put H&R hubcentric spacers all around my ’13 S5. Looks better for my lowered set up, without becoming one of those “stance life” people. Ugh.
I have a friend with an 85 928 (manual for the win!), and that car came with spacers from the factory! So, factories do it, just follow the advice above and you will be safe.
great article. I have a a4 b6 2002 a4 fwd tip, sport package, with 365k miles original owner. and for what it’s worth all the neg press the cvt gets it lasted me 250k. Would have lasted longer if I would have kept changing the trans fluid. At any rate after all this time I am going to start doing mods. Any idea if I go to BBSCH 19″ will I need spacers? Thanks Nick.
Hi Brad – it depends on what offset and width your CHs are, but if you get 19×8.5 ET35 that should be ideal.
Nice post you have shared. From you post everyone will clear about all thing regarding wheel spacers. Thanks for sharing this. Recently i had also the same querries which you have discussed but after my mechanic’s consultation recently I used spacers from customadeonly.
Is it rubbing when cornering?
Not on my S4, but it was close!