Not sure if you need spacers or adapters?
I’ve used both on many of my cars mainly to get a more aggressive appearance. As you probably know, each one of those wheel accessories can help you achieve different goals when modifying your car.
I decided to cover the wheel spacers vs adapters topic, because I see many folks being confused about the purpose they serve. Before we get into that, let me address the elephant in the room.
Are Wheel Spacers and Adapters the Same?
Nope, spacers and adapters are different. Yes, to a certain extent, they do all the same things, but there is one major difference:
- When installing spacers, you must match your wheel bolt pattern and preferably the center bore.
- When using wheel adapters, you change the bolt pattern and often the center bore to fit different wheels.
Don’t worry. In the following sections, I’ll explain how each one works. You’ll understand what you need to use depending on what you want to accomplish. I promise to keep it simple.
What Do Wheel Spacers Do?
Spacers are mounted directly onto the wheel assembly. They allow you to get extra space between the wheel and the hub of the vehicle by pushing the wheels outward.
I mainly use 10-15mm thick spacers to adjust the wheel offset and get a better stance on my cars. You can utilize them for other enhancements, but remember that the thicker the spacers, the more they can affect your vehicle.
Racers often use wheel spacers to improve handling characteristics by changing the track width of their car. Getting more clearance on the wheel’s inner portion also allows them to fit bigger brakes or upgrade suspension components.
Whether using wheel spacers is bad or good for your vehicle is a never-ending discussion.
Yes, the installation will put pressure on suspension components and wheel studs, but the same will happen if you fit low offset rims. I haven’t experienced any ride quality issues using lightweight spacers with reasonable thickness for years.
I even installed spacers on our Tesla Model 3, and there are no vibrations. Use a wheel spacer that matches your vehicle’s hub size and extended lug nuts with enough extra thread, and you’ll be fine.
Check out my round-up post covering the best wheel spacer brands.
How Do Wheel Adapters Work?
Wheel adapters do all the same things you can achieve with spacers regarding additional clearance, but their primary function is to change bolt patterns and possibly center bore.
When customizing cars, people often want to fit wheels that don’t match. That’s where wheel adapters come into play.
The wheel adapter works as a bridge between your vehicle’s hub and the wheel. Your factory bolt pattern remains on the hub side, and the new bolt pattern is on the other side.
The Tesla Model 3 has a PCD 5×114.3, and a 64.1 center bore. Most Acura models from the 90s share the same wheel specs, so I could put Acura rims on our Tesla and only use wheel spacers to achieve a flush fitment.
Let’s say I want to put my 19-inch BMW E38 wheels on our Tesla. Most older BMWs (apart from the E39) come with PCD 5×120 and a 72.6 center bore, which is a complete mismatch. In this case, I’ll need wheel adapters.
I’ll have to use a product that specifically adapts the 5×114.3 bolt pattern to 5×120 with a 72.6 center bore. As long as I use hub-centric wheel adapters bolted to the hubs, I shouldn’t have problems running the Bimmer rims on my electric car.
My Last Thoughts on Spacers & Adapters
Now that you understand the differences between wheel spacers and adapters, you’ll have to do some measuring. As for general guidelines:
When shopping for spacers, look for models specifically designed for your car and buy the proper bolts (if not included). When buying adapters, look for a product that adapts your vehicle bolt pattern to the bolt pattern of the wheels you’ll be turning into.