If you want to make your ATV more stable or add bigger tires, you need wheel spacers. Here are some pros and cons of using ATV wheel spacers you should know.
Many riders use spacers for increased stability, while others admire the aesthetics of a wider quad. However, spacers are a risky approach for new ATV owners and can be a little tricky. They also come with their fair share of downsides like increased wear & tear and harder steering.
Many theorists describe wheel spacers as dangerous. But if you talk to experienced riders who have used them, the outcome is quite the opposite. If installed properly and used as per the specifications, spacers can provide many benefits, and most riders enjoy their ATVs more. They believe that the benefits of spacers outweigh the downsides.
According to many expert ATV mechanics, wheel spacers are only dangerous if not mounted properly. With professionally fitted wheel spacers, you can increase your stylish ride's performance, stability, and even aesthetics.
What Are Wheel Spacers
As the name implies, a wheel spacer is a not-so-complicated component that moves your wheel away from its original mounting. The spacer can be as simple as a block of metal with holes mounted onto the studs before the wheel, allowing your wheel to sit at a distance from the hub. Or it can be a carefully machined component that is designed specifically for your ATV. These spacers are designed to sit on the hub like the wheel and often have their studs to mount the wheel.
Why Use Wheel Spacers
Out of all of the ways to increase the wheelbase of your ATV, using spacers is the easiest and most cost-effective one.
Wheel spacers give your ride a wider wheelbase and more clearance inside the wheel wells. With the wider base, you will notice more stability, and with more clearance, you can add larger tires to your ride.
Spacers come in a range from half an inch to three inches, which means that you can increase your track width by six inches at max.
Rules for Using Wheel Spacers
Since the spacers will be going onto the wheels of your ATV, they will experience a lot of forces. It is important to follow certain rules when mounting spacers.
Use Good Quality Spacers
Always use high-quality spacers from trusted companies. Trying to save too much by getting cheaper spacers can break the spacer due to the stress and strains it sustains during the ride.
A broken spacer can cause your ATV to lose a wheel and lead to severe damage to you, your ride, and even those riding alongside.
It is best to get the spacers installed by a professional. They will make sure that the spacers are installed properly and be able to recommend the best spacers for your ATV.
But if you are comfortable with DIY projects and choose to do the installation yourself, make sure that you follow all instructions carefully to avoid any future mishaps.
Be Prepared for Extra Repairs
Wider wheel spacers are harder on other parts of your vehicle; we will see why in a while. But, if you are installing spacers, you must keep an eye on all the vital components of your ATV and look for any damages.
Do Not Use Damaged Spacers
If the spacer is cracked or there are visible signs of damage, do not use it. Corollary, do not hammer or use impact wrenches when installing a spacer. A damaged spacer is not only detrimental to your ride but is also a safety threat.
Do Not Stack Wheel Spacers
If you get a half-inch spacer but then decide that your ATV requires at least an inch, do not purchase another half inch and stack it on top of the old one. Spacers go through rigorous forces, and any loose component is susceptible to breaking.
Do Not Use Multi-Piece Spacers
If the spacer is designed to have more than one piece, it is best to steer clear of it. Even if the two parts are going to be bolted together, they still pose a risk and can break off more easily than one solid piece.
Lock the Lug Nuts
It is important to tighten the inner lug nuts to the right torque, and you should use a thread locking fluid-like Loctite on them. This will ensure maximum safety. With Loctite, you will save yourself from suspicious rattling noises as well.
With the rules defined, let us look at some of the pros and cons of using ATV wheel spacers.
The Advantages of Wheel Spacers
Many experienced riders prefer using wheel spacers on their ride. Here are some benefits of installing wheel spacers on your ATV.
Easier Installation of Tire Chains
Because most ATVs are not designed to have tire chains mounted on them, it is not easy to install tire chains on them. Tight spaces can be tricky to move the chain through.
In addition to the difficulty in installation, running with tire chains on stock ATV is risky. If for any reason, the chain becomes loose, it poses a risk of getting tangled in the axles and can lead to damage to the ATV, or worse, even personal injury.
The front wheels are more prone to damage because they have to turn. In addition to the axles, other parts like brake linings, fenders, and even suspension are susceptible to damage from broken chains on stock ATVs. On the rear wheels, the risk is less, but you might find the chains hitting the muffler or other parts near the wheel.
With the addition of spacers, you will have ample room for the chains to move. If you plan to use chains, any spacers between one and two inches will be a good choice. But the best way to find out what size spacers you need is to mount the chains at stock settings and then try to estimate how much you need to move your tires out. You would need to have a free space of one inch all around the tire.
Stability on Rough Terrain and Slopes
Today is the day when you decide to brave that steep slope of your track. You are all geared up, and as you approach the top of the slope, the slope seems much steeper than you had anticipated. You think about canceling your plans, but instead, gulp, take a deep breath and take the plunge. It starts off well and gets better. The thrill is amazing; your ATV is less rolling and more sliding down the slope.
You notice a tree stump in your line and slam on the brakes. But, there is no stopping now; your ATV continues to slide down. In a panic, you swerve sharply to avoid the little stump. As your front wheels go past it, your rear wheel hits it.
The next thing you see is you lying in the soil and your ATV standing on its side a few feet away. You knew you should've gotten those spacers!
With proper spacers, your wheelbase widens, and there are fewer chances of flipping over. But if spacers provide you with more confidence and you start to take on bigger challenges, that will be a different story.
Stability on Paved Roads
Paved roads offer great traction for your flashy ATV tires. With more grip on the road and fewer chances of sliding across, high-speed turns can be risky. Although it has four wheels, your ATV handles nothing like a car, for which the road was built. It is common to notice a lot of under-steer and run off the tarmac.
Combining high speed and uneven surfaces is not a good idea as it can easily tip your ATV over, especially if you are going from a paved road and into the side gravel. Unless you are Jackie Chan's stunt double, chances are you will not be able to balance your four-wheeler on two wheels for long.
Even if your balancing skills are nothing short of a Shaolin monk sitting on a tight rope, there is an easier way to keep your ATV right side up. Yes, you guessed it, spacers. With spacers, you will notice a great difference when doing turns at high speeds on paved roads.
You might not notice much difference on loose gravel or sand because your ATV is built to make high-speed sharp turns on loose terrain. This happens because loose terrain allows your quad to slide across as it makes the turn. But with paved roads, spacers can really make a difference in stability.
Install Bigger Tires
If you are planning to install bigger tires, you might face issues. The bigger tires might come in contact with parts like the fender, brake lines, or suspension parts. Running your ATV with the tire in contact with anything but the rim and the terrain can lead to damages.
One way to solve this issue is to get new, different offset rims. But if you want to keep your rims, you can use a set of spacers and keep your tires clear of other parts of your ride.
New spacers might not come in very cheap, but they will considerably be less expensive than a new set of rims.
ATVs with a stretched-out wheelbase look more stylish; we can debate on that later. But many riders prefer to add to the aggressive looks of their ride and push the wheels out to make it look bigger and badder.
The Disadvantages of Wheel Spacers
Just like the benefits, spacers come with a few downsides as well. It is essential to understand what you are compromising for the benefits you plan to gain before deciding on spacers.
But before we jump into the cons, we would like to mention that with spacers, less is more. It is best to opt for the smallest spacers to get the job done and not go beyond the needed thickness. Keeping the thickness to a minimum, you can minimize the negative effects.
Increased Wear and Tear
Moving wheels away from the body puts a toll on the suspension and drive train. Nearly every component, including axles, ball joints, and wheel bearings, are likely to be affected.
As per some laws of Physics, if the wheels are further from the bike, there will be more moment or vertical force on the axle. More force will strain the axle and linked parts, leading to earlier wear and tear.
It is important to choose spacers that offset the wheels as much as required, but not more. You will not gain much out of widening your ride beyond needs, but you will start to feel the downsides of the overly large spaces very soon.
There is a significant difference between turning the handle on stock wheels and wheels with two-inch spacers on them. Even if your fancy ATV has a power steering system installed, you will feel the difference.
Let's try to understand why steering becomes harder with spacers installed. On stock settings, when you turn the handle, the wheels rotate about the ball joints. But with spacers, when you turn the handle, the spacers rotate about the ball joint, and the wheel needs to "swing" along to match the movement. This means that the wheel is not just rotating; it is also moving back and forth slightly.
The extra movement offers more resistance, and thus the steering becomes heavier. Without power steering, you are more likely to get fatigued, especially on rough terrains where you constantly need to steer your ATV. It also puts strain on the steering system and leads to wear and tear.
Due to the same laws of Physics described above, you will notice that your ATV becomes more sensitive to uneven surfaces with spacers installed. Since the moment of the axle is greater, it will cause a larger force on your suspension and thus make the ride bumpy.
The larger the spacers, the more likely you will notice potholes, small rocks, and any uneven surfaces you may encounter during your ride.
Too Wide for Your Own Good
If you ride on narrow trails, adding spacers might limit your access to those trails. A wider ATV might not fit well on muddy trails, and you may end up hitting the sides of the track. It can also pose a risk if you cross narrow paths with deep excavations on the side. Your tire might not completely be in contact with the ground, and even little mistakes can end you up in a ditch.
Some trails limit the width of ATVs to fifty inches. Adding spacers might cause your quad to become illegal on those trails.
Similarly, if you carry around your ATV on a trailer or the back of your truck, adding a few inches to the sides of your ATV can cause it to become too wide for your truck. Before adding spacers, remember to keep the size of the truck or trailer under consideration.
Be Prepared For Splashes
Your stock wheels and fenders are aligned to ensure that mud and other debris from the road stays contained. If you extend your wheels beyond your fenders, tires will pick up the mud and splash it into the air. Be prepared to get dirty on your next ride with spacers on, or you can spend a little more and have wider fenders installed to cover the extended wheels.
Pro Tip: Consider getting spacers for your rear wheels only. Since most moving parts are installed on the front wheels, you can make the best of your spacers without facing as many detrimental effects. You will save yourself and your ATV from a lot of stress by installing only rear wheel spacers.
Are Wheel Spacers Worth Getting?
Now that you know the pros and cons of using ATV wheel spacers, you are in a better position to decide if you need wheel spacers. As we stated earlier, there is no common opinion when it comes to these little devices. Some riders believe that they are not worth it, while others believe that the stability and looks outweigh all the downsides.
We think that if you need to fit chains on tires or need larger wheels for more traction, then you should install spacers to protect other, more crucial parts of your ATV. But remember to keep them to the minimum possible width. Wider spacers put more toll on the suspension and steering of your ATV and can result in unwarranted damages.
A set of good spacers installed by a professional installer are perfectly safe. You will, however, need to make periodic checks to your ATV's undercarriage for any damages or extraordinary wear and tear. Keeping an eye on the undercarriage will alert you beforehand of any potential risks and you can keep your ride and yourself safe by addressing them earlier.
About THE AUTHOR
I'm 30 years old. I am a software developer and I am a freelance writer on the side. I've been riding ATV's since I was 15. I personally own a Polaris Sportsman and a Can-Am Defender.Read More About Shawn