When it comes to vehicle aesthetics, your wheels are what make your car's looks pop. Upgrading wheels is commonly the first consideration after one acquires a vehicle. It's also one of the most popular and expensive modifications, adding both performance and pogi points when done properly.
Those of us who are on a budget can't readily take that plunge. Thankfully, there are other alternatives out there to improve the look and dynamics of your stock wheels without breaking your bank or safety.
Introducing the wheel spacer.
This round metal plate (usually made of aluminum alloy) with hub-centric and stud-sized holes is mounted between your hub and rim. It allows sunken wheels to stick out more, making it look more flush with the fenders to give your ride a sportier look.
For the benefit of performance, it widens your track (the parallel distance between your wheels) which improves handling/cornering. I will not bore you with a mathematical formula showing how much of a benefit it adds. Just remember that any positive effect the spacers add, regardless of how minimal, is still a very good thing.
I recently installed a quality set of wheel spacers when I reverted to OEM wheels. Going the conservative route, I went with 5mm spacers. Though it may not sound like much, it added a total track width of 10mm to my front and rear wheels. I must say I was truly happy with the results, including a test run from Manila to La Union. My obsessive-compulsive nature noticed a slightly sharper response when I hit the winding roads between Rosario and Damortis.
With that said, here are some useful tips to consider when choosing and installing spacers:
1. Choose a quality set. There should be no compromise here. You will find a lot of very affordable ones online, but these may crack when stressed. Saving three or four digits isn't worth the risk of losing safety. Get a set of branded ones (Japanese or US-made) from a reputable shop.
2. Don't go over the top with thickness. Going wider means choosing thicker spacers. The serious problem here is when the spacer gets too thick to the point where your lug nuts won't have enough tread to bolt onto the studs securely. The rule of thumb is to be able to get at least eight full revolutions before you torque the lugs tight. Yes, you can get longer studs but this will degrade their structural strength.
Another disadvantage would be adding unnecessary stress to your wheel bearings and suspension, as they are engineered for the original positioning and weight distribution of a stock set-up. You may end up prematurely replacing expensive parts, not to mention unevenly wearing out your tires as it may throw your camber off. Though fender rub would be the least of my worries, who would want that? Be smart and find that sweet spot.
Note: Widening your rear track will help reduce oversteer. Widening your front track too much will significantly increase steering resistance.
3. Select the right fitment. Always make sure that you pick the right spacer to fit your pitch circle diameter (PCD) and number of studs. There's a decent selection of universal spacers out there, but if you can acquire a precise fitment, then go with that. If your fitment is 114mm x 5 holes, make sure the spacer has those specs.
4. Carefully mount each wheel. Place the spacer flat against the hub before bolting on the wheel. If your spacers come with a ridged surface, that side should face outward. Place the first lug nut on the topmost stud but don't tighten until all lug nuts are in place. Make sure not to over-tighten the lugs as this may cause damage to the spacer or studs. In any case, it's always best to use a torque wrench.
5. Go for a test drive. Listen or feel if there's anything unusual with the way your car runs. I've had friends who installed generic spacers and ended up with their chassis and steering wheel vibrating. In another instance, the spacer caused an irritating sound whenever my buddy would apply the brakes which went away after he removed the said spacers.
If your vehicle is cruising smoothly without any issues, then you're good to go. After running the car for a few kilometers, double check if the lugs need more torquing back at the garage.