Sunday, April 1, 2012

Aftermarket Wheels or OEM Wheels with Spacers?


Having finally decided what size tires I wanted to fit on my Jeep, and after much consideration about what type of tire, I finally settled on the 315/70-R17 Treadwright Guard Dog M/T.  Part of my overall decision centered around what wheels I wanted to mount them on, and this became a bigger decision than I anticipated.

Most aftermarket wheels are of significantly lower quality than OEM wheels because a combination of smaller production numbers, tremendous competition, little to no commitment to meeting D.O.T. safety standards, and a majority of buyers valuing bling over performance, has driven production overseas and quality to the ragged edge of acceptable.  There are of course some notable exceptions to this broad generalization, but most of those alternative options are very expensive.

Over the many years I have been building and 4-wheeling a broad variety of vehicles, I have been exposed to many different wheel and tire combinations.  Between my own vehicles and those of my friends and other 4x4 owners I've 'wheeled with on the trails, I have pretty much seen everything out there in real-world use, from street to trail.  My experiences led me to consider the following factors while making my decision:

  • Welded steel wheels are inexpensive and strong, but they are heavy (which negatively affects acceleration, braking, fuel economy, ride quality, and handling), harder to balance, and very rarely concentric due to welding inconsistencies, so they're notorious for causing vibrations and "death wobble."
  • Cast aluminum wheels are a bit more expensive than steel and are of widely variable quality.  They are light in weight and very concentric due to machined finishing so they're great on-road, but they are much less forgiving of trail damage and are notorious for bending or cracking.
  • Beadlock (or faux beadlock) cast aluminum wheels address the strength issue around the bead area, but they are oftentimes as heavy as a steel wheel and even higher up the cost ladder.
  • Forged aluminum wheels are strong, lightweight, and drive very well, but they are much more expensive due to the more complex manufacturing process and the resulting reduced economy of scale.
For my Jeep, I wanted the best strength and drivability, but I didn't want to spend a fortune.  I knew I wanted to preserve my Jeep's daily driving and road trip comforts, but I was having a lot of trouble finding a cast aluminum wheel that didn't look too "blingy" and which hadn't earned a reputation for having problems with developing cracks around the wheel lugs.

Another problem I ran into is that there are only a very select few wheels that are actually made for a JK.  Sure, almost every aftermarket wheel manufacturer produces a wheel with approximately the right offset and the Jeep's 5x5" lug pattern, but that does not mean the wheel was actually engineered for the Jeep; they start with a generic casting, and then machine a handful of standard lug patterns with a one-size-fits-all hub bore.  This means that the wheels center onto the axle on the wheel studs (a.k.a. lugcentric) instead of being truly centered on the hub center (a.k.a. hubcentric).

Don't let the dissenters mislead you; hubcentric wheels matter.  A wheel that centers on the hub has a much larger, precision-machined index on which to center itself, and it takes the load off the wheel lugs to allow the lug nuts to be accurately and consistently torqued.  Proper torquing not only prevents loose nuts from backing off, but it also prevents distortion of the brake rotors and potential wheel vibrations that can lead to "death wobble."  (It is for these same reasons that a spindle or unit bearing is "shouldered" to fit snugly into a precision-machined surface on its steering knuckle, rather than simply allowing the spindle/unit bearing studs to take the entire load.)  I acknowledge that there are people out there who have had great luck with lugcentric wheels on their Wranglers, but I don't want to half-ass the buildup of my Jeep in hopes that it still drives okay when I'm done modifying it.

The JK's hub bore measures 71.5mm, while almost all aftermarket wheels have much larger bores.  Sure, you can buy plastic hubcentering rings that adapt your wheels to your hubs, but these still aren't as good a fix as a proper, precision-machined, metal-to-metal interface.  This narrowed down my wheel choices to only the following Jeep-specific, hubcentric wheels:

AEV Pintler 17x8.5" with 5.2" backspacing
 
AEV Savegre 17x8.5" with 5.2" backspacing
Rugged Ridge 17x9" with 4.625" backspacing
Each of these options cost well over $200 apiece, and I'm not a big fan of the blingy Rugged Ridge or the ugly Savegre wheels.  I had almost decided to go with the Pintlers until I realized that there is another option: Spidertrax precision machined JK wheel spacers would allow me to re-use my perfectly good OEM Rubicon wheels:


With such a taller and wider tire, you can't simply mount the OEM wheels on the axles; the 6.25" backspacing on the OEM wheels means the tires will rub on the frame and control arms when steered sharply, which is why wheels with a different offset are required.  1.5" thick wheel spacers bring that backspacing to a much more reasonable 4.75" and the narrower 7.5" wheel width keeps the tires from sticking way out past the fenders.


Some may consider the Jeep's original wheels to be rather bland or boring or too stock-looking, but I particularly like them.  Going along with my theme of building my Rubicon the way that I think Jeep should offer directly from the factory, my decision to retain the factory wheels gives my Jeep an understated factory appearance and avoids the ostentatious look that plagues many modified Jeeps.


The OEM wheels are cast aluminum with a typically vulnerable outer rim, but the slightly narrower 7.5" width now pulls the outer lip of the rim inward by 3/4-inch compared to a 9-inch-wide wheel, helping avoid trail damage.  The narrower profile also helps keep the tires' beads seated when aired-down on the trail.  Although slightly narrower than ideal for highway tread life (faster wear in the center of the tread than on the shoulder lugs when driven primarily in a straight line) my Jeep's role as a daily driver typically puts more wear on the outside tread blocks, so these narrower wheels should help compensate for that by slightly rounding-off the tires' contact patches and return more even treadwear.  Extensive off-road mileage will play more of a factor in the treads' wear anyway.  I plan to provide future long-term updates, so keep checking back.

I had a choice of lots of different wheel spacers, but I found out that not all are created equal.  Spidertrax makes the very best that are available: they are CNC machined from 6061T6 aluminum to dimensions that are specific to each application.  They each come with five wheel studs preinstalled and include thread locking compound to help ensure that the supplied lug nuts never come loose on their own.  Installation is easy but you still need to make sure that you're properly torquing the lug nuts to 90 ft-lbs in a star pattern using a torque wrench and the supplied Loctite.


The Spidertrax wheel spacers are machined hubcentric on both the hub- and wheel-side faces, so once they are installed, your wheels will run perfectly true and transfer vertical loads directly to the hub instead of through the wheel lugs.  I am very pleased with the performance from my OEM wheels with these spacers - I have none of the typical seat-of-the-pants vibrations or steering wheel shimmy that I've felt on so many different 4x4s with aftermarket wheels and tires.  In fact, I drove my Jeep for a week without the steering stabilizer installed to verify that I had no feedback that could have been masked by the damper.


A full set of 4 of these American-made wheel spacers costs less than one Chinese-made aftermarket Jeep wheel while providing numerous other advantages.  If you like the look of your original Jeep wheels, you won't be disappointed with this setup.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks and great read... I am going to utilize the same set-up on my JK12 RUBI with 3' lift and 315/70r17 tires. I just don't have it in me to discard the stock wheels. I like the look and 1K just isn't woth it to swap them out.... even for AEV. Very helpful wirte-up... much appreciated.

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  2. Do you work for or with Spidertrax?

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  3. I do not and have not ever worked for Spidertrax.

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  4. FYI for others going through the same decision process. The only problem I have had on the trail with the stock wheels ('12 Rubi) was when I knocked out a tire stem on a rock. AEV advertises a reset well for the tire stems.

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  5. This is very nice information on Jeep Wheels. I like the pictures of wheels presented. My Jeep looked upgraded when I bought new set of wheels and for sure it helped my Jeeps' performance.

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  6. How wide are the 315/70r17 tires? and also how much lift do have on your JK?

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    1. They're 315mm wide. They're the equivalent to a 35x12.50R17 tire.

      My Jeep has the AEV 3.5-inch DualSport suspension kit, which nets 4.0 inches front and 3.0 inches rear lift for a level stance and optimal clearance for 35's.

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  7. Excellent thanks, I didn't realize that those tires would fit on the factory Rubicon rims. I like the rims but thought I'd have to go 8" rims or 8.5" to get those size tires.

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    1. I wouldn't recommend using a tire this wide with any smaller than 35" diameter, but as my Jeep demonstrates, I am getting very even tread wear and good ride & handling with these tires on the OEM 7.5-inch-wide rims.

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  8. its a great review...but most tires that size want at least an 8.0" rim. The stocks are 7.5. It matters, unless you don't want to go with the tire manufacturers recommendations. I'd love to use my stock 13' rubicon rims (i want duratrac 315/70/17's)...but they are too narrow according to duratrac chart. Any advise?

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    1. Although Goodyear (and most other tire manufacturers) spec a recommended range of 8.0-10.0 inches on wheel width for 315/70R17 tires, the original 7.5-inch-wide wheels work just fine. Think about it - that 1/2 inch of difference is split between both sidewalls, so each sidewall is only pulled in 1/4-inch more. This actually gives you 1/4-inch more clearance between your wheels and the rocks.

      The primary concern is whether the tires' inner tread will wear at a faster rate than the shoulder lugs. I've been keeping a close eye on my tires' wear, and I cannot tell any odd wear patterns whatsoever in spite of the narrow wheels. The tall sidewalls allows more lateral deflection of the tires than you get from a low-profile tire, so the shoulder lugs get plenty of wear when cornering. If anything, a slightly too-narrow wheel like these 7.5" rims may actually help promote more-even treadwear! Wheel width is a lot less critical when you're using tall tires than you are with low-profile rubber-band tires.

      If you like your original Jeep wheels, then my recommendation is to run them with the spacers. I can report -zero- issues with this combination over the course of 20,000 miles.

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  9. Hi, just found your site and thanks for posting because newbie Jeep Owners need this guidance. After reading through your various blogs on choosing the right tires and suspension lifts, we seem to have the same priorities with regard to having performance with minimum modification to stock features and minimum lift to still avoid rubbing. I'm wondering if you have any tips for the largest tire size we can get away with without undue pressure on the vehicle and without re-gearing? Is the 35 the max? Or 36-37? We have a 2012 Rubicon Unlimited with the 4.10. We'd really like to keep stock wheels and fenders, and may replace the bumpers with off roads in the future, but really like the stock look at the moment. Could the same types of lifts and kits you used for your build work well for a slightly larger tire, or is 35 the max you would safely recommend?

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    1. I would recommend a "leveling kit" or a mild lift kit, like in the 2.5-inch range. You have a lot of options for mild lifts, and with the 4.10 gears you can easily run up to a 35-inch tire without any power/gearing problems.

      There are some 285/75-17 tires on the market that are about 34 inches tall and fit great on the original wheels. These won't put any undue stress on your Jeep and will be sized right for a mild lift or leveling kit.

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  10. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this,would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

    industrial tire & caster wheel manufacturers

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  11. Thanks for this information. It really looks good. I am thanks for all your information. Wheel spacers are helped our vehicle's supper and drive comfort. But I used wheel spacers from customadeonly.com gives very comfort. It is always important to choose that are of high quality.

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  12. I'm currently running 35" tires on my stock 2013 rubicon wheels with the spidertrax spacer. I'd like to move up to 37" tires...what's your opinion on running 37" tires with the stock wheel at 7.5" and spacers?

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    1. 37x12.5's should have no problem fitting on the wheels. The issue you might run into is the tires rubbing on the sway bar when you're at full steering lock because the tires' larger diameter means they will arc further inward when steering. My 35's just barely kiss the sway bar when the suspension is fully articulated and the steering is at full lock, so your 37's should rub the sway bar even more so. However, this will not be a major issue because the sway bar is smooth and round, so it will not cause any damage to your tires. I'd say go for it.

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  13. Reluctantly I've decided to purchase new wheels, I based my decision on wanting a wider stance since I want to upgrade to 37's. The two wheels I've narrowed down to are the Mickey Thompson classic Baja lock, which I don't think is a true beadlock and the other is the method racing MR305 matte black NV. whats your opinion of the two?
    thank You

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    1. Well, picking either one is simply a matter of personal preference. They're both quality wheels made by companies who stand behind their products.

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  14. Thanks for posting such an informative article. I have scoured the internet on what to do with my front wheels rubbing on the inward stop against the front sway bar. I purchased a set of Goodyear Duratrac's for my 2013 Wrangler Unlimited. I went from a 255/75/17 to a 285/70/17. I wanted for the same reason you did about keeping my stock wheels, I like them, and there is nothing out there that wowed me enough to change. I purchased the Spidertrax and returned the G2 spacers because the G2's are not hubcentric. Below is another article explaining the science of hubcentric wheel spacers. Thanks again
    http://www.maximummotorsports.com/tech_wheels_spacers.aspx

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  15. JimmyW, Helena, MTMay 18, 2015 at 2:58 PM

    I'm new to your blog and find it very informative and appreciate the in-depth reports. I've had a few Jeeps and now have a 2015 JKUHR. Your post about tires and wheels is very timely for me. I'm leaning toward a 285/75/17 tire, perhaps a Toyo MT.

    If I understand correctly, using 1.5" spacers with the stock rims gives me 4.75" of backspace. Plus, you suggetsed that the 7.5" rim helps keep the tires inside the fender. However, I noted that AEV rims have 5.2" of backspace and reportedly will work well with my desired tire size. Therefore, wouldn't the AEV rims keep the tires under the fenders better than the stock rims with spacers? I do plan to add a 1.5" leveling kit as well. Thanks for any help you can provide.

    BTW, what do those guard dog tires weigh? I know that the Toyos are about 71#. Do yo have any thoughts on tire weight?

    JimmyW
    Helena, MT

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    1. Jimmy, the 285/75R17 is a good tire size for a Jeep. It's nearly as tall as a 315 or 35, but isn't quite as wide. However, Toyos are known for being heavy. My 315/70R17 Guard Dogs (on BFG A/T KO casings) weigh 73lbs as per this post: http://www.rubicon4wheeler.com/2012/03/tires-part-3-treadwright-guard-dog-with.html

      Regarding your backspacing and overall width, you'll find that the AEV rims will be roughly the same overall sidewall-to-sidewall width as OEM wheels with spacers. AEV rims keep the tires tucked inside the fenders while still providing enough clearance between the front tires and the sway bar when steered to full steering lock.

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  16. Thanks for getting back to me. I'm hearing some negative reports on AEV rims, like at http://forum.aev-conversions.com/showthread.php?t=7178. I also checked out Racelines. It seems that I can use a 7.5" - 9" rim, with 5" - 5.25" of backspacing. The idea is to get as much backspacing as possible without any interference with the SB disconnected. The narrower rims seem little better suited to my tire size, and all of the aftermarket rims that I see with the that backspacing are 8.5" - 9". In the end, I think I'd end up the same with 1.5" Spidertrax and the stock wheels.

    All of the 285/25/17s are heavy. They're built more for pickups, IMHO. The variety also isn't very good. I'm looking at Cooper STTs and Grappler MTs, too. I don't think that there are any others. Over the years, I've found that tire size and those tires types best overall in snow up in the hills. My buddy really likes his Guard Dogs.

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  17. Thought I'd add to my comment, as I noted that Motorsport Tech spacers come highly recommended, too. They offer a 1.2" spacer, which could work a little better with a 285/75/17 that's around 11.5" wide than a 1.5" spacer.

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  18. Those new wheels really suit your Jeep. It’s good for rough roads and terrains. You can go anywhere you want now, without the worry of them giving out. I hope to see your great adventures in the future. Keep us posted!

    Byron Walters @ Bob Dunn

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  19. Thanks! I think that the rims were the way to go. Spacers may be fine, but I rather avoid any worries, even if imagined, that they might fail.

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  20. This is a great thread! Thanks rubicon4wheeler for starting! I, too, have the same thoughts - I want to keep my stock wheels! I have '14 Rubi and want to upgrade the stock tires. I'm looking at going with the BFG KO2s. However, the tire place says they can put on LT315/70/R17 (available 10/1/2015), with 1.5" spacers, but they won't put on the 35x12.50x17 ones (which are currently available). Is there that much difference between the two sets? After reading this thread, I will for sure go with the Spidertrac spacers. Also, I'm adding 2.5" Rough Country spring/shock lift kit as well first. Thanks for any thoughts you might have.

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  21. This is a great thread! Thanks rubicon4wheeler for starting! I, too, have the same thoughts - I want to keep my stock wheels! I have '14 Rubi and want to upgrade the stock tires. I'm looking at going with the BFG KO2s. However, the tire place says they can put on LT315/70/R17 (available 10/1/2015), with 1.5" spacers, but they won't put on the 35x12.50x17 ones (which are currently available). Is there that much difference between the two sets? After reading this thread, I will for sure go with the Spidertrac spacers. Also, I'm adding 2.5" Rough Country spring/shock lift kit as well first. Thanks for any thoughts you might have.

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  22. Well, my Rubicon has the same size tires and spacers, and I wouldn't recommend it. Even after adding a high-steer kit the wider track and aggressive tires mean on rutty roads you're constantly playing the side to side game. Also, I wore out my steering arm (joint) and other parts after only 7k miles and had to replace all those items with aftermarket (moob) parts with beefier fittings.

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  23. Spidertrax wheel spacer are they safe??

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