Tips for Choosing the Best Off-Roading Wheels
By Charles Farrell
Special to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Car manufacturers sometimes usually make their vehicles as versatile as possible to appeal to more people. Unfortunately, that also means quite basic builds that fail to impress true off-roading fans. This happens so often that you would have a hard time finding a vehicle without a few functional modifications.
Going off-road is asking for trouble, and you would definitely want to be ready for anything. That is when aftermarket parts like off-roading wheels can come in handy. But wheel customization can be a little confusing for beginners and people with no engineering or mechanical background.
Do You Need Special Lug Bolts for Aftermarket Wheels?
Let us start with the least covered question that is often overlooked. If you are looking for a way to cut the modification price, reusing your old lug bolts and nuts may not work. OEM parts are often incompatible with aftermarket parts despite looking similar. So it is best to replace fasteners when you put on a new set of wheels to ensure your safety.
Another common issue with custom wheels occurs when people overlook their vehicle’s bolt pattern. Every model has a specific arrangement of 5 to 8 bolt holes spaced from the center and from each other in a way that secures the wheel in the best position. Most shops recommend following your vehicle’s original wheel bolt pattern guide from the manual as the most foolproof option.
However, we choose off-roading because we love to go off the beaten path. It is possible to fit virtually any aftermarket wheels using special adapters that connect the new wheel with your car’s hub, even if the bolt patterns are not the same. This is an option if you can be absolutely confident in quality and durability. Remember that extra inches of metal will put more pressure on the hub, bolts and lug nuts. And any extra strain in harsh off-roading conditions is a risk.
Negative Offset for Off-roading
Wheel offset and backspacing are two closely related specs that cause a lot of headaches if you are not familiar with how car wheels are built. And that is a shame. Because if you can calculate the custom offset and upgrade your vehicle, it will give you an edge in the wilds.
To understand what offset is, imagine a line that goes along the middle of your tire and runs through your wheel like an equator and slices the wheel in half. This is the centerline.
Offset is just a measurement that shows how far the mounting of your wheel is from this centerline. It can be right in the center (zero offset), it can be protruding outwards to the street (positive offset) or hidden deep inside the rim (negative offset). This measurement is important for fitting the wheels inside the wheel wells without damaging the car body and fender.
And backspacing represents the distance from the mounting hub to the inner edge of your wheel. Positive offset gives you more backspacing and negative offset reduces this distance. “Usually, you should avoid adding the positive offset,” recommends Oliver Brown, Data Coordinator at Wheelssize.com. “It brings the wheel closer to your suspension and brakes.”
Off-roading experts often opt for wider, bigger wheels to get more contact with the ground and improve stability. And usually, that is why SUVs and trucks have negative offset by default. This type of offset allows you to fit larger wheels and tires without any issues. Just stay within the 5mm range if you want to change the offset with new wheels. Anything more than that may require additional work and professional guidance.
Does Rim Size Matter for Off-roading?
Choosing rims and tires can be challenging. However, the first step is always the same. You should first make up your mind on what is your end goal. The right choice depends on how, where and when you are going to use your new wheels.
For instance, the size matters for the type of surface and season. Bulky wheels with wide tires are good for climbing rocks and traversing sand patches in summer, late spring and early autumn. However, if you wish to brave the element in winter or rainy season, get thinner and taller wheels for snow and mud. The best tire size for such conditions is around 15-16 inches.
The size of tires you can fit depends on the type of offset and rim size. So keep that in mind while shopping for replacement parts.
Material is another thing to consider. Heavier rims made of durable metal will shift the weight down, increasing stability. But at the same time, bulky wheels put more strain on other parts like lug bolts, hubs, brakes, suspension and transmission. So if you think about bigger changes, consider some extra mods to support them.
Best Rim Material for Off-roading
The most important things about off-road wheels are durability and weight. Using lighter wheels will help your gas mileage and performance even when the road under the wheels is nonexistent. Helping your engine and transmission do their job by cutting extra weight will benefit you in the long run. That is why alloy wheels with high-grade aluminum are quite popular among off-roaders.
Aluminum alloy rims are sturdy enough to withstand constant shocks and stress but are also pretty light. They can be either forged or cast, depending on the manufacturing method. Forged aluminum alloy rims show the best results for off-roading. Forging is what makes these lightweight wheels strong enough to carry heavy loads and survive harsh terrains. The downside is their price. Thus, many off-roaders instead choose cast rims that are easier to replace.
Steel rims are heavier, they can oxidize and rust away without proper care. But they have a big advantage over aluminum wheels. Only steel wheels combine durability and flexibility at the same time. Where a steel wheel can bend under a hit, an aluminum wheel will most likely crack. Alloys try to fix this issue, but they can never replicate its full potential.
So basically, there is no ready solution for every off-road enthusiast. The right answers come only when you ask the right questions. So, learn more about the type of terrain you want to challenge and make your choice accordingly.