Wheels maketh the 4X4. Sure, it might be a controversial opinion. It might even be one completely made up without any facts to verify it. But you can’t deny the silent judgement we all give when we see a 4X4 with a set of horrible wheels on it. It gets worse than a set of lime green alloys that were no doubt first seen on an episode of Pimp My Ride. Choosing the wrong wheels for your 4X4 can drastically affect how your ride handles. It can cause panel rubbing. Brakes fouling. And catastrophic failure just by ordering from the wrong website. So what’s a 4X4er to do? We’re glad you asked!
Step 1 – How they bolt on
We’ve bumped this one right up the top because quite frankly, it’s the most important. There’s no use having the fanciest set of new Fuel wheels if they won’t physically bolt onto your pride and joy. There’s a few things you need to consider when looking at stud pattern. A typical stud pattern will be represented as something like 6×139.7. That first number is how many studs on each hub on your 4×4, and by relation, how many holes you’ll need in each wheel. That second number is often the one that catches people out though. Draw an imaginary circle that covers all of the wheel studs. The diameter of that circle with a 6×139.7 pattern will be 139.7mm. That measurement may seem a little goofy, and that’s because it’s derived from the American measurement of 5.5in which gives a much cleaner number.
The second factor here to consider is the hub size. On the wheel, that’s the size of the hole in the middle of it. On the 4X4, that’s the size of whatever needs to poke through that hole. It’s often a selectable hub, an axle, or at least a steel ring. Ideally, the two sizes will match and that ring will take the load of the wheel, not just the wheel studs. If the hole is too small in the wheel it flat out won’t fit. If the hole in the wheel is too big you can typically get a plastic ring that’ll act as a spacer.
Step 2 – Dimensions
The next factor you’ll need to consider is the physical dimensions of the wheel itself. On Pat’s FX4 Ranger, his Fuel wheels punch in at a nice even 17×9. That’s going to give him an overall height of 17 inches. And an overall width of 9in. As a general rule, you’ll need to go similar height to what your 4X4 came with from the factory, but can bump out slightly wider to suit common wheels. Going smaller than the factory offering can cause complications with clearance of brake calipers.
In the old days when 4X4s barely had brakes you could go right down to a 15in wheel comfortably. These days even a 16in wheel is tight. Hence 17in becoming the go-to. Going larger will give you more responsive steering thanks to less tyre sidewall, but will cause issues with not being able to air down enough for the terrain. Once again, because of less tyre sidewall.
Step 3 – Will they work?
Sadly, just because a wheel will physically fit on your 4X4 doesn’t mean it’ll actually work on there. The issue is a little thing called offset. Offset is a very simple measurement of how much of the wheel sits in front of the wheel mounting surface, and how much of the wheel sits behind that surface. A 0 offset wheel will have the wheel mounting surface smack bank in the middle of the wheel. Newer 4X4s like the Everest and Ranger will both have what is known as a positive offset, something like +55. That’ll mean the wheel sits 55mm further in than a 0 offset.
Why is this important? Simple. If your 4X4 runs a +55 offset normally, and the wheels you buy are -50, your wheels will stick out like roller skates and do a number on your sheet metal. Likewise, if you need a -50, and buy a +50, your wheels will likely have huge fouling issues on the chassis or suspension. It’s why websites like the WheelPros one below have vehicle selectors to only show what wheels suit your 4X4.
Step 4 – Load rating
Imagine for a ridiculous second that you were using a piece of bread for shoes. Even just standing there, they’ll probably crumble under the load. You’d need something far heavier duty. A baguette perhaps. Meanwhile, those same slices of crisp wholemeal bread would be perfectly find under a child, that is of course unless that child was to give you a piggy back. If this odd simile makes sense then it should be no surprise that different wheels have different load ratings. A set of affordable and ultra light wheels might not cut the mustard in your fully loaded tourer. It’s not as simple as working out your GVM and dividing by four either. Your 4X4 will typically and legally carry more weight in the rear, especially when towing.
In a late model 4X4 Ranger, the front axle will be rated to 1480kg, that’s 740kg a side, and something an 800kg rated wheel can handle. The rear though? Ford gives you 1850kg on the rear axle, or 925kg per side. That 800kg rated wheel up front isn’t going to be legal, or safe, on the rear. It’s a safe assumption that most dual cab Utes running around with budget wheels aren’t meeting this standard.
Step 5 – Material
The final consideration you’ll need to make when shopping for 4X4 wheels, is what they’re actually made of. There’s not too many exotic materials here, so your choices are going to be steel, or alloy. Steel wheels, or steelies as they’re often called, are an old-school tried and tested solution. They’re dirt cheap, and reasonably strong. Proponents of them like that they can be beat back into shape with a hammer if you bend one. Alloy wheels on the other hand are more expensive, but also significantly lighter which is going to not only save you money at the bowser, but will help your 4X4 stop, steer, and accelerate easier. Buy the right wheels and they’re also stronger than steel wheels too. Sure, you can’t fix them with a hammer, but you won’t have to.
Step 6 – Buy quality
Nothing in this world is safe from counterfeits and copies, and that extends to 4X4 wheels as well. A counterfeit, or cheap copy, may look similar and measure the same as a top quality wheel, but that’s where the similarities often end. In a steel wheel, lower grade steel is frequently used. Match that with poor weld qualities and those $50 bargain wheels can leave you stranded track side with half the wheel bolted to your 4X4, and the other half off in the bushes. Likewise, poor quality casting with alloy wheels can have the same affect. Where possible, buy direct from the manufacturer. If that’s not an option, a local wheel and tyre shop. Online retailers are a fantastic option, but it’s often hard to tell the difference between a legitimate business selling legitimate products, and a fly by night scammer selling dangerous imitations.