Are you considering upgrading the wheels on your VW Vanagon? There are a number of good reasons to upgrade your Vanagon wheels, and the primary ones are safety and better handling. But don’t just go with any larger wheels, make sure to get the right ones.
The 14” wheels that come standard on a VW Vanagon are literally just too small to do the job. You may already know that it’s impossible to find tires that fit the standard Vanagon wheels and meet the safety requirements for the weight of the vehicle. Weighing in at over 4,000 pounds, no tires that fit the original 14” wheels are load-rated for the weight of the van. Of course, many people–yourself included perhaps–use 14” tires and get by for many years without accidents related to the weight of the van.
These people, however, are the ones who have to hold the steering wheel very tight (while praying to their angels) on a freeway to counteract the wobbling effect of a passing truck or strong cross wind. You see, the original VW Vanagon wheels are 14” x 5.5”. This means the diameter of the wheel is 14” and the width (or “depth”) of the wheel as measured from the outside of the car toward the center, is 5.5”. When you upgrade your Vanagon’s wheels, you’ll be looking at wheels ranging from 7” to 7.5” in width.
So with the originals, you’ll get blown all over the road, but the bigger wheels are wider, so there is more tire in contact with the ground at any time. As a result, the van will handle much more smoothly, you’ll have increased stability, and, you won’t feel every single bump in the pavement anymore either.
So if you’re convinced that you want more stability, a smoother ride, and a higher safety standard, the next question is what kind of wheels to get for your VW Vanagon.
When you upgrade your Vanagon’s wheels, you’ll have to decide what size wheels you want to upgrade to. If your Vanagon is a Syncro, you’ll probably want to consider 16” wheels, however for all other Vanagon wheels, 15” wheels are preferred. (Any larger and there just isn’t enough room around the wheel well to have everything running correctly.)
Because the upgraded Vanagon wheels are wider, many wheel upgrades require the use of a spacer in order to make sure the tires don’t sit too close together. Spacers are also used when the bolt pattern of a wheel doesn’t match the original bolt pattern on the car.
The bolt pattern describes the diameter of the imaginary circle between the centers of the lugs on the wheel. The Vanagon bolt pattern is 5 x 112. The first number in a bolt pattern, in this case, “5” refers to the number of bolt holes on the vehicle. The other number, “112” refers to the diameter of the imaginary circle created by the 5 bolt holes, which measures how far apart they are. On Vanagon wheels, this is measured in millimeters, so 112 mm is 11.2 cm or just under 4.5” inches. If your new Vanagon wheels don’t have the same 5 x 112 bolt pattern, then a spacer may be used to “convert” the wheels.
There are two main drawbacks to using spacers, one more mechanical, one more cosmetic. Spacers can put an extra load on the wheel bearings, and they can also make the tires stick out beyond the fenders.
Vanagon wheels are generally made of either steel or aluminum alloy. Steel wheels are heavier, cheaper to make, and although they are durable, they’re ugly. That’s why steel wheels almost always are covered by hub caps. The alloy wheels are stronger, lighter, and because of their aesthetic appeal, do not require hub caps.
When you choose your Vanagon wheels, it’s worth it to go for the alloys. And since different wheels have different designs so you’ll want to pick one that highlights the unique style of your VW Vanagon.
So when you’re considering the different types of Vanagon wheels, look for 15” Alloy wheels that have a 5 x 112 bolt pattern and don’t require spacers.
Hopefully this article has helped you gain a better understanding of why you might consider upgrading your Vanagon wheels and what to look for when you do.