Are you addicted to alloys? Do hoops make you horny? Then get ready for the techy low down on selecting the most important element of any modified Van with our guide to wheels and tyres for the VW Transporter
The explosion of obscure and highly detailed OEM rims over the past couple of years has seen prices for exclusive and newly refurbished rims sky rocket. Amongst this sea of weird and wonderful wheels and tyres, selecting the right set of hoops for your ride has become blurred by an insatiable need to push the boundaries of offset, PCD adaptation and stretched tyres, often with scant regard for wheel weight loading and tyre index ratings.
Using bead blasters and lighter fuel to attach tyres that are two inches narrower than your 10-inch wide rims is now common sight on popular internet blogs such as Stanceworks, Canibeat and Speedhunters, but where should you draw the line between safety, practicality, performance and the thing you’re probably most worried about – style. What fits, how will they sit, will they rub, how much tyre stretch is too much and at what point should forcing tyres onto the bead of a rim be considered dangerous?
Yes, we’d all like to wrap the lowest profile rubber bands around the widest, largest diameter rims on God’s earth, but at some point you have to remember that those black circles are the only point of contact between you and the road. Pushing things too far will result in, at best, compromised ride quality and a tendency to tramline. At worst, trouble at mill. Heat build up in the sidewalls from over stretched tyres has a detrimental effect on speed rating and load index, which, when you consider that most Vans nudge the scales in excess of 1800kg, is no laughing matter. The facts you need to choose wisely when looking at wheels and tyres are here to digest. Just remember, anything can be made to fit, it’s just a question of how much money and time you want to invest to make your desires reality.
Size: The relevant dimensions
The overall diameter and width of the wheels you can fit is dictated by wheelarch and inboard suspension clearance. Arch lips can be modified (commonly referred to as ‘rolled’) to accommodate bigger than standard wheels, while aftermarket coilover struts tend to use smaller diameter coil springs, which can help to accommodate wider wheels. While it’s entirely possible to perform more drastic modifications and exceed the measurements below, this will give you a good starting point to work from. But be aware, pushing wheels to the maximum possible width and diameter invariably results in a poorer ride quality as sidewall profiles are generally reduced to maintain a similar overall rolling radius. The figures below for both the T4 and T5 are based on the typical range of wheel sizes we’ve seen fitted to these vehicles, but there will always be exceptions to the rule. Some say that 22s on a T5 are too big, others disagree. Some may even choose to fit smaller than standard wheels for that Euro look. The possibilities are endless, so this list is open to interpretation.
In general, the wider the wheel, the lower the offset (ET). And the lower the offset, the more chance there will be of having to do modifications.
|Van||Front wheel width||Rear wheel width||Diameter||Accepted norm||Stock ET||PCD|
|T4||5 – 8.5in||6 – 9.5in||15 – 19in||16-inch||+45||5 x 112|
|T5||6 – 9.5in||7 – 10in||16 – 22in||17-inch||+35||5 x 120|
This is a suggested list of rim sizes we’ve encountered. There’s nothing to say you can’t go bigger. or smaller, but try to stay as close as possible to suggested factory offsets and hub centre bore if you’re going wider and taller. It’s a good idea to ask advice with owners’ clubs and online forums before purchasing any wheels as you’ll invariably find someone, somewhere has already tried what you’re trying to do and can advise appropriately. Failing that, speak with the wheel manufacturer and explain what you are trying to do. Finally, be aware that there are some tricks that can be used, such as hubcentric spacer plates, which can be used to make narrower wheels sit flush with the arches.
PCD – Pitch Circle Diameter
An imaginary line through the centre of the bolts that attach the wheels to the car. This can be altered by plugging, welding and re-drilling, but that’s a specialist machine shop operation. More simple is using PCD adapters, but note these also widen the track and are amongst some of the most contentious modifications out there. Some are quite happy to run them, others won’t go anywhere near them…
Width, sidewall profile, diameter, speed and load ratings are the most important figures to consider when buying tyres.
Each tyre manufacturer produces a size chart telling you which tyres are designed for specific wheel widths. If you plan on running stretched tyres, the chances are you’ll be heading outside these manufacturer-specified limits. For example, according to Toyo, a 195/40 x 16 Proxes 4 tyre should only be used on a 6.5-7.5-inch wide, 16-inch diameter wheel. However, we’ve seen them forced onto 8.5 and even nine-inch wide 16s. We’re not saying don’t do it, just use your common sense. Note also that any external protrusions 30mm or more beyond the edge of the arch are illegal in the UK, and any visible rubbing marks on the tyre tread and / or wheelarch could result in the police getting heavy with you if you’re unfortunate enough to be pulled over, or a failure sheet from the MoT inspector.
To see what different tyres look like on different rims, check out the www.tyrestretch.com gallery to make a judgement before taking the plunge.
Choose the right tyres for your Van
Vital statistics: There are a series of important numbers and letters on every tyre produced, and their combination tells you all you need to know about the rubber bands in question. They might look a bit inpenetrable to a novice, but they are written in a specific order on every tyre made, so once you get your head round it it’s pretty simple.
The tyre code begins with width (in millimetes), then sidewall profile (overall height, expressed as a percentage of width), diameter (in inches), load rating and finally speed rating. On a Van, you need to pay attention to the load rating in particular, as the payloads of T4s and ’5s varies significantlly between models. If you’ve got a T32 T5, for example, you’re better equipped to lug a shedload of weight around, but you need higher load rated wheels and tyres as a result.
Wobble bolts (pictured above) are loose collared wheel bolts that come in a variety of thread pitches and sizes, including the all-important tapered M14 x 1.5 used by VW. While these bolts may appear to be the answer to your prayers, they are the subject of some contention. Basically, they allow you to fit a wheel with a slightly different PCD to the hubs on your Van. As such, you will also see them referred to as PCD variation bolts. You could, for example, fit a Chevy or Jag-pattern wheel in 5 x 120.6 (5 x 4¾in) to a 5 x 120 VW hub using these, or bolt a 5 x 114.3 (Japanese fitment) wheel to a 5 x 112 hub. We’re not saying do it, just that it’s possible. Though we’ve had no personal experience with these, we’re assured they’ve been in widespread use since the 1930s.
Image wheels are seriously cool, custom made, UK-manufactured wheels where you can specify width, diameter and offset requirements. They even produce a weight-rated wheel that’s suitable for use on a T5. We love ’em
- Porsche: 5 x 130 PCD, various offsets. Look to later 911 models and Cayennes for big inchers, but you’ll need to run adapters
- Audi: 5 x 112
- Bentley: 5 x 112
- BMW: 5 x 112 and 5 x 120 (BBS RC090 Style 5s)
- Mercedes /
- Maybach: 5 x 112
- Chevy: 5 x 120.6
- 5 x 120.6
- Lamborghini: 5 x 112
- Range Rover: 5 x 120
Wheel load index / tyre weight rating
VW Transporters are heavy old barges that can carry a lot of weight, so it’s vital that you choose wheels and tyres that can deal with the appropriate payload. Each wheel and tyre should be able to cope comfortably with the maximum weight you’re likely to place inside / tow with your Van. It’s generally assumed that 98 or higher (750kg a corner) tyres and suitably weight rated wheels are a safe bet, especially with a few people and a Camper interior on board.
The load rating of a wheel, as determined by the wheel manufacturer, should not be exceeded under any circumstances. Manufacturers test and identify a wheel’s maximum load rating, so check the back of the wheel or with the wheel manufacturer.
Wheel load rating requirements are determined by dividing the vehicle’s heaviest gross axle weight rating by two. The axle weight rating for most vehicles is shown on the identification label located on the driver’s side door jamb, petrol filler flap, boot lid or glove compartment. However, it is common for people to disobey these rules, which is fine if they know the exact weight of their Van and it is constantly empty. Doing this opens up the realms of sportier / cheaper / non-commercial tyres, but again, use common sense here and do not do anything that could endanger your life, or that of those on the road around you. Just don’t come moaning to us if you bend a wheel or continually puncture tyres.
When a sidewall of the tyre pokes beyond the arch.
When the wheel tucks up and disappears within the wheelarch, usually thanks to air ride, hydraulics or a drastic static drop on coilover struts.
Always check that the wheels you’re planning to fit have enough clearance for your chosen brake discs and calipers. Most wheel manufacturers produce technical drawings that can be used to establish which sizes brakes will fit.
Simply refers to running wider wheels and tyres on one axle – usually the back. It’s a cool look, but generally not one that is recommended by manufacturers
The static rolling radius is the distance from the middle of the wheel to the ground, but the rolling circumference is the distance covered in one complete rotation of the wheel. So, if you fit larger wheels and tyres and change the overall diameter of the wheel, you affect the rolling circumference. For example, if you change from a 205/40 x 17 with a diameter of 595mm and a rolling circumference of 1871.76mm to an 18-inch wheel, then the closest match would be a 215/35 x 18 with a diameter of 607.7 and a rolling circumference of 1909.14mm. This equates to a 2% difference so, at 70mph, your speedo will read 71.4mph. Got it? Good.
The circular hole in the mounting face of the wheel is measured in millimetres. This helps the wheel locate centrally and saves your biceps some work. Spigot rings can be used to reduce this measurement, or wheels can be machined out if the centre bore is too small. T4s have a centre bore of 57.1mm while T5s use a 65.1mm.
Wrapping ’n’ dipping
A vinyl wrap can be applied to the dish, or the entire wheel. Likewise, a wheel can be hydro-dipped for a different look. The only limitation is your imagination.
You’d be amazed how easily oxidised, kerbed and even bent rims can be knocked back into shape. Even wheels that look beyond repair can be bought back from the dead by someone who knows what they’re doing, but finding that person prepared to do the work can be the hard bit. Be particularly careful if you’re buying secondhand to check for cracks, although even these can be welded and repaired by a decent machine shop. Cutting back, sanding, milling, welding and straightening are just some of the techniques used to refurb old wheels. Most professionals wheel refurbers will acid dip or sand blast wheels to reveal their true condition before going ahead with any refurbishment.
If your wheels have only got minor rim damage, and you have some time on your hands, you can set to with a flap wheel on a grinder, followed by a succession of increasingly fine wet ’n’ dry papers to remove small flaws and imperfections. Eventually, having worked through 80, 180, 320, 600, 800, 1,000, 1,200, 1,500 and 2,000-grit papers, you’ll be able to polish out the very fine scratches left for a mirror-like finish. This is hard work and takes a long time and, with most refurb places charging around £50 per wheel for a refurb with powdercoated colour and lacquered finish, you may feel your time is better spent elsewhere. Alternatively, wheel rims can be diamond cut on a mill or even chromed, if you really have to have the latest word in bling.
Ultimately, the choice of rims falls to you and, with fresh designs turning up on an almost daily basis, the potential for fitting some exclusive wheels to your ride is only limited by your imagination and the size of your wallet.
Guide to wheels and tyres for a T5: Terms
Offset – ET, or Einpresstiefe:
This is the pressed-in depth between the rim’s centre line and its mounting surface, expressed in millimetres
The amount of wheel going into the car from the wheel centreline is expressed as a +ET. Higher positive offsets suck the wheel in towards the car more
An offset of zero means the centreline of the wheel is exactly in line with the hub mounting face
The amount of wheel moving towards the arch / bodywork of the car from the centreline is –ET. Lower or negative offsets result in big dishes and push the wheel out towards the arch. Extreme negative offsets also place more strain upon wheel bearings