Vanagon Upgrade Rims and Tires
An eye catching trait of the Vanagon is it’s seemingly tiny wheels supplied from the factory. The tires have to support a lot of weight and minimize sideward deflection. There’s not a lot of debate about the handling of the 185R14 stock tires either, they are like marshmallows. Many Vanagon owners first modification is to replace the original tires with an upgrade.
Driving habits and your van use should be considered second only to load ratings. The Vanagon is a heavy vehicle and needs a higher load rating for the tires sidewall. Too low a sidewall load rating and a blowout could easily happen. Make sure that whatever tire size or combination you go with has the appropriate load rating for the Vanagon.
Tire size is most important with factory stock engines, as raising the tire height lowers the gears. The woefully underpowered waterboxer and especially the 1.6 diesel will suffer in acceleration. Altering a tire’s height will also change the speedometer and more than a small amount makes a big difference.
Not many owners want to go with 14 inch wheels but it is a possibility. The 14 inch wheel has a lot of sidewall height to maintain the original diameter of the tire. This is largely a fault as it creates a lot of sway between the road and your rim. One benefit is that a 14 inch tire whether a steel rim or the aluminum alloys can hold a 27 x 8.5 tire. This can be useful when off-roading as they can be aired down
15 and 16 Tires Most Common Upgrade Size
Most drivers that opt for a wheel upgrade go with 15 and 16 inch tires. The 15 inch rim is readily accessible from many other car makes and has a wide variety of options for rubber to be mounted. The 16 inch rims have few rubber options for the most part but offer better road handling with lower sidewall heights.
15×6 – ET30 through ET35
15×6.5 – ET30 through ET35
15×7 – ET30 205s ok
16×6 – ET30 through ET35
16×7 – ET30 through ET35
16×7.5 – ET28 through ET30 205s ok
17×7 – ET30 through ET42
17×7.5 – ET30 through ET36
17×8 – ET30
Wheel spacers can be used to obtain the proper spacing with wheels without the ideal ET offset. The ET number can almost always be found on the backside of the rim along with the bolt pattern and width. You will most likely see a number like ET45 J16x6 5×112.
The J is the size and width of the rim (16 inch rim that is 6 inches wide). The 5×112 means it is a 5 lug pattern with 112mm spacing between them. The ET number is needed in order to get the proper hubcentric spacer to make the offset of the rim fit properly.
Spacers can only be of benefit if the offset number is too high. Machining away the thickness of the rim from too low an offset is the only way to make them fit, so too high is better than too low when buying rims.
Wheel spacers widely available do not have the proper hubcentric configuration that Vanagons need to properly line up. Most cars are lugcentric, meaning that the lug studs or bolts like the rim up on the hub. Getting the proper hubcentric spacers will make a lot of difference in ease of installing the wheels, especially roadside when and if you have to change a flat.
The centerbore of the rim also plays a role in whether or not they will fit. A centerbore of at least 64mm is needed. Many Mercedes Benz rims have a 66.54mm centerbore and won’t be a problem. Audi and other VW rims however have a 57.1mm centerbore and will need to be machined in order to fit over the hub (66.54mm). Occasionally the lip on the grease caps are ground off in order to allow fitting some rims. It only makes it a little more difficult to get the grease cap off without the lip there.
Studs and Bolts
Studs on the Mercedes and many others are smaller than those that come on the Vanagon. The lug holes must be drilled out to to allow the 14mm lug bolts and studs. Using a 37/64” drill bit carefully drill out each hole. Clean the holes and remove and burrs with a round file.
The thickness of the rim itself is the next obstacle to overcome in relation to the stud and bolt length. The thin steel wheels from the factory need only a short lug bolt or stud. Since the lug nuts and studs are likely too short you will need to replace your studs and lug nuts with an appropriate length. Measuring the rims thickness from the bottom of the ball seat to the back of the rim, adding any spacer thickness, 11mm for the hub plate, and at least 14mm (the original sticks out 23.4mm from the bottom of the ball seat) will give you the length of the stud and bolt you need.
Ball Size for Lugs
You will need to get the proper ball seat for your new rims also when ordering or purchasing the lug bolts and studs. The original Vanagon rims have a large ball seat on them. Many Mercedes rims especially have the small ball seat. Make sure to get the proper ball size for the attachment hardware.
After replacing the wheel studs in the back you may notice that the brake drum has two small bolts that secures it. These two bolts will not allow the rim to sit flush on the brake drum. These bolts were put on at the factory to make assembly faster. It is acceptable to take these two bolts off the face of the brake drum and put the wheel on.
Torque to New Hardware Specs
One the wheels have been put on and tightened they must be torqued. Torque is important to ensure that the wheels do not come off while you are driving. The factory torque is set in regards to the factory bolts and studs. You must use the replacement studs and bolts torque requirements when setting your torque.
It seems like a lot of hassle and headache just to get another tire or rim size but the benefits greatly outweigh what little inconvenience comes from the change. Many tire shops no longer carry the original Vanagon tire size and the load rating is especially hard to find. 15 and 16 inch tires can be found readily, even with load ratings as many trucks use the same size tires. In the event of a blowout it will be easier to find a replacement even at a used tire stall.
Driving in Comfort and Style
Right away you will see the difference in appearance that a set of new 15 or 16 rims can make. Not only visually. Your handling will improve and your ride quality will also. With the right tire choice you can greatly improve handling and sway that you used to encounter motoring around on your expeditions. You will love the difference.