Have you been scaling massive rock mountains in your four-wheeler? Are you cruising through wet clay valleys that would put most cars on the bench?
No? Then you probably haven’t heard of beadlock wheels, and you likely don’t need them.
However, if you’re a driver who takes their off-roading adventures seriously, then you’ve probably thought about fitting some beadlocks on your trusty trail buddy.
Beadlocks are not for the faint of heart—they’re a pretty serious commitment to the trail. We’re going to talk about some pros and cons. If you’re on the fence about whether or not beadlocks are right for you, we hope this helps.
Strap in because it’s about to get beady.
Beadlock wheels initially look like a standard wheel. Honestly, a beadlock is basically a traditional wheel, with one significant difference.
On a standard rim, your tire would fit on the inner lip lines of the wheel known as the beads. Then, when filled up, the air pressure would keep the tire in place alongside the beads.
Beadlock wheels have an extra ring piece that fits along the perimeter of the wheel face. When installing, you slip the tire lip in between the bead and the bead lock ring and tighten with a series of heavy-duty bolts. By doing so, you lock the bead into place.
The standard air pressure system works great for commercial use. There are no moving parts, and properly maintained tires will safely stay on the rims with no problems.
However, this system doesn’t work as planned when tires are not used as designed—we’re looking at you, off-roaders. Tires come with a suggested PSI range, typically somewhere between 35 and 50 PSI of air pressure. You can check what air pressure levels your tire needs right on the sidewall.
The off-roading community realized that if you let the air out of your tires to lower air pressure levels, your tires will better conform to irregular paths and give your vehicle more traction.
However, you also risk your tire slipping off completely if it isn’t properly pressurized. This is always bad news, but it’s horrible if you’re out in the middle of muddy nowhere.
Therein lies the attraction of beadlock wheels.
Since beadlocks hold tight onto a tire regardless of air pressure, drivers can theoretically let out as much air as they want and be confident that their tire won't slip out.
This means off-roaders can “air down” their tires to extreme levels and boost their tires’ traction power, which comes in handy in extreme circumstances.
Typically, a wheel only has one standard bead line, and the other side is a lock you tighten with bolts and tools. This is why it’s easier for a driver to swap out tires with a set of bead locks than having to go to a shop.
Not to mention, they look pretty sick.
Beadlocks have their problems.
They tend to be noticeably more expensive than their standard counterparts, sometimes double the cost.
And they’re heavy. This is because of beadlocks’ typical material and the extra hardware that comes along with them. Drivers sacrifice fuel efficiency for extra traction.
They also require a good amount of maintenance. If you want to air down your tires for off-roading, that’s all good and well. However, you’ll have to re-inflate your tires before hitting the pavement to go back home, so you may need an air compressor in your backseat.
A little more maintenance includes regularly checking and tightening every bolt that lines the lock ring. You definitely do not want any bolt coming loose and potentially flying off.
This last point takes us to our final and biggest con for beadlocks.
If you’ve been doing your homework on beadlock wheels and read any number of blogs or community discussions, you’ve more than likely seen this conversation pop up:
“Beadlocks aren’t approved by the DOT and aren’t street legal.”
“Psh, no one can prove that they aren’t street legal.”
“There are real beadlock wheels that are street legal and FAKE ones that aren’t!”
“I’ve got $100 for anyone who can find evidence that beadlocks are illegal in their state.”
There’s a lot of debate surrounding the legality of beadlock wheels. Here’s why:
They are indeed not approved by the Department of Transportation. This is more than likely due to the bolt and ring mechanism used to lock in the tire. Bolts carry the possibility of flying off, which can be massively dangerous for other drivers at freeway speeds and could mean serious trouble for you behind the wheel.
If a few bolts came loose, the tire could experience rapid deflation. If you’re doing 80 miles per hour on the freeway, we don’t need to tell you that suddenly losing one of your wheels is trouble.
Not to mention, the bolts coming loose can lead to uneven tread wear, another factor that can lead to high speed blow out.
So, they aren’t DOT approved. Does this mean they’re illegal? It’s essential to research the state you live in to be sure, but here’s our take.
Beadlock wheels are for extreme off-roading use. These aren’t for the faint of heart. For drivers up to the challenge, they will make a difference in your off-road enjoyment.
Keep them on a vehicle primarily used for off-roading, and preferably have a second vehicle for casual, commercial use. At least have different wheels to use when you’re not scaling mountains.
Depending on your state, you might get noticed by a traffic cop and given a “fix-it” ticket. You won’t be arrested or get your car impounded, but you’ll be told to replace your beadlocks with DOT-approved wheels when driving on legal roads.
We don’t want to sugarcoat it—beadlock wheels come with some hefty drawbacks. They cost a lot more, they weigh a lot more, and you might find yourself paying a lot more for a “fix-it” ticket.
For drivers who look at the muddy, jagged mountains and say, “Today, we’re going up and over that bad boy,” beadlock wheels might be just right.
If you have any questions, our team of professional tire technicians is happy to help you figure out which type of wheels will best suit your driving habits.
Interested in what these wheels might look like on your vehicle? Check out our state-of-the-art visualizer, where we have nearly every make, model, and color option available. You can tell us exactly what kind of car you’re driving, and we’ll show you which wheels will fit and how they’ll look.
Not to mention, when you purchase with Rent A Wheel, we’ll install and balance your brand new wheels for free at one of our many Rent A Wheel locations. Now that’s a great deal.
Beadlock wheels aren’t for everyone, but for those of you who want to unlock the full potential of your off-roading monster machine, beadlocks are going to fit right in with your goals.
Ask any driver who has gotten beadlocks if they’re happy with their purchase, and you more than likely won’t hear any regrets—just make sure that you’re up to the challenge.
You conquer mountains and dance in the mud, so we’re pretty sure you’re up for it.