Truck Beadlock Wheels – What They Are and Why You Probably Don’t Want Them

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When getting more involved in off-roading your truck, it quickly becomes clear that there is a whole world of specialized off-road equipment that exists solely to serve those who are intent on exploring their local wilderness trails. While some of this gear is readily apparent when installed on a truck – like roll bars, nerf bars, and lift kits – there are other items that have a more hidden, mechanical aspect to them, even those which might appear decorative at first.

Anyone interested in off-roading will eventually hear someone talk about beadlock wheels, or perhaps see beadlock wheels installed on a truck. Beadlock wheels are fairly distinctive, as they resemble a standard wheel with a raised steel or polished edge all along the rim which overlaps some of the rubber on the tire. This edge or lip will feature many bolts or rivets.

An example of a simple beadlock rim.

An example of a simple beadlock rim.

It is easy to mistake this accessory as a fashion statement – indeed, since the look is quite distinctive, many companies offer faux beadlock wheels. However, beadlock wheels are actually a specially designed safety device that is designed to protect drivers from having the bead of their tires separate from their rims while driving.

On a street tire, the bead is firmly held onto the rim due to the air pressure inside the tire. At the inflation pressures recommended by the manufacturer, there is little or no danger of bead separation while cruising down the highway. However, if the pressure is allowed to fall below a certain point, then the grip that the tire’s bead has on the lip of the wheel becomes increasingly tenuous. This could lead to it sliding off at the worst possible time.

Why would someone intentionally lower the air pressure in their tires to the point where it could dangerously separate from the wheel? Off-road, tire deflation is often done in order to create a wider footprint for the tire itself. Releasing air causes more sidewall sag, which in turn widens the contact patch on the tire tread. This can be useful when crossing sandy areas, muddy passages or when attempting to better spread out the weight of a vehicle over soggy or uncertain ground.

In other applications, such as drag racing, tires are frequently run with very little air pressure inside of them to not only increase traction via a wider contact patch, but also to encourage sidewall flex when launching a car or truck off the line. This flex absorbs some of the force of the acceleration and helps to prevent tire chatter and spin.

In both cases, beadlock wheels mechanically lock the tire bead to the rim, taking air pressure out of the equation and helping to ensure that the tire remains firmly in place no matter how wild maneuvers might get out on the trail or the strip. Beadlock wheels can also help save drivers should they suffer a flat tire while miles away from civilization, as they can keep the damaged tire from separating from the rim even at zero inflation. This can often mean the difference between an expensive tow and a long, slow drive back to a service station.

Unless you routinely subject your truck to potentially hazardous trail conditions in the middle of nowhere, then there is probably no need to invest in a set of beadlock wheels. Keep in mind that while they work great at low tire pressures run at low speed, the beadlock wheel design is not approved for standard street use by the DOT. In addition, these special rims are not cheap, and while they might look hardcore, there are definitely other more practical areas where you can spend your money to improve your truck (like lift kits, bigger better off-road tires, skid plates and bars, winches, steel bumpers…etc.).

ADDITION: We neglected to mention some of the other disadvantages to beadlock wheels in this article. Unlike a normal wheel, installing a tire on a beadlock wheel is a time consuming process. Each and every bolt on the beadlock must be carefully tightened in a specific pattern. We mentioned that beadlock wheels are expensive, but we forgot to say that most “cheap” beadlock wheels (with cheap being a relative term) and even many expensive wheels are often impossible to balance. This is a big part of the reason that beadlocks aren’t DOT certified. An unbalanced wheel can be extremely dangerous at highway speeds.

Beadlocks are also maintenance intensive – every time you take them out you’ll need to re-torque all the bolts on the beadlock. If one of them breaks, well, you’re going to need to replace the whole set. The reason? Beadlock bolts are pretty small, and they’re designed to share the load and stress from the tire bead equally. When one of the bolts breaks, the rest are all subjected to an inordinate load…which can cause them to fail at the most inconvenient time. So, the prudent move is to replace the set whenever one of the bolts breaks. (That’s not cheap either.)

Finally, beadlocks are big heavy beasts. Their weight reduces your vehicle’s acceleration abilities, and it doesn’t help your fuel economy either.

Bottom Line: Beadlock wheels are for advanced off-road use only. Unless you’re serious about heavy-duty off-road fun, save your pennies for some other off-road accessories.

Filed Under: Toyota Tundra Accessories

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  1. Tote Barr says:

    Good article, but I was surprised that none of the disadvantages (Other than lack of DOT permission) were mentioned.
    How difficult are they to mount? What is the effect of the extra rotational weight on performance, fuel economy? How difficult are they to obtain and keep wheel balance?

  2. Tote Barr – Yes, yes, and yes. There are a lot of disadvantages we didn’t mention – I’ll get with the author and get this tightened up. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Mickey says:

    Like it said unless you’re serious then there is no need for it. Good article to read only. Not intrested in off-roading.

  4. TXTee says:

    Agree with Mickey. They looked neat but I have no use for them. Enjoyed the article as something different to learn about.

  5. Nate says:

    Good article. Interested in off-roading but not an expert. The advice given has deterred me from spending a few thousand on bead lock rims.

  6. Jason (Admin) says:

    Nate – Thanks! Glad to hear it was useful – tell your friends. :-)

  7. nathan says:

    Once again an article is published stating that beadlocks are not DOT approved, yet not a single state has any laws or codes preventing beadlocks from being used on the street. Another rumor or hearsay that has become a widespread myth turned fact by people who are paid to write articles and are expected to know what they are talking about. I know this thread is old but just trying to dis-spell this deep engrained myth.

  8. Jason (Admin) says:

    Nathan – So first of all there’s no rumor or hearsay – no beadlock wheels are DOT approved because there is no approval process.

    To your second point about non-DOT approved wheels being illegal for street use, you are technically correct in that DOT approval isn’t required for someone to have a “legal wheel”, but you’re not likely to win that argument successfully if pulled over (an admittedly unlikely event).

    Colorado, which has adopted the uniform traffic code, has a “spot inspection” rule that allows a police officer to issue a citation for an unsafe condition as determined by his or her definition of safe…which may include DOT approval.

    “Uniformed police officers, at any time upon reasonable cause, may require the driver of a vehicle to stop and submit such vehicle and its equipment to an inspection…In the event such vehicle is found to be in an unsafe condition or the required equipment is not present or is not in proper repair and adjustment, the officer may give a written notice and issue a summons to the driver”

    If you’re rolling down the highway in a dedicated off-road vehicle with a radical lift kit and giant tires (with bead locks) there are about a dozen things that an officer can use to justify giving you a ticket..one of which could be the lack of DOT approval for your rims. Could you beat it in court? Maybe…and maybe not. Depends on the judge and his/her understanding of the rules.

    What’s worse is that some beadlock wheels are stamped “for off-road use only,” a photo of which would be all you a judge needs to make you pay your fine.

    Another thing to consider: Tires must be approved for highway use to be legally used on the highway. Even if your beadlocks are DOT compliant (again, DOT has no approval process for beadlocks), you could still be rolling on tires that are only designed for off-road use (and that’s a disclosure made by a lot of big off-road tire manufacturers).

    Bottom line: You’re making a very technical argument here. Most beadlock rims and/or the tires placed on those rims aren’t legal for highway use.

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