A steering wheel, also called a hand wheel or a driving wheel is a type of steering control in vehicles. Steering wheels are used in most advanced land vehicles including all mass-production automobiles, light and heavy trucks, buses as well as tractors. The steering wheel is the part of the steering system that is controlled by the driver; the rest of the steering system responds to such driver inputs.
This can be through direct mechanical contact as in recirculating rack or ball and pinion steering gears, with or without the assistance of hydraulic power steering, HPS, or as in some modern production cars with the support of computer-controlled motors, known as electric power steering.
Near the start of the eighteenth century, a huge number of sea vessels appeared using the ship’s wheel design, but people are not sure when that approach to steering was first used. The first automobiles were steered with a tiller, but in 1894 Alfred Vacheron, took part in the Paris–Rouen race with a Panhard four hp model which he had inserted with a steering wheel. That is considered to be one of the earliest employments of the principle.
From 1898, the Panhard et Levassor cars were provided as standard with steering wheels. Charles Rolls introduced the first car in Britain, fitted with a steering wheel when he imported a six hp Panhard from France in 1898. Arthur Constantin Krebs returned the tiller with an inclined steering wheel for the Panhard car he designed for the 1898 Paris–Amsterdam–Paris race which ran 7 till 13 July 1898.
In 1898, Thomas B. Jeffery and his son, Charles T. Jeffery, made two advanced experimental cars featuring a front-mounted engine, as well as a steering wheel that was arranged on the left-hand side. Moreover, the early automaker adopted a more “conventional” tiller steering and rear-engine layout for its first mass-produced Ramblers in 1902. The following year, the Rambler Model E was so unchanged except that it came equipped with a tiller early in the year, but replaced with a steering wheel by the end of 1903. By 1904, all Ramblers featured steering wheels. Within a half century, the steering wheel had entirely replaced the tiller in automobiles.
At the insistence of Thomas B. Jeffery the position of the driver was also changed to the left-hand side of the car during the 1903 Rambler production. Most of other car makers began offering cars with left-hand drive in 1910. Soon after, most cars in the United States converted to left hand drive.
Steering wheels for passenger automobiles are mostly circular and are mounted to the steering column by a hub joined to the outer exposed ring of the steering wheel by one or multiple spokes (single spoke wheels being a rather rare exception). Other types of vehicles may use the circular design, a butterfly shape, or some other different shape. In countries where cars must drive on the left side of the road the steering wheel is specifically on the right side of the car (right-hand drive or RHD); the converse applies in countries where cars drive on the right side of the road (left-hand drive or LHD).
In addition to its use in steering, the steering wheel is the regular location for a button to activate the car’s horn. Modern automobiles may have various controls such as audio system, cruise control, and telephone controls, as well as paddle-shifters, built into the steering wheel to minimize the extent to which the driver must take their hands off that wheel.
The steering wheels were hard and mounted on non-collapsible steering columns. This arrangement increased the risk of impaling the driver in case of a severe car crash. The first collapsible steering column was invented in early 1934 but was never successfully marketed. By 1956 Ford came out with a safety steering wheel that was set high above the post with spokes, that would flex but the column was still hard. In 1968, United States regulations (FMVSS Standard No. 204) were implemented concerning the acceptable rearward movement of the steering wheel, just in case of crash. Collapsible steering columns were needed to meet that standard.
Power steering gives the driver a much easier means by which the steering of a car can be accomplished. Modern power steering has almost universally depended on a hydraulic system although electrical systems are rapidly replacing this technology. Mechanical power steering systems were introduced, such as on 1953 Studebakers. Moreover, hydraulically assisted systems have prevailed.
Adjustable steering wheels
- Tilt wheel
The original tilt wheel was made by Edward James Lobdell in the early 1900s. A 7 position tilt wheel was developed by the Saginaw Division of General Motors in 1963, for all passenger car divisions except Chevrolet which received the tilt wheel in 1964. This tilt wheel was also supplied to the other United States automakers (except Ford). Originally a luxury option on cars the tilt function aids to adjust the steering wheel by moving the wheel through an arc in an up and down direction. Tilt Steering Wheels depend upon a ratchet joint located in the steering column just below the steering wheel. By disengaging the ratchet lock the wheel can be adjusted, downward or upward while the steering column remains stationary below the joint. Some designs place the pivot, slightly forward along the column, allowing for a fair amount of vertical movement of the steering wheel with little real tilt, while other designs place the pivot almost inside the steering wheel letting adjustment of the angle of the steering wheel with almost no change in its height.
- Adjustable steering column
As opposed to, an adjustable steering column let steering wheel height to be adjusted with only a small useful change in tilt. Most of these systems work with electric motors or compression locks instead of ratchet mechanisms; the latter may be able of moving to a memorized position when a given driver uses the car, or of moving forward and up and for entry or exit.
- Telescope wheel
Many pre-war British cars offered telescoping steering wheels that needed loosening a locknut prior to adjustment, many using the Douglas ASW (Adjustable Steering Wheel). In 1949, the Jaguar XK120 developed a new steering wheel supplied by Bluemel that was driver adjustable by easily loosening a sleeve around the column by hand. The 1955 to 1957 Ford Thunderbird had a similar design with 3 inches, 76 mm of total travel. In 1956, the travel was replaced to 2 inches (51 mm). A patent was filed regarding a telescoping steering wheel in July of 1942 by Bernard Maurer of the Saginaw Steering Gear Division, of the company General Motors (now Nexteer Automotive), but GM would not offer a telescoping wheel of their own until the debut of the tilt or telescope wheel gave as an option on 1965 Cadillacs. The GM column was released by twisting a locking ring surrounding the center hub, and gave a 3 inch (76 mm) range of total adjustment.
- Swing-away steering wheel
Developed on the 1961 Ford Thunderbird and made acessible on other Ford products throughout the years 1960s, the Swing-away steering wheel let the steering wheel to move 9 inches (229 mm) to the right when the transmission selector was in Park, so as to make driver enter and exit easier.
- Tilt-away steering wheel
Developed by Ford in 1967 after updates to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards requirements. Though it was an upgrade to the swing-away steering wheel, which did not meet updated safety standards, it offers limited movement but added convenience due to the automatic pop over function over its predecessor.
- Quick release hub steering wheel
Some steering wheels can be mounted on a detachable hub also known as a quick release hub. The steering wheel can then be removed without the use of any tools, just by pressing a button. The system is much used in narrow-spaced racing cars to ease the driver getting in and out, and in other cars as well, as an anti-theft device. The quick release connector is often brand specific, with some makes being interchangeable. An example of a common mounting pattern is 6 into 70 mm, which denotes a bolt circle pattern, with six bolts placed along a circle 70 mm in diameter. The quick release itself is often proprietary.
The steering wheel should be used with tactical movements of the hand and wrist in spinning motions. Caution and care should be used to be assure the safety of the extremities. The constant motions used must be done with caution. “Proper posture of the hand-arm system while using hand tools is very essential. As a rule the wrist should not be bent or tilted but must be kept straight to avoid overexertion of such tissues like tendon sheaths and tendons and compression of nerves and blood vessels.”
The act of turning the steering wheel while the vehicle is not moving is called dry steering. It is generally advised to avoid dry steering as it puts a strain on the steering mechanism and causes undue wear of the tires and can harm the car.
Buttons and controls on the steering wheel
The first button added to the steering wheel was a button to activate the car’s electronic horn. Traditionally located on the steering wheel hub or center pad the horn switch was sometimes placed on the spokes or activated through a decorative horn ring which obviated the necessity to move a hand away from the rim. Electrical connections are made through a slip ring. A further advancement, the Rim Blow steering wheel, integrated the horn switch into the steering wheel rim.
In 1966, Ford offered the Highway Pilot Speed Control Option, with steering wheel pad mounted rocker switches on its Thunderbird. Specially, the Thunderbird also slowly applied the brakes and illuminated the stop lamps when the Retard was continuously depressed with the cruise control on but not engaged.
In 1974, Lincoln added two rocker switches on the steering wheel to activate different cruise control functions on the Continental and Continental Mark IV. In 1988, Pontiac gave a steering wheel with twelve buttons controlling various audio functions on the Trans-Am, 6000 STE and Bonneville.
In the 1990s, a proliferation of new buttons began to appear on automobile steering wheels. Remote or alternate adjustments could include telephone, vehicle audio, and voice control navigation. Often scroll buttons or wheels are used to set volume levels or page through change radio stations, menus, audio tracks. These controls can use universal interfaces either wired or wirelessly.
The driver’s seat and therefore the steering wheel is in middle located on certain high performance sports cars, such as the McLaren F1 and in the majority of single seat racing cars.
As drivers may have their hands on the steering wheel for long hours at a time these are made with ergonomics in mind. While, the most important concern is that the driver can effectively convey torque to the steering system; this is especially essential in vehicles without power steering or in the rare event of a loss of steering help. A typical or common design for circular steering wheels is a steel or magnesium rim with a plastic or rubberized grip molded over and all around it. Some drivers purchase vinyl or textile steering wheel covers for better grip or comfort, or simply as decoration. Another device used to make steering much easier is the brodie knob.
A similar device in aircraft is the yoke. Water vessels not steered from a stern-mounted tiller are directed specifically with the ship’s wheel, which may have inspired the concept of the steering wheel. The steering wheel is much better than other user interfaces and has persisted because of the reason that driving requires precise feedback that only comes from a large interface.
Early Formula One cars used steering wheels taken straight from road cars. They were normally made from wood (necessitating the use of driving gloves) and in the absence of packaging constraints, they tended to be made as big a diameter as possible, to reduce the effort needed to turn the wheel. As cars grew gradually lower and cockpits narrower throughout the 1960s and 1970s, steering wheels became smaller and smaller so as to fit into the more compact space available.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Function of a Steering Wheel?
A steering wheel and the system it connects to primarily control the direction of a car. It diverts rotational commands of the driver into swiveling movements of the vehicle’s front wheels.
Is it illegal to drive with aftermarket steering wheel?
Aftermarket steering wheels in general are legal, as are suicide spinners, fuzzy dice, and other myth prone objects. They even make aftermarket wheels with space for stock airbags if thats your style. Do it all while driving barefoot.
10 Cars with Telescoping Steering Wheels
Many drivers prefer cars with telescoping steering wheels because of their customized driver experience. Many vehicles provide this ergonomic feature, including the ones we have chosen for our list.
2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia
2017 Buick LaCrosse
2016 Dodge Charger
2016 Ford Focus: Popular compact car
2016 Chevrolet Camaro
2016 Honda Accord
2016 Hyundai Accent
2016 Volkswagen Golf
2016 Toyota Camry
2017 Audi A4
Can you drive without a steering wheel?
Cars without steering wheels will be allowed under some conditions, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said today in an 80 page report. The report gives guidelines which are voluntary. Precise rules which are binding, have yet to be spelled out.
Can someone that had a shoulder replacement and will be in a sling for four more weeks still be legal to drive with one arm?
There are no restrictions placed on a license for this specific situation, unless a physician notifies Driver and Vehicle Services of such.
A steering wheel, also called a driving wheel or a hand wheel is a type of steering control in vehicles. The steering wheel is the part of the steering system that is controlled by the driver; the rest of the steering system responds to such driver inputs.