What is Steering Wheel and How Does It Work?

What is a Steering Wheel?

A steering wheel also called a driving wheel or a hand wheel is a type of steering control in vehicles.

Steering wheels are used in most modern land vehicles, including all mass-production automobiles, buses, light, and heavy trucks, as well as tractors. The steering wheel is the part of the steering system that is manipulated by the driver; the rest of the steering system responds to such driver inputs.

This can be through direct mechanical contact as in recirculating ball or rack and pinion steering gears, without or with the assistance of hydraulic power steering, HPS, or as in some modern production cars with the assistance of computer-controlled motors, known as electric power steering.

What’s the Function of a Steering Wheel?

Obviously, a steering wheel and the system it connects to primarily controls the direction of a vehicle. It converts the rotational commands of the driver into swiveling movements of the vehicle’s front wheels. The driver’s movement passes through a series of joints and hydraulic lines in the steering system, ultimately reaching the rubber as it hits the road.

Modern steering wheels also often have accessory functions built-in, such as cruise control, audio system selection, and volume. Some steering wheels are even electrically heated.

what is steering wheel

How Does the Steering Wheel Work?

The steering wheel transmits the driver’s direction to the steering shaft, which moves the wheels left and right. The wheels of the car do not move in the same direction as they move in one direction at a time. This periodic motion occurs under the steering system, which controls the vehicle’s movement.

During rotation, the steering column, thrust bearing, and other steering system components transmit movement to the steering wheel.

There are different steering wheel types, but rack and pinion steering wheel systems and recirculating-ball steering systems are the most common. However, the steering system of any vehicle is responsible for giving you a smooth route throughout the drive.

Rack-and-pinion steering involves mounting gears on a metal bar and moving the steering wheel to engage the gears. The pinion gear moves the rack from side to side as it rotates. Consequently, the steering wheel turns at a wide angle, translating into small-angle wheel turns.

REMEMBER: The steering wheel’s turning angle is determined by the size of the pinion gear and the rack. Usually, it takes a few turns for the steering wheel to turn wheels fully.

You might need to adjust the steering wheel size, how much input you need from you (the driver), and how difficult it is to turn the wheel based on the make and model of your vehicle. The position of your hands on your wheel should never change, regardless of how many buttons are on it.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both hands should be outside the steering wheel on opposite sides when driving. Your grip should be firm but gentle, and you should never grip the steering wheel from the inside by using your palms.

Steering Wheel Adjustment Systems

Over the years, different approaches have been used to allow the position and angle of steering wheels to be adjusted. Although all steering wheels do the same basic thing, there are differences in comfort, adjustability, and style.

Tiltable Steering Wheels

First introduced by General Motors in 1963, tiltable steering wheels offer different angle positions along a wide arc. An adjustable joint just below the steering wheel allows for this feature, without affecting the location of the steering column.

Although this type of wheel was only available in luxury cars initially, it’s become common in all kinds of models today. These days many cars have steering wheels that tilt.

Adjustable steering column

In contrast, an adjustable steering column allows steering wheel height to be adjusted with only a small, useful change in tilt.

Most of these systems work with compression locks or electric motors instead of ratchet mechanisms; the latter may be capable of moving to a memorized position when a given driver uses the car, or of moving up and forward for entry or exit.

Telescoping Steering Wheels

Telescoping steering wheels are similar to tiltable wheels in adjustability, except those telescoping systems offer a range of heights. In contrast to the wide, multi-position arc of a tiltable wheel, telescopes can be adjusted to an infinite number of positions within a three-inch range.

Although this doesn’t sound like much, most drivers don’t need more. You don’t see telescoping steering wheels in all modern cars, but it’s not rare either.

Swing-Away Steering Wheels

Introduced by Ford in 1961 in its classic Thunderbird, the swing-away steering wheel offered additional driving comfort in an innovative package. It allowed the steering wheel to be moved nine inches to the right when the vehicle was in park, making it easier for drivers entering and exiting the car.

Though you won’t see these in new cars, the swing-away has become a kind of legendary feature, highly prized by collectors.

Quick-release hub steering wheel

Some steering wheels can be mounted on a detachable hub a.k.a. a quick-release hub. The steering wheel can then be removed without the use of tools, simply by pressing a button. The system is much used in narrow-spaced racing cars, to facilitate 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. The most common mounting pattern is 6×70 mm, which denotes a bolt circle pattern with six bolts placed along a circle 70 mm in diameter.

Other examples of common bolt patterns are 3×1.75 in (44.45 mm), 5×2.75 in (69.85 mm), 6×74 mm, and 6×2.75 in (69.85 mm). The quick-release itself is often proprietary.

Usage of Steering Wheel

The steering wheel should be used with strategic movements of the hand and wrist in spinning motions. Caution and care should be used to ensure the safety of the extremities. The constant motions used must be performed with caution.

Proper posture of the hand-arm system while using hand tools is very important. As a rule, the wrist should not be bent, but must be kept straight to avoid overexertion of such tissues as tendons and tendon sheaths and compression of nerves and blood vessels.

The act of turning the steering wheel while the vehicle is stationary 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 on the tires.

What Materials are Steering Wheels Made of?

Some popular material-based steering wheels are:

  • Leather Steering Wheels
  • Synthetic Resins Steering Wheels
  • Polyurethane/Faux-leather Steering wheels
  • Plastic Steering Wheels
  • Wooden Steering Wheels

The driver must grip the steering wheel firmly, safely, and comfortably in any situation for the car to drive perfectly. The material used to cover the steering wheel should both be aesthetically pleasing and ergonomic.

Steering wheels are available in several types of materials, including plastic to faux leather. Take a look!

1. Leather Steering Wheels

The steering wheels of higher-priced cars are often covered with leather. Leather goods are almost made of pigmented leather to prevent skin irritation and sweating. With its anti-slip properties, durable microfiber leather is resistant to any weather condition. Your hands will also sweat less while driving due to the fabric’s breathability.

2. Synthetic Resins Steering Wheel

This type of steering wheel is very thoughtfully painted with a polished coating for protection by car mechanics. Ensure that you never polish these types of steering wheel because they make the wheel slippery.

3. Polyurethane/ Faux-leather Steering wheel

The Polyurethane Steering wheel is made of high-quality, anti-slip, and soft leather. The beautiful and elegant designs enhance the style of your car. Furthermore, it feels comfortable in hand and suitable for all seasons.

4. Plastic Steering Wheel

The plastic steering wheel is easy to clean, but in summer, it is scalding. And drivers may face problems handling the steering wheel. It would help if you wanted to wrap your plastic steering wheel with a small towel.

5. Wooden Steering Wheel

This type of steering wheel is not recommended because it gets easily cracked. Wooden steering wheels come with horn buttons and installation bolts.

How Important is a Steering Wheel?

A driver spends much of his time holding the steering wheel in a vehicle. Thus, the steering wheel is vital at the wheel of the car. This component is essential for steering the vehicle. Also, the different shapes and designs of steering wheels enhance the interior look of a car, which is why the components come in various designs.

In some vehicles, the hub of the steering wheel contains a safety airbag. The airbag deploys from the wheel in the event of a crash to protect the driver. In addition to their capability to control various vehicle circuits and accessories, modern steering wheels also include controls for audio and cruise control.

With so many luxury steering wheels offered, it is your duty to take care of their cleanliness for an elegant look and durability. There are plenty of steering wheel cleaners, or even the typical soap, water, and towel would work.