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Steering wheel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about steering wheels in land vehicles. For the use in vessels,
see Steering wheel (ship).
Passenger car steering wheels from different periods
Steering wheel and front wheels of a farm tractor
Steering wheel in a VDL Bova bus
A steering wheel (also called a driving wheel or a hand wheel) is a type of stee
ring control in vehicles and vessels (ships and boats).
Steering wheels are used in most modern land vehicles, including all mass-produc
tion automobiles, as well as buses, light and heavy trucks, and tractors. The st
eering wheel is the part of the steering system that is manipulated by the drive
r; the rest of the steering system responds to such driver inputs. This can be t
hrough direct mechanical contact as in recirculating ball or rack and pinion ste
ering gears, without or with the assistance of hydraulic power steering, HPS, or
as in some modern production cars with the assistance of computer controlled mo
tors, known as Electric Power Steering.
Contents [hide]
Passenger cars
Other designs
Spokes in steering wheel
Adjustable steering wheels
Buttons and controls on the steering wheel
Gaming imitations
See also
External links
1913 Ford Model T Speedster with rigid steering column and four-spoke wooden ste
ering wheel
The first automobiles were steered with a tiller, but in 1894, Alfred Vacheron t
ook part in the Paris Rouen race with a Panhard 4 hp model which he had fitted wit
h a steering wheel.[1] That is believed to be one of the earliest employments of
the principle.[2]
From 1898, the Panhard et Levassor cars were equipped as standard with steering
wheels. Charles Rolls introduced the first car in Britain fitted with a steering
wheel when he imported a 6 hp Panhard from France in 1898.[3] Arthur Constantin
Krebs replaced the tiller with an inclined steering wheel for the Panhard car h
e designed for the 1898 Paris Amsterdam Paris race which ran 7 13 July 1898.[4]
In 1898, Thomas B. Jeffery and his son, Charles T. Jeffery, developed two advanc
ed experimental cars featuring a front-mounted engine, as well as a steering whe
el that was mounted on the left-hand side.[5] However, the early automaker adopt
ed a more conventional rear-engine and tiller-steering layout for its first mass-p
roduced Ramblers in 1902.[5] The following year, the Rambler Model E was largely
unchanged, except that it came equipped with a tiller early in the year, but wi
th a steering wheel by the end of 1903.[6] By 1904, all Ramblers featured steeri
ng wheels.[7] Within a decade, the steering wheel had entirely replaced the till
er in automobiles.
At the insistence of Thomas B. Jeffery, the position of the driver was also move

d to the left-hand side of the car during the 1903 Rambler production.[8] Most o
ther car makers began offering cars with left-hand drive in 1910.[9] Soon after,
most cars in the U.S. converted to left hand drive.[10]
Passenger cars[edit]
1974 Citron DS single spoke safety steering wheel
Adjustable three-spoke steering wheel on a collapsible column in an AMC Matador
from the 1970s
A RHD mounted wheel with airbag, as well as audio and cruise control buttons
Steering wheels for passenger automobiles are generally circular, and are mounte
d to the steering column by a hub connected to the outer ring of the steering wh
eel by one or more spokes (single spoke wheels being a rather rare exception). O
ther types of vehicles may use the circular design, a butterfly shape, or some o
ther shape. In countries where cars must drive on the left side of the road, the
steering wheel is typically on the right side of the car (right-hand drive or R
HD); 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
a button to activate the
, such as cruise control,
shifters, built into the
ver must take their hands

steering, the steering wheel is the usual location for

car's horn. Modern automobiles may have other controls
audio system and telephone controls, as well as paddle
steering wheel to minimize the extent to which the dri
off the wheel.

The steering wheels were rigid and mounted on non-collapsible steering columns.
This arrangement increased the risk of impaling the driver in case of a severe c
rash. The first collapsible steering column was invented in 1934 but was never s
uccessfully marketed.[11] By 1956, Ford came out with a safety steering wheel th
at was set high above the post with spokes that would flex,[12] but the column w
as still rigid. In 1968, United States regulations (FMVSS Standard No. 204) were
implemented concerning the acceptable rearward movement of the steering wheel i
n case of crash.[13] Collapsible steering columns were required to meet that sta
Power steering gives the driver an easier means by which the steering of a car c
an be accomplished. Modern power steering has almost universally relied on a hyd
raulic system, although electrical systems are steadily replacing this technolog
y. Mechanical power steering systems (e.g., Studebaker, 1952) have been invented
, but their weight and complexity negate the benefits that they provide.
While other methods of steering passenger cars have resulted from experiments, f
or example the "wrist-twist" steering of the 1965 Mercury Park Lane concept car
was controlled by two 5-inch (127 mm) rings,[14] none have yet been deployed as
successfully as the conventional large steering wheel.
Passenger automobile regulations implemented by the U.S. Department of Transport
ation required the locking of steering wheel rotation (or transmission locked in
"park") to hinder motor vehicle theft; in most vehicles, this is accomplished w
hen the ignition key is removed from the ignition lock. See steering lock.[15]
Other designs[edit]
1958 Plymouth Savoy showing two-spoke steering wheel with horn ring, and afterma
rket brodie knob, or steering wheel spinner
Cheerful steering wheel cover on a two-spoke Volkswagen Beetle steering wheel
The driver's seat, and therefore the steering wheel, is centrally located on cer

tain high-performance sports cars, such as the McLaren F1, and in the majority o
f single-seat racing cars.
As a driver may have his hands on the steering wheel for hours at a time these a
re designed with ergonomics in mind. However, the most important concern is that
the driver can effectively convey torque to the steering system; this is especi
ally important in vehicles without power steering or in the rare event of a loss
of steering assist. A typical design for circular steering wheels is a steel or
magnesium rim with a plastic or rubberized grip molded over and around it. Some
drivers purchase vinyl or textile steering wheel covers to enhance grip or comf
ort, or simply as decoration. Another device used to make steering easier is the
brodie knob.
A similar device in aircraft is the yoke. Water vessels not steered from a stern
-mounted tiller are directed with the ship's wheel, which may have inspired the
concept of the steering wheel. The steering wheel is better than other user inte
rfaces and has persisted because driving requires precise feedback that only com
es from a large interface.[16]
Early Formula One cars used steering wheels taken directly from road cars. They
were normally made from wood (necessitating the use of driving gloves), and in t
he absence of packaging constraints they tended to be made as large a diameter a
s possible, to reduce the effort needed to turn. As cars grew progressively lowe
r and cockpits narrower throughout the 1960s and 1970s, steering wheels became s
maller, so as to fit into the more compact space available.[17]
Spokes in steering wheel[edit]
Banjo steering wheel in 1956 DKW Monza
The number of spokes in the steering wheel has continuously changed. Most early
cars had four-spoke steering wheels.[18]
A Banjo Steering Wheel was an option on many early automobiles. Banjo Wheels pre
date power steering. The wire spokes were a buffer or absorber between the drive
r's hands and the drum of the road. Most were 3 or 4 spokes made of four or five
wires in each spoke, hence the name "Banjo".
Adjustable steering wheels[edit]
Quick release hub and detached steering wheel on floor
2012 Honda EV-STER "Twin Lever Steering"
Tilt wheel[19]
The original tilt wheel was developed by Edward James Lobdell in the early 1900s
. A 7-position tilt wheel was introduced by the Saginaw Division of General Moto
rs in 1963 for all passenger car divisions except Chevrolet which received the t
ilt wheel in 1964.[20] This tilt wheel was also supplied to the other US automak
ers (except Ford).[21] Originally a luxury option on cars, the tilt function hel
ps to adjust the steering wheel by moving the wheel through an arc in an up and
down motion. Tilt Steering Wheels rely upon a ratchet joint located in the steer
ing column just below the steering wheel. By disengaging the ratchet lock, the w
heel can be adjusted upward or downward while the steering column remains statio
nary below the joint. Some designs place the pivot slightly forward along the co
lumn, allowing for a fair amount of vertical movement of the steering wheel with
little actual tilt, while other designs place the pivot almost inside the steer
ing wheel, allowing adjustment of the angle of the steering wheel with almost no
change it its height.
Adjustable steering column
In contrast, an adjustable steering column allows steering wheel height to be ad
justed 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 ca
r, or of moving up and forward for entry or exit.
Telescope wheel[19]
Many pre-war British cars offered telescoping steering wheels that required loos
ening a locknut prior to adjustment, many using the Douglas ASW (Adjustable Stee
ring Wheel).[22] In 1949, the Jaguar XK120 introduced a new steering wheel suppl
ied by Bluemel that was driver-adjustable by simply loosening a sleeve around th
e column by hand.[23] The 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird had a similar design with 3
inches of total travel.[24][25] In 1956, the travel was restricted to 2 inches.
A patent was filed regarding a telescoping steering wheel in July of 1942 by Be
rnard Maurer of the Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors (now Nextee
r Automotive), but GM would not offer a telescoping wheel of their own until the
debut of the tilt/telescope wheel offered as an option on 1965 Cadillacs. The G
M column was released by twisting a locking ring surrounding the center hub, and
offered a 3 inch range of adjustment.
Swing-away steering wheel[19]
Introduced on the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, and made available on other Ford produc
ts throughout the 1960s, the Swing-away steering wheel allowed the steering whee
l to move nine inches to the right when the transmission selector was in Park, s
o as to make driver exit and entry easier.[26]
Quick release hub steering wheel
Some steering wheels can be mounted on a detachable hub a.k.a. a quick release h
ub. The steering wheel can then be removed without the use of tools, simply by p
ressing a button. The system is much used in narrow-spaced racing cars, to facil
itate the driver getting in and out, and in other cars as well, as an anti-theft
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 safety of the ex
tremities. The constant motions used must be performed with caution. "Proper pos
ture 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
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 strain on
the steering mechanism and causes undue wear of the tires.
Buttons and controls on the steering wheel[edit]
A modern Formula One car's steering wheel has buttons and knobs to control vario
us functions as well as gauges and other important items normally found on a das
The first button added to the steering wheel was a switch to activate the car's
electric horn. Traditionally located on the steering wheel hub or center pad, th
e horn switch was sometimes placed on the spokes or activated via a decorative h
orn ring which obviated the necessity to move a hand away from the rim. Electric
al connections are made via a slip ring. A further development, the Rim Blow ste
ering wheel, integrated the horn switch into the steering wheel rim.
In 1966, Ford offered the Highway Pilot Speed Control Option,[28] with steering
wheel pad mounted rocker switches, on its Thunderbird. Uniquely, the Thunderbird
also lightly 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 var
ious cruise control functions on the Continental and Continental Mark IV.[29] In
1988, Pontiac offered a steering wheel with 12 buttons controlling various audi

o functions on the Trans-Am,[30] 6000 STE and Bonneville. In the 1990s, a prolif
eration of new buttons began to appear on automobile steering wheels. Remote or
alternate adjustments could include vehicle audio, telephone, and voice control
navigation. Often scroll wheels or buttons are used to set volume levels or page
through menus, change radio stations or audio tracks. These controls can use un
iversal interfaces,[31] wired or wirelessly.
Gaming imitations[edit]
2009 Steering wheel for Nintendo Wii
Certain game controllers available for arcade cabinets, personal computers, and
console games are designed to look and feel like a steering wheel and intended f
or use in racing games. The least expensive units are paddle controllers with a
larger wheel, but many examples also employ force feedback to simulate the tacti
le feedback a real driver feels from a steering wheel.
See also[edit]
Dry steering
Remote control
Right- and left-hand traffic
Universal steering wheel control interface
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