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What Are Custom Steering Wheels?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 17, 2024
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Custom steering wheels are used to personalize a variety of vehicles, from cars and trucks to boats. Typically crafted with fine leather and carbon-fiber or chrome, custom steering wheels can be a smaller or larger diameter than the original wheel, contain electrical accessory switches or replicate a certain vintage style of steering wheel. Often manufactured of materials that tend to be more suited for a show vehicle than a daily-driven vehicle, custom steering wheels are common among vehicle customizers, including a very small-diameter, chromed chain version or a half-wheel design resembling an airplane's controls. Some boat owners choose to equip their boat with a replica of an old wooden ship's wheel, complete with exposed turnings.

Many custom steering wheels created for show-quality vehicles are covered in custom leather dyed to match the vehicles interior or exterior color. Other versions of the personalized wheel use billet aluminum to carve out a one-of-a-kind steering wheel commonly created to highlight the vehicle's name or inspiration, such as the spider web or honey comb. Some competition-geared custom steering wheels mount electronic controls to the steering wheels to make the activation of certain functions easier to reach, such as buttons to engage nitrous oxide for a boost of speed or trigger a parachute to release to slow down a drag racing vehicle.

The use of custom steering wheels has even extended to the big rigs. Semi trucks are often using a custom steering wheel to individualize the owner's truck. It is common for the semi truck owner to install a larger-diameter steering wheel in order to better portray a vintage truck. The older trucks did not have power steering, so the trucks were equipped with very large-diameter steering wheels to aid the trucker in turning the heavy truck through the use of leverage. As a common customizing trait, semi trucks are being modeled after the vintage trucks, and the addition of custom steering wheels can often bring the final realistic touch to the truck.

Exotic touches, such as light-emitting diodes (LED), are sometimes installed around the diameter of custom steering wheels to add another level of customization to a vehicle. Other defining custom touches might be as subtle as the owner's name or initials or even the year of the vehicle machined into the horn button area of the steering wheel. Some of the earliest versions of custom steering wheels were nothing more than a plain steering wheel with a customized center button.

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Discussion Comments
By MrMoody — On Feb 27, 2012

@everetra - You don’t have to spend a lot of money if you want real custom steering wheels. You can find cheap steering wheels at the local automotive scrap yard.

My friend gets a lot of parts from there and you’re sure to find something that you like. You may even find an actual steering wheel from way back when – not a customized car steering wheel, but a regular wheel.

That would definitely make your car look very authentic in my opinion. Of course you have to know what you’re doing if you’re going to mill about in a salvage yard, but it will definitely save you some money.

By everetra — On Feb 26, 2012

@hamje32 - Personally, I can think of only one justification for me to have a custom steering wheel. It would be if the whole car had a classic styling.

Some modern cars are built with classic styles, meant to give them a kind of retro look and feel to a prior age, like the 1950s for example. In that context, classic steering wheels would make perfect sense to give the car that final touch.

Other than that, I wouldn’t customize steering wheels on my car. They are mostly for show like the article says.

By hamje32 — On Feb 26, 2012

@miriam98 - You don’t have to be limited to chrome. I’ve seen fine wood burnished custom steering wheels too. I don’t know if they’re made of real wood or if that’s just a finish but they look very elegant, very expensive.

For that matter, if you like the look of a custom steering wheel but you don’t have the budget for them, you can go for customized steering wheel covers if you like. These are just skins that you use to cover your existing steering wheel, and of course the sky is the limit for color and themes.

By miriam98 — On Feb 25, 2012

I usually see cars with custom steering wheels at car shows. At car shows the vehicles are totally decked out with all the customizations and options that you would normally have to pay extra for.

I do admit that they make your car look classy. It’s not something that I would invest a whole lot of money into personally. For me a car is a vehicle to get me from point A to point B. I’m not trying to impress anyone.

Still, for people who love to preen over every little detail in their cars, I can see how custom chrome steering wheels would be cool, along with underside blue lights and a host of other features.

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