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What is a Steering Wheel?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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A steering wheel can seem like a very basic part of a vehicle. It can simply be viewed as an interior part responsible for determining the direction of the tires. Although this is true to some degree, the process is not as simple as it sounds.

The steering wheel is a part of a more complex system. This is necessary, for one reason, because the tires are quite a distance away. Also, controlling tires can be complicated because those on opposite sides of the vehicle must turn on different angles. The steering wheel alone cannot be accessible to the driver and accomplish everything that must be done, so it must be connected to the steering system.

With the ball and pinion steering system, the steering wheel is connected to the steering shaft. The steering shaft is a long rod that connects the steering wheel to the rest of the system. At the end of that rod is a pinion, which is a gear that interacts with the part of the steering system that controls each tire.

A recirculating ball steering system also involves an interior wheel connected to a steering shaft. This rod, however, runs down into a metal gearbox. Turning the steering wheel rotates the steering shaft, which then causes the gearbox to turn. The gear box is connected to the part of the system that controls the tires and results in their turning.

Every steering wheel is not the same in how it turns a vehicle. The term steering ratio refers to the difference. In some vehicles, a slight turn can greatly affect the angle of the wheels. In other cars, the wheel may be turned a great deal but the tires may not move much. The lower the ratio, the easier a car is to turn.

Some steering wheels are connected to power steering systems. These allow drivers to turn their vehicles with less effort. This is possible due to a high-pressure fluid known as power steering fluid. In some countries the steering wheels are on the right and in other countries they are on the left. This does not generally affect how they operate within the system.

Steering wheels in many vehicles also house features not related to the steering system. The most common and consistently present feature is the horn. Buttons that operate the cruise control system may be placed on the steering wheel. It is also likely that the driver’s airbag is stored inside.

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Discussion Comments
By backdraft — On Feb 05, 2012

I have always wanted to have a steering wheel that looks like a chain. you see these in movies sometimes and I have seen them at hot rod shows as well.

I have always thought that the traditional black steering wheel was about as boring looking as it got. There are so many other cool designs that they could use that would function in exactly the same way.

By summing — On Feb 04, 2012

Whenever I get a new car I always buy a steering wheel cover to put on it. I think this is just part of being a good driver. Some steering wheels are incredibly slick and you need to have complete control over the wheel while you are driving.

The steering wheel cover does not have to be a boring safety measure though. They make them in all kinds of colors and designs. You can find almost any style to match your tastes. If you look at it like that it starts to seem like an accessory that makes you car look better and not nerdier.

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