Steering Wheel Guide

The steering wheel goes as far back as automobiles themselves. Its primary function has not changed since it was first designed: to change and control car direction. Many pioneers have tried to improve upon it, but the fundamental form has remained the same.

steering wheel

The use of a steering wheel was first documented in 1894. Alfred Vacheron had it in its Panhard during the Paris-Rouen race. That race is historically considered by many as the first official race. The steering wheel was instrumental in moving the automobile during the race. The steering wheel is a primary component in your car's steering system. Others include:

  • steering column or shaft
  • Steering gear.
  • Ball joints.
  • Drop arm or pitman arm.
  • Steering arm.
  • Stub axle.
  • Drag link.
  • Left tie rod arm.
  • Left spindle and kingpin.

This article will explain the steering wheel and how it works. More importantly, it will highlight the different problems a steering wheel can face and how to deal with them. Some frequently asked questions will also be answered. You can check out how you can change your steering where here. Note: The NHTSA advises that you place both hands outside the steering wheel on opposite sides when driving. NHTSA stands for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What's a steering wheel?

steering wheel

A steering wheel may also be referred to as a driving wheel or a handwheel. It’s a kind of control wheel that drivers use to steer vehicles in desired directions. It’s shaped like a wheel and works in a circular motion. Modern ones now also come fitted with a wiper switch, light switch, traffic indicator switch, to mention only some. Steering wheels can be found in all mass-produced cars, buses, trucks (light duty and heavy duty), and even tractors. It’s a contributing component of the general steering system. Whatever control the driver exerts on the steering is communicated to the steering system, and consequently the whole vehicle. All steering wheels are not the same. There are different types and they all work slightly differently from one another. Nevertheless, they perform the same fundamental function of steering the vehicle.  

What Materials are steering wheels made of?

Some of the popular materials for making steering wheels include:

1. Leather

A BMW leather steering wheel

Leather steering wheels are durable and grip-friendly to synthetic or leather gloves. They work well with bare hands as well. It maintains a good appearance even as it ages.

2. Suede

A suede steering wheel for a racing car

It’s common and makes the go-to choice for motorsport gloves. It’s grippy and you can still grip the surface with sweaty hands or when it’s wet. It will need proper care to last.

3. Carbon fiber

carbon fiber steering wheel

It’s strong, grip-friendly (with gloves), and desirably light. Carbon fiber reduces inertia in the steering process.

4. Polyurethane/Faux-leather

It’s similar to leather, except its not real leather. Like leather, it’s very durable. Note: Other materials are plastic, wood, and aluminum. You can check these top wheel covers here.

What is the function of a steering wheel?

Primarily, steering wheels produce the rotary movement that the steering system turns into the angular turn of the front wheels on road. Put simply, the steering wheel, working with the steering system, facilitates the direction of the whole vehicle. More so, the steering wheel spearheads the directional change in the automobile movement.

How do steering wheels Work?

The overall working of the steering wheel is quite straightforward. Steering wheels relay the directional input of the driver to the steering shaft, moving the wheels left and right. Note that all the car wheels do not move in the same direction at once. They move in one direction at a time. All these periodic motions take place in the car’s steering system. In the process of the rotation, every component from the steering column to the thrust bearing relay movement to the wheels.

What can cause steering wheel problems?

These five following things may be responsible if you’re having problems with the steering wheels of your cars.

1. Low power steering fluid

This is easily the most common cause of wheel failure. The power steering fluid needs to be at the recommended level at all times for steering wheels to work smoothly. You may need to top it up every once in a while to keep it at that level. The power steering fluid is like any other car fluid in that way.  You may want to check your power steering fluid level if the steering becomes hard to handle.

2. Power steering fluid leak

Power steering fluid leak

There might be a leak If you notice a consistent low steering fluid level even though you continually top-up. Check underneath the front of your vehicle to confirm.  The color of the power steering fluid varies, but it's usually clear red or pink. Take it to your mechanic immediately if you detect a leak. Delay could be detrimental to other car components. What's more, it can lead to an extensive and costly repair. In addition, check for foam in the power steering fluid.

3. Bad steering rack mount

Steering rack[/caption]Rack-and-pinion steering is the most popular among modern cars. In this steering system, rack mounting bushings are affixed directly to the steering wheels. It vacillates from side to side to buffer the impacts from the suspension. You may start to experience wheel jerking once your steering rack mount starts to wear out. Other things that may occur include inconsistent steering, clunking sound, and popping noises. This is your cue to visit your mechanic.

4. Damaged steering belt

A damaged steering belt

A pulley mounted on the crankshaft turns the power steering belt. This contraption is what pumps the fluid that controls the hydraulic steering system. Over time, steering wheels may become jerky if this belt slackens or is damaged. Your mechanic can tighten if it's slack. However, you will have to replace it if it's damaged.

5. Busted strut bearings

Damaged steering wheel strut

Bad strut bearings or tie rods are generally responsible for straying steering wheels in motion. It may also generate noise. A good mechanic will know to begin his investigation from the steering rack.

What are the signs of steering wheel problems?  

1. Difficult to steer

Admittedly, many things can be responsible for sticky steering wheels, such as low car tire pressure. However, a faulty steering wheel or an issue with the general steering system is often liable. The first thing to do is check if the power steering fluid level is sufficient. Fill it up if it's not. Check underneath the car for fluid leakage. But take it to your mechanic if nothing changes.

2. Too much play in the steering wheel

This means that there is excessive movement in your steering wheel, making it hard to control your vehicle. The steering wheel may also slip. This symptom is usually associated with looseness in the wheel bearing, steering linkage, or steering gear.

3. Drifting steering wheel

This occurs when your vehicle begins to drift from side to side on the road. Again, it may be as a result of low pressure in your tires or mismatched pairs. But it is most likely caused by a loose or poorly lubricated steering gear. It may also be a suspension problem. In any case, call a mechanic to check out your steering system.  

4. Vehicle pulling

This is when your car veers towards a side of the road while you're driving. While it is sometimes caused by uneven tire pressure, it may also mean that your steering wheel is misaligned.

5. Vibrating steering wheel

This occurs when your wheel vibrates as you drive, especially when taking a turn. Wheel misalignment often causes it. Also, it could signify a deeper issue in the power steering system.  For instance, a long history of contamination in the steering system can result in vibration. Although, a power steering fluid flush will usually solve this issue.

But if the issue is the steering tie rod, you may need a technician to replace it.

6. Slipping steering wheel

Your steering wheel is definitely failing if it slips everything you attempt to turn a turn or hold. Take it to a mechanic promptly.

7. Noise

Something is wrong with your steering gear if the steering wheel makes a grinding noise when turning. Check your steering belt if you hear screeching sounds.

8. Discolored or foaming steering fluid

Recall that the usual color is anything between clear pink and red. If the color changes, it could mean that water or air has contaminated the system. The fluid will not lubricate parts properly.

How far should you sit from a steering wheel?

The recommended distance between your chest and the steering wheel center should not be less than 10 inches. This distance will enhance your safety and experience.

steering wheel distance


The steering wheel is a standard interior component of all cars. It determines your driving and the direction you go. So, it's good sense to take care of it. This article contains all the steering wheel problems and their possible causes. Endeavor to fix them as soon as you detect them.

Latest posts

change car oil
change car oil
change car oil