A steering wheel (also called a driving wheel or hand wheel) is a type of steering control in vehicles and vessels (ships and boats). This article deals with steering wheels in cars; see steering wheel (ship) for the use in vessels.
Steering wheels are used in most modern land vehicles, including all mass-production automobiles as well as light and heavy trucks. 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 EPS. With the introduction of federal vehicle regulation in the United States in 1968, FMVSS 114 required the impairment of steering wheel movement, to hinder motor vehicle theft; in most vehicles this is accomplished when the ignition key is removed from the ignition lock.
Remote car audio controls are often included on the steering wheels of newer vehicles.
C S Rolls introduced the first car in Britain fitted with wheel steering as he imported a 6 hp Panhard & Levassor from France in 1898. Arthur Constantin KREBS replaced the tiller with an inclined steering wheel for the Panhard car he designed for the Paris-Amsterdam race which ran from the 7th to 13rd of July 1898.
The first automobiles were steered with a tiller, but Packard introduced the steering wheel on the second car they built, in 1899. Within a decade, the steering wheel had entirely replaced the tiller in automobiles.
Besides its use in steering, the steering wheel is the usual location for a button to activate the car's horn. Additionally, many modern automobiles may have other controls, such as cruise control and audio system controls built into the steering wheel to minimize the extent to which the driver must take his hands off the wheel.
An airbag, used to protect the driver in event of a frontal collision, is mounted inside a cover in the center of the steering wheel. Therefore, to prevent injury from the airbag deployment, it is important that the driver does not sit too close. Typical recommendations are a distance of at least 1-foot (30 cm) between the surface of the airbag cover and the driver's chest.
Before airbags, designs for energy-absorbing hubs existed, but were not used in mass production cars PDF Page 4
Power steering gives the driver an easier means by which the steering of a car can be accomplished. Modern power steering have almost universally relied on a hydraulic system, although electrical systems are steadily replacing this technology. Mechanical power steering systems (ex. 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, none have been deployed as successfully as the steering wheel.
The steering wheel is centrally located on certain high-performance sports cars, such as the McLaren F1, and in the majority of single-seat racing cars.
As a driver may have his hands on the steering wheel for hours at a time these are designed with ergonomics in mind. However, the most important concern is that the driver can effectively convey torque to the steering system; this is especially 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 comfort, or simply as decoration. Another device used to make steering easier is the brodie knob.
Developed by General Motors Saginaw Steering Gear Division, the telescoping wheel can be adjusted to an infinite number of positions in a 3-inch range. The Tilt and Telescope steering wheel was introduced as an exclusive option on Cadillac automobiles in 1965.
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.
Swing-away Steering Wheel
Introduced on the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, and made available on other Ford products throughout the 1960s, the Swing-away steering wheel allowed the steering wheel to move nine inches to the right when the transmission selector was in Park, so as to make driver exit and entry easier.
When speed control systems were introduced in the 1960s, some automakers located the operating switches for this feature on the steering wheel. In the 1990s, a proliferation of new buttons began to appear on automobile steering wheels. Remote or alternate adjustments for the audio system, the telephone and voice control, acoustic repetition of the last navigation instruction, infotainment system, and on board computer functions can be operated comfortably and safely using buttons on the steering wheel. This ensures a high standard of additional safety since the driver is able in this way to control and operate many systems without even taking hands off the wheel or eyes off the road.