Spinning a steering wheel is so natural that, as a driver it’s not something you really think about, but in reality there’s a lot going on in those 900 degrees of travel. Knowing how its several components work together to move your wheels in certain directions can help you to understand what’s wrong if something breaks, or if you feel like you need to improve something.
To start, your steering wheel is connected to a steering column, which moves the rack which moves the tie rods which move the wheels.
We say 900 degrees of travel because in a normal car, to get your car to full lock your wheel makes three full turns. What’s actually happening here is at the end of your steering column is a gear, called a pinion, that’s turning with your steering wheel, and it’s moving a rack from side to side. The rack is what’s connecting your steering column to your wheels.
Steering racks can be rebuilt, and to buy a brand new one can get expensive, but are generally not difficult to remove and replace in your own driveway. What you can do also is get what’s called a “quick ratio” steering rack, where it takes less than 900 degrees to turn your wheels to full lock. This is typically for quick turning, in other words it’s found in racing cars. F1 cars for instance (depending on the circuit) get their wheels to full lock with only one half of a turn.
Tie rod ends are cheap, easy to replace, and extraordinarily important. It’s the last link your steering wheel has to your wheel. They use rubber bushings from the factory, typically, but those can be replaced with polyurethane to offer much stiffer and stronger feedback. Don’t forget to count the turns it takes to remove your tie rod ends, as that dictates your alignment. No matter what though, always get an alignment after replacing any steering component.
If you’re looking for some ways to reduce weight, maybe make your steering wheel more adjustable or to get something that simply looks cool, an aftermarket steering column might be a way to go. Generally these don’t break, aren’t complicated and rarely need servicing but if you’re looking to do a complete overhaul it’s something you can look into.
If you do need to replace it for any reason, be sure to disconnect what’s called a u-joint, which connects the steering column to the steering rack. Otherwise you could run into some difficulty when removing it.
There are lots of aftermarket steering wheels you can buy. Smaller wheels tend to make for tighter turning, which can be more difficult but is useful in certain racing scenarios. Some drivers might benefit from a smaller steering wheel, if the stock part is too large. Otherwise, it’s mostly just for show, but a good-looking steering wheel can certainly complete an interior for the better.
There are multiple companies that make aftermarket steering wheels. Be sure to do some research and find the correct size for you.
Sparco - Makes a wide range of street and competition steering wheels, from various kinds of metal to carbon fiber and as expensive as $1,200.
NRG Innovations - The NRG steering wheel ranges from many different styles to materials including wood and carbon fiber.
Grant steering wheels - Also offers a multitude of styles and materials, for street and competition, but at a much cheaper price than Sparco, with an intuitive and comprehensive filter system on their website.
Pro Armor - Specializing in utility task vehicles (UTV) ProArmor sells a couple of different steering wheels that boast competitive rigidity with comfort and aggressive styling.
Flaming River - For classic styles and three-spoke designs, Flaming River has it covered.
Billet specialties - Also specializing in classic style steering wheels, but for a bit more money, Billet Specialties certainly has combined modern flair with classic design.
Goodmark - Very big, very expensive, very cool steering wheels are what Goodmark is the best at.
Joes Racing - Joes Racing makes very lightweight steering wheels that are very simple but also very raw.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.