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Types of Steering Wheels

by Justin Mitchell

The steering wheel, one of the most prominent features of any motor vehicle, provides the means by which the driver controls the direction in which the vehicle moves. Steering wheels come in many styles and types. Those interested in cars would do well to acquaint themselves with the major types and their uses.

Tilt Steering Wheels

Tilt steering wheels, first introduced by General Motors in 1963, are used most often in luxury vehicles. They allow different people to operate the vehicle comfortably by making the position of the steering wheel adjustable. Basically, tilt steering wheels connect to an arc that allows them to change positions by turning up and down. The wheels' design allows the steering column to remain unaffected by the changes in the wheel's position. This occurs through the use of a ratchet mechanism located in the steering column just below the wheel.

Telescope Steering Wheels

Telescope steering wheels are also an adjustable model of steering wheel, but in this case the height is adjustable. You can adjust these wheels to an infinite number of positions within a 3-inch range.

Adjustable Steering Wheels

Adjustable steering column steering wheels also adjust height but do it differently from telescope wheels. They create the same change in height created by telescope wheels, except they do it by changing the wheel's title. These changes are smaller and less pronounced than those accomplished with tilt steering wheels, however. Instead of ratchet mechanisms, adjustable steering column wheels use electric motors or compression locks.

Swing-Away Steering Wheels

First introduced as a feature of the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, these interesting devices make entering and exiting the vehicles easier. Featured in many Ford vehicles models in the 1960s, swing-away steering wheels have a feature that allows them to move 9 inches to the right when you place the vehicle in park.

Recirculating Ball Steering Wheels

Recirculating ball steering wheels are so named for the mechanism that allows them to turn the vehicle's wheels. The most important part of this type of steering wheel system, the Pitman arm, connects the steering gear to the center link and the tie-rods of the Pitman shaft.

Rack-and-Pinion Steering Wheels

Rack-and-pinion steering wheels, probably the most common types of steering wheels available as of 2010, connect to a system contained in a metal tube, from which the rack ends protrude. A tie-rod links to each end of the rack, while the pinion gear links to the steering shaft. At the other end, the tie rod connects to the steering arm so that when you turn the steering wheel, it spins the gear. This action moves the rack, which in turn moves the car's wheels.

About the Author

Justin Mitchell has been a writer since 2009. In 2002, he received a B.A. in theater and writing from the University of Northern Colorado. Mitchell worked as an ESL teacher in Europe and Asia before earning a master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York. He has written for the "New York Daily News" and WNYC.org, among other outlets.

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