The steering wheel does a lot more than just steer a vehicle in the direction the driver has chosen. Combined with the foot pedals it provides that vital connection between vehicle and pilot and is suitably weighted, configured and sized to allow for driver comfort and control over various terrains and driving conditions.
The "feel" and look of a steering wheel can also become the difference for some buyers choosing between one particular brand or model over another.
Housed within the steering wheel these days are a host of safety and driver aids including an airbag, audio, Bluetooth and cruise-control buttons/switches plus access to in-dash information such as fuel consumption and trip distances. Some are even designed to allow for fingertip control of automatic gear changes.
Is that all? No, not by a long stretch. The steering wheel is constantly providing feedback to the driver which, at times, can help reduce repair bills or make the vehicle safer on the road. When a vehicle is assembled new, the steering wheel is mounted to the steering column in what is called the straight-ahead position. That means when the road wheels are pointed straight ahead so, too, is the steering wheel. If a driver notices any changes to this position it clearly indicates there is an alignment problem. Maybe somebody has inflicted damage to one of the road wheels when parking, causing the steering geometry to change.
One easy check is to look at the wheels for impact damage. Left too long, incorrect steering geometry will cause uneven and premature tyre wear. The steering wheel can also start to shake when road speeds increase, which normally is an indication the front wheels are out of balance. This can also be the result of the wheel and kerb coming together and a balance weight being dislodged.
Another tell-tale sign of a steering-related problem is when a vehicle starts to drift sharply to one side when the driver's hands are taken off the steering wheel for a short time on a flat and straight road surface. This can also be an indication of a deflated front tyre.
Suspension wear can also at times be detected by way of a rattle felt through the steering wheel when travelling over uneven or rough surfaces. So let your steering wheel do the talking - it may help avoid unwanted repairs or reduce the amount of work and money required to correct a fault.
Next week we will discuss tyre wear, inflation, rotation and where the best tyres should be fitted.