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Fitting an aftermarket steering wheel adds class.

"This is the Wheel thing."

The most used control in the car is the steering wheel (we hope!).

Why not upgrade this essential component and go with something more visually appealing.

Is this an easy job and what pitfalls are there in fitting an after market steering wheel?

Looking for inspiration many aftermarket steering wheel makers look to the world of Motorsports for inspiration.

Motorsport wheels are bare, and usually made from metal and plastic. Some have information displays in them and other have a flat base. 

You can choose between a 1,2,3 or 4 spoke style, there are steering wheels with flat bottoms, square steering wheels and aircraft style open steering wheels. There is also a wide variety of colours and materials available with leather, carbon fibre and brushed steel becoming the popular choices. But which are the best choice? What problems are encountered with custom steering wheels and are they difficult to fit?

Generally speaking, aftermarket steering wheels are smaller in size than standard wheels and this can affect the control you have over the car particularly if you do not have power steering.

Simple rules of leverage apply here and this is why older cars without power steering have such large steering wheels. You should also aim to get a wheel with a central hub that is wider than your steering column. 

Steering wheel covers can make a dull wheel look more sporty but most implementations TorqueCars have seen look really tacky. There are some good quality leather covers which require stitching.

The steering wheel is the most used control in your car, so get one you just can't keep your hands off.

Safety - many steering wheels are attached in the centre with metal rivets or nuts. In a crash these will cause nasty cuts and puncture wounds unless they are recessed deep within the housing.

The force of your head rushing forward will not usually be stopped by the plastic surround and you will make contact with the metal nut. Cars with air bags will usually need the air bag removing, and this can cause a warning light to appear in the dashboard. If you are in doubt consult an auto electrician and your cars maintenance handbook.

Car horns can also be a problem. In some car models the horn is on a separate stalk but with most modern cars a button within the steering wheel operates the horn. When buying a new steering wheel you will need to check if it has a horn built in and if it comes with suitable wiring. As a horn is just a couple of simple contacts it should not present much of a wiring challenge.

A wheel with a flat bottom imitates formula one wheels which need to allow the driver as much leg room as possible. There is no real practical reason to have a flat bottomed steering wheel in a car other than the fact it looks cool.

Steering wheels with digital readouts such as mph, rpm, oil pressure, fuel look very nice but there are some drawbacks. They cost a fortune and they can be a real challenge to wire up as they need to be connected to various senders around the car. You are better off getting some gauges and having these fitted to the car instead.

Problems.
Most steering wheels come as a kit with an adapter ring to allow it to fit your car. Ask for this at the time of your purchase. As you can see from the photos there is a massive selection of styles to choose from. So decide in advance what theme you are going with and look for the right steering rather than just buying the first on you see.

TorqueCars also suggest an easier route to upgrade your steering wheel and retain your air bag. Get a steering wheel from a performance model of car from your manufacturer as these are usually a straight swap.

They are nice and chunky and still use an airbag. There are usually many examples and suitable donors in breakers yards around the country. You have the reassurance of knowing that they will fit and be compatible.

Race and motorsport cars have a quick steering rack (one which goes from full left lock to full right lock in 2-3 turns, whereas most cars will take 4-5 turns of the wheel). A motorsport wheel is usually marked to show the top in a contrasting colour to help the driver reflexively get the correct amount of lock on the wheel as the margin for error is much reduced.

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One Response to “Aftermarket steering wheels”

  1. TCJBOLDIE says:

    In Australia it is illegal to remove/replace an airbag equipped steering wheel with one without a bag and a replacement wheel must be no smaller than 330mm

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