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The History of the Car Steering Wheel

By Product Expert | Posted in FAQ on Monday, November 18th, 2019 at 3:04 pm
nissan sentra steering wheel and dashboard

Why Do Cars Use Circular Steering Wheels? 

All of the equipment and features on your car may seem obvious now, but at some point, the decision had to be made to use that specific feature in that specific shape with that specific design. That’s exactly the case with the steering wheel. Why do cars use circular steering wheels instead of something else?  

For example, why don’t we control our cars with a joystick or the yoke found in aircraft? Or, why don’t cars use a tiller, like many of the world’s first automobiles used to steer around, similar to what some boats use? 

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Why Don’t Cars Steer With Joysticks 

steering wheel in a nissan leadWell, let’s start with joysticks. If you’ve ever used a joystick, you know that there are a range of movements. Not only can you move the stick left and right, but you can also move it up and down, as well as a combination of movements in between those four main directions.  

This works great for aircraft because they need to be able to control pitch, which is the up and down movement we mentioned. They also need to be able to control roll, which is the left and right movement on the joystick. On a car, you don’t need to flip over to one side or the other and you don’t need to move up or down. You simply need to turn left or right on a flat surface. Therefore, a joystick is overcomplicated for a car.  

Why Don’t Cars Steer With Tillers Anymore? 

Now, the tiller is an interesting idea, and as we mentioned, many of the very first cars were operated using such a steering system. It was similar to how a boat might be steered, but even more common during the time, it was in line with how people would have been used to steering horses and horse-drawn carriages. The movement would have felt a lot like pulling the reigns on a horse to one side or another to turn. 

The tiller worked OK on cars, but it still wasn’t ideal. Other steering methods that were being experimented with at the time included the steering wheel. When Alfred Vacheron used a steering wheel in the 1894 Paris-Rouen race, everyone saw its ease of use and effectiveness on display, and soon, the rest of the world was hooked on the steering wheel as the preferred method for steering a car. 

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If you love automotive history, or really anything related to Nissan or cars in general, be sure to check back to the Charlie Clark Nissan El Paso blog. 

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