11 Different Types Of Steering Wheels Explained (With Photos)

The steering wheel, a fundamental component of an automobile, has seen limited evolution throughout the history of motoring, despite the advancements in car designs. While the core concept of steering remains consistent, there have been subtle changes and innovations that have given rise to various steering wheel types and mechanisms.

Throughout the automotive industry’s development, the steering wheel has undergone some modifications in terms of shape, design, adjustability, and safety features. These alterations, often spurred by evolving safety standards, have contributed to the emergence of 11 primary steering wheel types.

Despite the occasional introduction of alternative steering mechanisms like joysticks and handlebars, the steering wheel has endured as the most practical and efficient means of controlling a car. Innovations in steering wheel design have led to the diversification of steering wheel types, ensuring that this essential component remains adaptable to the changing landscape of automotive technology and safety standards.

Types Of Car Steering Wheels

While car designers often have creative freedom when it comes to crafting a vehicle’s exterior and interior aesthetics, the functional aspects of a steering wheel have limited room for innovative design and creativity.

This constraint, however, hasn’t deterred some automotive manufacturers from attempting to infuse their unique touch into steering wheel design while keeping the fundamental steering mechanism unchanged. For instance, the Honda EV-STER, introduced in 2012, featured levers in place of a traditional steering wheel. Nonetheless, such unconventional designs have yet to gain widespread acceptance, and steering wheel alternatives remain primarily confined to the realm of concept cars, occasionally making appearances but not becoming mainstream.

Below, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the various types of steering wheels commonly used in cars, highlighting their main distinguishing features.

1. Single-Spoke Steering Wheels

The spokes that connect the outer rim of a steering wheel to the central steering column are known as crossbars. One of the more unique and uncommon steering wheel designs features a single spoke connecting the steering wheel to the central steering column.

This singular spoke steering wheel design stands out as a rarity in the world of automobiles. Its origins can be traced back to the French automaker Citroen, where it made its debut with the Citroen DS model in 1974.

This distinctive design was initially conceived as a safety enhancement. It allowed the steering wheel to collapse in a specific manner, directing the driver towards one side of the steering column in the event of a collision. This innovative approach aimed to minimize chest injuries during accidents.

2. Dual-Spoke Steering Wheels

Dual-spoke steering wheels feature two spokes that connect the outer rim of the steering wheel to the steering column. These spokes can be arranged in two ways: they can either be directly opposite each other, creating a straight line across the steering wheel, or they can be angled towards each other to enhance the wheel’s aesthetic appeal.

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Many dual-spoke steering wheels from the past included a chromed metal horn ring that could be depressed to activate the car’s horn. An illustrative example of this design can be found in the steering wheel of the 1958 Plymouth Savoy.

In contemporary automotive design, dual-spoke steering wheels continue to be popular, often integrating electronic controls on the spokes for convenient access, keeping essential functions within easy reach of the driver’s hands.

3. Three-Spoke Steering Wheels

Three-spoke steering wheels are characterized by three spokes connecting the outer rim of the wheel to the steering column. This design was often chosen to impart a sporty and dynamic appearance to car steering wheels, making it a preferred choice for the more extravagant sports models in a car manufacturer’s lineup.

In earlier iterations of this steering wheel type, the spokes were slender and crafted from metal. However, in modern versions, the spokes have been widened to accommodate electronic controls integrated directly onto them. This design choice serves as a safety feature, enabling drivers to adjust various in-car electronic devices without the need to remove their hands from the steering wheel, thus enhancing convenience and safety during driving.

4. Banjo Steering Wheels

Banjo steering wheels, whether dual or three-spoke, featured a distinctive construction for their spokes. These spokes were crafted from thick steel wires, closely resembling the appearance of bicycle spokes. Each steering wheel spoke typically consisted of 3, 4, or 5 of these wire strands. It was the arrangement of these wire strands that gave the spokes a striking resemblance to the strings of a banjo, hence the name “banjo steering wheel.”

The wire spoke design served a specific purpose, primarily aimed at reducing the transfer of road vibrations from the road surface to the driver’s hands. By incorporating these wire spokes, a dampening effect on road vibrations was achieved, contributing to a smoother and more comfortable driving experience.

5. Telescoping Steering Wheel

The telescoping steering wheel was an innovative development designed to provide drivers with the ability to make specific adjustments to the height and distance of the steering wheel in relation to their body.

Prior to World War II, steering wheel designs lacked user-adjustable features and were typically set by mechanics to suit the car’s primary driver. However, a significant breakthrough occurred when Jaguar introduced the first driver-adjustable telescoping steering wheel in the 1949 Jaguar XK120.

This pioneering design allowed drivers to make adjustments from within the car itself by simply loosening and tightening an adjustable sleeve around the steering column. The telescoping feature enabled the steering wheel to be moved approximately 3 inches or 76mm closer or farther away from the driver. As the steering wheel was extended away from the driver, it also lowered, and conversely, it would rise as the steering wheel was brought closer.

Although the range of adjustment may not have been dramatic, this feature provided both shorter and taller drivers with the flexibility to fine-tune the steering wheel’s position for a more comfortable and safer driving experience.

6. Tilt Steering Wheel

Tilt steering wheels have been a feature in automobiles since the early 1900s. Many vehicles were designed with multiple fixed tilt positions for the steering wheel, a notable example being the 1963 General Motors passenger vehicles that offered 7 different tilt-position adjustments.

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The tilt mechanism operates on a ratchet system, allowing the driver to release it and adjust the steering wheel to a more comfortable position. This adjustment typically involves tilting the steering wheel in an arc, either upwards or downwards, from its centered position. Unlike the telescoping steering wheel, this motion doesn’t affect the distance between the steering wheel and the driver.

Initially, the tilt steering wheel was introduced as an optional luxury feature by most manufacturers. However, as its popularity grew and the safety benefits became more apparent, manufacturers began incorporating this feature into their non-luxury vehicle ranges.

7. Steering Wheel With Adjustable Steering Column

Unlike other adjustable steering wheel types where the steering column remains fixed while the steering wheel adjusts in relation to it, this particular type allows for movement of the steering column itself to make slight adjustments to the steering wheel position.

The range of movement in this type of adjustment is more limited compared to other methods. Initially, compression locks were employed to facilitate this movement, but later, electric motors were introduced to provide the adjustment.

The use of electric motors brought significant advantages. It allowed for electronic adjustments of the steering wheel with a “memory” function, which meant that the preferred position for different drivers of the car could be programmed. This feature enabled the steering wheel to be adjusted to the programmed position at the press of a single button.

Additionally, this mechanism made it possible to raise the steering wheel out of the way when the car was parked. This feature facilitated easy entry and exit for the driver, enhancing overall convenience.

8. Swing-Away Steering Wheel

The swing-away steering wheel, initially introduced on the 1961 Ford Thunderbird, was primarily designed for convenience rather than for enhancing the driver’s seated position. With this innovative design, both the steering wheel and the steering column could be moved a full 9 inches or 229mm to the right when the vehicle’s transmission was in park mode. This unique feature was aimed at facilitating easy entry and exit from the vehicle, prioritizing convenience for the driver.

9. Quick-Release Steering Wheel

The quick-release steering wheel was another popular innovation that enabled the steering wheel to be detached from the steering column with a simple push of a button. Initially marketed as an anti-theft device, it allowed the steering wheel to be removed and securely stored in the car’s trunk, serving as a deterrent to potential car thieves.

In the realm of motor racing, the quick-release steering wheel gained popularity for its ability to facilitate easy entry and exit from racing cars, particularly those with limited cockpit space or for drivers wearing bulky safety gear. Moreover, this convenient feature was highly valued in emergency situations, enabling rapid removal of the steering wheel to extricate a driver after an accident. This swift release mechanism proved instrumental in avoiding delays on the track when dealing with injured drivers following an accident.

However, it’s important to note that this type of steering wheel is no longer considered street legal, particularly with the development of steering wheel airbags designed to enhance driver safety in the event of a significant collision.

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10. F1 Steering Wheels

In the early days of motorsports, steering wheels were characterized by their large, circular designs, providing drivers with enhanced turning power as they maneuvered their cars around the racetrack. However, the introduction of power steering and the need for more compact driver compartments in Formula 1 (F1) cars necessitated a significant redesign of steering wheels for these high-performance race cars.

Formula 1 cars now feature specially crafted steering wheels that incorporate a quick-release design along with a host of other advanced features. These steering wheels depart from the traditional circular shape by removing the top third and bottom third of the outer rim, resulting in a cut-down configuration. This modified design leaves only the left and right sides of the steering wheel for the driver to grip and manipulate to steer the vehicle effectively.

Moreover, the F1 steering wheel is equipped with an array of sensors and displays, providing the driver with real-time information on the car’s performance, including crucial data for making split-second decisions during a race. Given the narrow cockpit of these race cars, the steering wheel often needs to be removed to allow the driver to enter or exit the vehicle efficiently. This design not only optimizes control but also ensures that drivers have access to essential data while navigating the demanding F1 circuits.

11. Custom Steering Wheels

The heyday of muscle cars and street racing, numerous vehicles boasted custom-designed steering wheels that added a unique touch to their appearance. One iconic custom steering wheel design from this era featured a chain motif, where the individual links were meticulously welded together to form a circular shape. To enhance its visual appeal, the steel was chromed to achieve a gleaming mirror finish.

However, it’s important to note that these distinctive custom steering wheels have largely fallen out of favor and have been prohibited in many locations. This shift is primarily due to regulatory changes that prioritize safety in the automotive industry. Consequently, steering wheel designs now adhere to strict safety requirements, ensuring the well-being of drivers and passengers on the road. While these custom steering wheels were once a hallmark of a bygone era, they have largely given way to standardized designs that prioritize safety and compliance with modern automotive standards.


The function of steering wheels within the automotive realm traditionally leaves limited room for innovative design. Nevertheless, certain car manufacturers have managed to introduce notable innovations in this critical car component while maintaining a steadfast commitment to safety and functionality.

In contemporary automobiles, steering wheels have evolved beyond their conventional role as mere steering devices. They have transformed into integrated control centers, housing an array of functions and features designed to enhance the driving experience and convenience for motorists. This evolution underscores the ongoing commitment within the automotive industry to blend innovation with safety, ensuring that steering wheels remain at the forefront of technological advancements while prioritizing their core function of steering and control.