Of the seemingly limitless number of custom bolt-ons a person can add to a car, only 2 can be accomplished in a matter of minutes, yet still have the ability to change every aspect of how a car looks and handles … and maybe it’s no coincidence that they’re both round. You can swap on a new set of rims and tyres ( … an eye-watering costly proposition), or, you can just swap in a new steering wheel.
And let’s not pull any punches here: sure, steering wheels are very much about having a driver inspired look, but they’re also about how a wheel with a different diameter, or made from a different material changes the whole driving experience. Whenever you hear about how a car “turns on a dime” or how “agile” it is, these are characteristics that are transmitted through the steering wheel, and a new steering wheel can paint an altogether different picture about how a car really performs. Sounds like a worthwhile swap, right? Well, it is, but first, let’s take a moment to look at everything that’s involved with making the switch.
The Feel of the Wheel
There are literally hundreds of choices to choose from when searching for the perfect, fully ADR compliant, custom car steering wheel for a hot rod, tuned-up daily driver, or ute, and fortunately, the aftermarket understands that the driver’s experience is all about the “feel of the wheel.” It’s why they produce steering wheels crafted from special alloys or carbon fiber, wrapped in leather and suede, and with optimized hand and finger grip positioning to fit the needs of any driver.
For the driver who wants a flat bottomed, 13” wheel with contoured suede grip to go in their Bathurst-ready racer, it’s available, or, if they want to get nostalgic – really nostalgic – and bolt a hole-spoked, deep dish, 15” with a tall hub into, say, an all-black 73’ Falcon GT, then you’d better believe there’s an option available for that too.
To put it simply, there’s no shortage of aftermarket steering wheels available to choose from, and what makes any of these hundreds of swaps possible are the appropriate boss kits with the adapter hub and standard 6 x 70mm bolt pattern that allows for quick mounting of any wheel into practically any make or model of car.
In fact, once an adapter’s mounted – and depending upon the application – switching in quick releases, spacers, or just alternating between steering wheels becomes a breeze.
It all goes to say that regardless of whether you’re interested in upgrading a retro or restored ride, or preparing a full-blown race car, the right steering wheel will immediately enhance your driving experience.
The Perfect Wheel
When it comes to swapping steering wheels, there are a few critical dimensions that have to be considered … especially with the addition of other components.
The Diameter of the Wheel
14” / 350mm diameter steering wheels are considered normal-sized wheels for most daily driven cars. At opposing ends of the spectrum, however, are larger 15” / 380mm diameter wheels that are the standard “lay back and cruise” size, while smaller, 13” / 330mm wheels that are great for quick-handed, racecar responsiveness.
The Shape of the Wheel
Regardless of the diameter, steering wheels are generally round, but with a proper nod to racers and high-performance drivers, flat bottomed, “D-shaped” steering wheels are available that not only look cooler, but make getting into or out of a fully prepped racecar much easier.
The Dish of the Wheel
The dish is the distance from the steering wheel’s mounting surface to the centerline of the wheel’s grip. Dishes can range from an almost flat-flush 25mm up to a canyon-deep 90mm, and it’s always good to keep in mind that deeper dish wheels can make getting into or out of the car difficult… especially if a spacer’s also been installed.
The Urgent Wheel Switch
Although steering wheel swaps are generally regarded as enhancements, there are other times too – and not without good reason – that there’ll be an urgency to do so.
Like it or not, factory steering wheels will inevitably degrade over time, and decades of handling, heat and UV exposure will take their toll.
- Rubberized gripping surfaces will begin to fade and peel
- Foam covered surfaces can crumble and disintegrate
- Chemically bound plasticizers, once they start to break down can actually begin to ooze from plastic
And none of these cases exclude the real-deal old school wheels made of either wood, or Lucite or Bakelite (very popular between the 30’s and 70’s) from becoming brittle, cracking, and even splitting. These are the times when installing an aftermarket steering wheel – particularlyon a vintage or classic car – makes perfect sense. And that’s also why luckily, the removal and reinstallation process only required 3 basic tools and a few minutes to accomplish. All that’s needed are:
- A steering wheel puller
- A deep-welled socket to match the factory’s wheel fixing nut
- A socket driver and extension
Although it’s certainly possible to remove a factory steering wheel without one, it really isn’t advisable, and if you can’t borrow one from a friend or a local workshop, they’re not at all expensive. Making an afternoon steering wheel upgrade couldn’t be more straightforward … or more satisfying.
The Final Word
When it’s all said and done, there simply isn’t a more worthwhile modification you can make. Investing in a new car steering wheel really is the perfectly functional choice that happens to look good too. Just be sure to look for manufacturers and retailers whose reputations for quality are as long as their product line-ups, because, at the end of the day, steering wheels still have to serve a purpose beyond the aesthetic. Once you’ve made the choice, though, you’ll be amazed at the difference.