Car Advice

How to steer a car – Part 2

The steering systems in cars have moved on quickly, but has your steering technique kept pace? This is how you turn a steering wheel, the right way.

THE FIRST RULE of driving properly is to adapt your technique to the vehicle and situation. How you steer a 25-tonne truck is different from how you steer a racecar, which is different from how you steer a classic car, which is different from how you steer a Ferrari on a racetrack… and you might well use a different technique when parking that same Ferrari. So those who say there’s only one way to steer a vehicle are just plain wrong, because “it all depends”. 
In How to steer a car – Part 1, we looked at where to hold the steering wheel, and now we’re covering how to turn it.

Steering a car: Techniques

What we’re covering in this article are steering techniques for modern roadcars and 4WDs.  There are two main techniques to use:
  • Shuffle steering (sometimes known as push-pull steering, or push-pull slide steering, or hand to hand steering, or fixed arm steering)
  • Rotational steering (sometimes known as fixed-input steering or hand over hand steering)
The shuffle technique is what you’ve probably been taught when you trained for your licence: Keep your hands pretty much around the 9-3 mark, and make small movements to turn the wheel. Reach up to grasp the wheel, and pull down to turn it, while pushing up with your other hand – that’s why it’s also known as push-pull steering.
The rotational technique locks your hands at 9-3, and keeps them there, even as you turn the wheel, which is why it’s also known as fixed-input steering. Up to 90 degrees turn it’s easy – just fix your hands to 9-3.  Over 90 degrees it gets a bit more complicated than shuffling, and there are three parts to it.  
Beyond 90 degrees, leave your hand at the bottom of the wheel, and continue moving the other hand, letting the wheel slide through the lower hand. As your two hands meet, move the lower hand to the opposite spoke of the steering wheel and pull down. 
With this technique the only place you grasp the steering wheel is at the spokes. If you use rotational steering on a country road or racetrack then you are very unlikely to ever need more than about 110 degrees of steering lock, and if you get past 180 degrees of lock you’re either drifting or on your way to a crash site, so there’s no need to worry about grabbing the other spoke!
A myth about rotational steering is that if the airbag goes off and your arms are crossed over the steering wheel then they’ll be thrown back in your face. The Audi driver training team told us that tests have been conducted and that isn’t true.
Here’s a video to demonstrate shuffle and rotational steering techniques:

Rotational steering is not easy to understand or learn to proficiency, especially if you’re used to another steering method. But stick with it, the technique can be learned and once learned you never want to go back to wasting effort with the shuffle.  

When to use rotational or shuffle steering

The shuffle allows you to use a lot of force on the wheel, handy for older vehicles without power steering. It is also a great technique to use when driving 4WDs offroad because both hands are available to keep the wheel steady over rocks and ruts, and you can easily move a hand to operate UHF radios, locking differentials, and all sorts of other controls. Around town, it is useful in many situations because you can easily operate the controls such as indicators as your hands are always close to 9-3.  The shuffle or push-pull is simple, safe, and easy to learn but not always the most effective technique which is why most people don’t use it once they’ve passed their test.
The rotational technique is what you want to use once you’re out of the ‘burbs, and maybe even before then. The main advantages over shuffle are less effort and it’s easy to return the wheel to the centre, so steering input is smoother. Out on country roads all these advantages mean rotational is the way to go, as it’s just much easier to smoothly control the car than with shuffle.  
In motorsports, rotational is always used because of the speed you need to turn the wheel and necessity of being able to return the wheel to centre instantly without looking. You cannot rely on the self-centering action of the wheel to do that; firstly, it may not work, and second, it’s way too slow. Rotational is always used in motorsports, and it is taught by BMW, Audi, Porsche and every performance-oriented driving organisation.

Other safe steering tips:

  • Set your seat so you can reach the top of the steering wheel easily, without having to lean forwards at all.
  • Look where you want to go
  • Grip the wheel firmly but gently. The steering wheel is for you to give input to the car, but also for the car to tell you what’s happening and you don’t want to mask that feedback.
  • Thumbs shouldn’t be hooked over the spokes for offroad driving, but lightly along the rims is fine.  Onroad you can hook thumbs lightly over the spokes. The danger of the wheel spinning out of control is much overrated in modern cars with power steering that damps kickback and modern steering wheels covered with soft material. If you want to see where that advice came from drive a Series 1 Land Rover over rough ground.
  • Everything you see in The Fast and the Furious is wrong. And 95% of other movies or TV programmes too.

How NOT to steer a car

  • Never hook your hand under the steering wheel rim – you don’t need to do so, and you have limited control over the car, plus you are risking injury in the event an airbag goes off.
  • Don’t let the wheel slide through your hands – it’s just not necessary, and you have limited control of the car.

Race drivers demonstrating rotational steering

If you watch any onboard footage of professional racing drivers you’ll see they use rotational steering, and a few examples are shown below – none are Formula 1 cars or similar as those vehicles only have about 100 degrees of steering lock either way, and many single seaters don’t even have a steering wheel, more like handlebars. So rally cars and the like demonstrate the technique best.

If you missed our advice on how to hold a steering wheel correctly, read How to steer a car – Part 1 

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper