Car Advice

How to steer a car – part 2

The steering systems in cars have moved on, so has your steering technique kept pace? Here’s how to steer a car – Part 2

THE FIRST RULE of driving techniques is to adapt your technique to the vehicle and situation.  How you steer a 25-tonne truck is different to how you steer a racecar, which is different to how you steer a classic car, or 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 Part 1 we looked at where to hold the wheel, and now we’re covering how to turn it.

The techniques

What we’re covering in this article are steering techniques for modern roadcars and 4WDs.  There’s two main ones to use:
  • Shuffle (sometimes known as push-pull steering, or push pull slide steering, or hand to hand steering, or fixed arm steering)
  • Rotational (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 know as fixed-input steering.  Up until 90 degrees either way it’s easy, just fix your hands to 9-3, then it gets a bit more complicated than shuffling, and there’s 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 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 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 done, and that simply isn’t true.  But they said no tests have been done on the silly practice of hooking your hand under the wheel, which definitely isn’t recommended by anyone!
 
Here’s a video to demonstrate shuffle and rotational:
 

 
Rotational is not easy to understand, or to 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 shuffle.  Here’s rotational in practice:
 
 
 

What to use when

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, because 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 at once you’re out of the ‘burbs, and maybe even before then.  The main advantages over shuffle are less effort, it’s easy to return the wheel to centre so you’re smoother, and the you can turn the wheel.  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-centring action of the wheel to do that, firstly it may not work, 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 organization I’ve seen, so I think that says something.  
 

Other steering tips:

  • Set your seat so you can reach the top of the steering wheel easily, without needing 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.  But that was 60 years ago…times move on but advice tends to lag.
  • Everything you see in Fast and 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 want any onboard footage of professional racing drivers you’ll see they use rotational, and a few examples are shown below.  None show 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.

Comprehensive Car Insurance

If you want to read a war of words between an advocate of push pull and a fan of rotational, read this.  The thing they’re both missing?  The technique depends on the situation, every driver should have a selection of techniques ready to use!


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!