Torque steer explained
You’ve probably heard or read something in a car review about torque steer, but what is it and does it actually matter? Torque steer explained…
What is torque steer?
TORQUE STEER is the tendency of a vehicle to pull to either the left or right under acceleration. You may notice when applying the throttle the steering wheel tug in your hands as the car tries to pull to one side. It is most common in front-drive vehicles, and caused by one side of the drivetrain being easier to turn that the other.
There are a whole of reasons that can cause torque steer, and most car companies spend a lot of money on design and fixes to keep their sporty front-drive cars from torque steering. While torque steer can be caused or exaggerated by things like unequal inflation in the front tyres, it’s more commonly caused because of the nature of a front-drive car, the transversely mounted engine (as distinct from in line, facing forwards to backwards).
Most front-wheel drive vehicles have the engine, transmission and differential all wrapped up in one package. And because it’s all got to be stuffed in the engine bay with the engine in the middle of the two front wheels, the transmission and differential are pushed to one side, which means the half-shafts to each of the front wheels end up being unequal in length – and so they react to torque loads differently.
In short, this results in drive from the engine being transferred to one wheel more efficiently than the other, which is torque steer. And because the front wheels are being driven as well as also dealing with the steering, you get the slight tugging at the wheel in some front-drive cars.
Should I care? Probably not. The only people that should worry about torque steer are car enthusiasts who own higher-powered front drive cars that they are intent on driving hard and fast. Everyone else can stop now and read something like this.
Is it dangerous? No. It would be if it was severe, but no modern roadcar has it bad enough to worry, and those with the potential for torque steer get plenty of engineering attention lavished on them with everything from suspension to power delivery tweaks to help keep the steering wheel straight under hard acceleration.
What does it feel like, what do I need to do? You probably don’t even notice it, because you’ll naturally apply the small amount of pressure to keep the car straight without even feeling anything unusual. But in high-powered front drive cars you may notice, in the first couple of gears, a tugging or a tendency for the car to deviate off line. The more powerful the car and the more quickly you accelerate, the greater the torque steer.
If you’ve never experienced torque steer before, then find yourself a big wide open space where you can test the off-the-line acceleration in first gear without hitting anything or causing an accident, or being considered a hoon. Then, bring the car to a stop, take your hands off the wheel and give the throttle a decent but brief squeeze. If your car is a front driver you’ll have likely seen the steering wheel jerk to either the left or right and the car lurch to the corresponding side. That’s torque steer.
Obviously, depending on the surface you’re on, the effect can be exacerbated by the camber on the road – the road is slightly angled for drainage.
In the video below, you’ll see two instances of torque steer. One at low speed and one at higher speed.