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The steering wheel is one of the most important parts of the car; it steers the car, and in case you get into an accident, the airbag attached to it could save your life. But what if you want to change your car’s steering wheel for an aftermarket one? Are those even legal?

What’s the point of changing your steering wheel?

You may have seen a car with an aftermarket steering wheel before. If not, then the next time you see a heavily modded Honda Civic or Subaru WRX at your local grocery store parking lot, take a second to peer into the driver’s side window because there’s a good chance that it probably has one. If anything, you’ll notice that it looks like a steering wheel that you would find in a race car.

That’s because it technically is. Race cars use thinner, leather and Alcantara-wrapped steering wheels for better grip and to help the drivers get in and out of the car. In addition to providing more grip and a racecar look, that racing steering wheel can usually be quickly detached from its hub with a “quick-release” device so that the steering wheel will be completely out of the way so that the driver, who is usually suited up in a fire suit and helmet, can get out of the car easily.

1991 Honda Civic with a Sparco steering wheel
1991 Honda Civic with a Sparco steering wheel | Bring a Trailer

Why do street cars have aftermarket steering wheels?

Now that we know what these aftermarket steering wheels are for, you might be wondering why regular people in street cars use them. In short, most people use them for security reasons (since you can’t steal a car without a steering wheel) and because they look cool. They can also enhance the driving experience since the overall feel of the steering wheel can make it feel sportier, like a racecar.

Ferrari’s German driver Sebastian Vettel in a racecar. | via Getty Images

Are these aftermarket steering wheels illegal?

If you have a car that didn’t come with an airbag from the factory, which is typically a car made before the early 90s, then you can legally change your steering wheel to an aftermarket one. If your car does have an airbag, there technically isn’t a law saying that you can’t change out your steering wheel, but you could get a ticket if you ever get pulled over since you removed the airbag from the car.  

Is installing an aftermarket steering wheel a good idea?

If you’re looking for that racecar look and feel for your car, an aftermarket steering wheel could give your car that feeling. Although, it might not be a good idea from a safety standpoint. Considering you will lose your airbag and steering wheel-mounted controls, we wouldn’t condone swapping out your steering wheel.

The OEM steering wheel passed all kinds of research and development phases along with some safety tests to provide you with the best driving experience possible for your car and to keep you safe. So why would you want to change that out just because it looks cool?