Smart Wheel. Innovations In Steering Wheels

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September 28, 2008

The Smart Wheel is a popular choice on many vehicles today, including many motor homes.  The term “Smart Wheel” is more a type rather than a brand.  It is more the term used for any steering wheel that contains multiple built-in switches and control devices.  But, today we will look at the Smart Wheel as it is on diesel pushers and mid engines that we have or see on many these motor coaches.

The Smart Wheel is installed at the chassis manufacturer’s facility on units that the coach manufacturer has specified.  This generally is not an after delivery installation as it involves far more than just replacing the actual wheel portion.  A great deal of wiring and internal column related hardware is required.

So what does it offer that the standard steering wheel does not? It provides a convenient grouping of select controls and puts them at the driver’s finger tips.  It allows the operator to be able to control certain functions without the need to remove his or her hands from the steering wheel.  This therefore offers an additional element of safety while underway.  Adding to that, the Smart Wheel used on motor coaches has an identifying touch profile that can eliminate the need to visually confirm the desired switch choice.

Looking at the specific switch applications, we see that there are two control groups.  One group is located on the outer portion of the left wheel web between the spokes and a mirror image on the right side.  Adding to the “Smart” in its name, is how some of these control switches react and function.  Some are a little smarter than a mere on/off selection.  The following is what each are and how they perform.

Left Group

Headlights and Cruise Control



* Used to engage the cruise control if off.

* Used to reduce the cruise speed by 1 M.P.H. per depress if cruise is active.

* Used to activate higher idle and/or adjust the high idle downwardly.

RES (Resume)

* Used to reactivate the cruise control at the previous speed setting.  (Unlike your automobile, many motor coaches are programmed to retain the previously selected speed setting even after the ignition has been turned off.  This can be a handy feature that can allow you to return to your preselected cruise speed after a stop for fuel, lunch or just a rest.     Note: If your cruise control is not programmed in this manner it can be changed.    This however, requires a laptop computer, an appropriate connecting cable and a suitable OEM software download.)

* Used to increase the cruise speed by 1 M.P.H. per depress if cruise is active.

* Used to activate higher idle and/or adjust the high idle upwardly.


* Cancels the cruise control engagement while leaving it still armed.


* Toggles the cruise and high neutral R.P.M. on or off. (Armed only)


* Depressing while headlights are off causes them to light while the button is held. (Used for

signaling vehicles that are over taking you or related visual message.)

* Depressed while headlights are on causes them to blink off while the button is held.

* (Used for signaling vehicles that are over taking you or related visual message.)

(Applies also to daytime headlights)

Right Group

Windshield Wipers and Clearance Lights

WASHERS (Symbol)

* Washer fluid applied and wipers auto cycle and go off.

Mist (Symbol)

* Depressed once causes the wipers to make one sweep and park.

* Depressed a second time will cause the wipers to sweep at a the same time cycle as the

amount of time between the first depress and the second.  This provides a perfectly

timed intermittent cycle when driving conditions require the same.


* This activates the windshield wipers on low speed upon one button depress.

* Depressing additional times will toggle the wiper speed from low to high.


* Depressing this button deactivates windshield wipers in all modes.


* Depressing this while running lights are off will cause the tail and clearance

lights to illuminate while the button is held.  (Used for signaling vehicles that are

behind you or related visual message.)

* Depressing this button while the running lights are on will cause the tail and clearance

lights to go off while it is held.

Well that pretty well describes the ten steering wheel mounted controls found on today’s Smart Wheel.  In the future it would be great if they added perhaps at least two more switches.  Switches that could be user specified or programmed.  Such wheel mounted controls for say, the Jake Brake and tag axle lift would seem very beneficial.

Could the future of the so called Smart Wheel be totally programmable to suit the individual owner’s preference; giving the owner total choice and ability to re-assign each switch function.  This should be feasible as more and more equipment and options are ultimately controlled by the ECM or similar digital module.

So, if you could have two or even more items that you could control from the button groups on your steering wheel, what functions would you choose?


Just Pushing All The Hot Buttons     –      Lug_Nut     –       Peter Mercer

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  25. Miles

    When the lights flash and functions such as cruise don’t work properly, the problem is likely the clockspring. This is a common problem and many times the airbag system failure light will be on as well. I replaced the clockspring in my F350 just a couple of months ago. It is basically a thin ribbon-like tape wound like the mainspring in a clock with wires going to the buttons. Clocksprings flex and break after many turns of the wheel.

    If you decide to fix it yourself, make sure you disconnect the battery (or batteries) and wait for the airbag controller to totally shut down. Accidentally setting off the airbag wouldn’t be a good idea when you’re taking the steering wheel apart.

  26. Mike, It sounds like a control module issue, or, less likely, a wiring problem. I would recommend taking it to a repair center that is familiar with the Smart Wheel. Thank you for youy input.

  27. Mike

    My motorhome has a smart wheel and when I turn on the wipers the lights go off, any input? Thanks Mike

  28. I would choose HOWI(TN). The Hands On Wheel Interface patented/patent pending in the US, EU and Japan.

    This Samrt Steering Wheel, as dubed by the press, has only one switch on each side that can be used to toggle between options based on sensed conditions. The sensors understand thumb gesture as in thumbs up is yes or thumbs down is no.

    So let’s say that I used the switches or sensors to change a radio station then a second later I received a call, the same sensors will be used to answer the phone or send it to voice mail.

  29. ShapeShifter, Great input. You really understand this issue. Thank you for your valued comments on this topic.

  30. ShapeShifter

    Nice writeup, even if it did take me this long to finally see it…

    I love my Smart Wheel, and use all of the buttons regularly. I like your idea of having a couple extra buttons, especially if they were user programmable. Two functions I would like to see are:

    — Manual exhaust brake control: I’d like a mode where I can lift off the accelerator pedal and coast without the exhaust brake activating, but have it activate by pushing a steering wheel button or the brake pedal — and have it stay activated until I press the accelerator or press the button again.

    — Manual camera control: I have a monitor that displays three cameras (left, right, rear) as well as a system monitor screen. Rather than lean over and reach for the button on the screen, I’d like a steering wheel button that lets me easily cycle through the display modes, and more importantly override the automatic selections. (Like while waiting at a turn and the left side camera is automatically selected, I’d like to be able to quickly check the rear camera to see how much traffic is piling up behind me. Or while stopped on the side of the road getting ready to back into my driveway, the four way flashers trigger a side camera, I’d like to be able to override it to the rear camera.)

    With the myriad switches and controls spread across the dash, these two are the ones I’m always reaching for. It would be great to get them on the wheel, especially if they could have the increased functionality I described.

  31. Hey Pete, The heat seakers are always on the right and the “Fire and forget” 120’s are on the left. That would just make a new statement of road rage that we are not prepared ever for. Thanks for your humorous input.

  32. Pete

    Where’s the trigger for the ground-to-ground missles?