Do You Need a Heated Steering Wheel?


Some features have appeared in cars over the decades that at first might have seemed like superfluous luxuries but quickly became an essential part of most vehicles’ standard equipment. One particular feature that I first came across just over a decade ago that appeared totally unnecessary at first was a heated steering wheel, but do you need a heated steering wheel and will they ever become a common standard feature in mass-market cars, trucks and SUVs?

If you think you don’t need a heated steering wheel it’s probably because you haven’t had the use of one yet when starting a journey in your car on a freezing cold day. Once you’ve had the experience of a heated steering wheel warming your hands almost instantly when the rest of the vehicle’s interior is close to freezing you’ll never want to be without one again.

What is a heated steering wheel?

A heated steering wheel is just like any other steering wheel but with the addition of a heating element inside to keep your hands warm. Some heated steering wheels even have controls that allow you to adjust the temperature up and down according to your convenience.

My first experience of a heated steering wheel

When the global financial crash happened in 2007/8 I was working in a Land Rover dealership as the sales manager, and for a number of reasons the huge company I worked for wasn’t allowing us to register and new demonstrator vehicles. Having personal use of a “demo” was part of our remuneration package, but these demos were always put up for sale once they reached three months old and my LR3 had passed that point and was sold.

The only demonstrator left that hadn’t been sold and wasn’t already being used by another member of staff was a Range Rover Vogue. Although it was a level above my pay grade it was the only vehicle left for me to get to work and back in so I started using it. I’m sure you can feel my pain?

Anyway, I got ready to go to work on the first morning after I’d driven home the night before in the Range Rover and the temperature outside was well below freezing. After I’d scraped the ice of the windshield and the side windows I got in the Range Rover to begin my commute and I noticed there was a button on the dash for a heated steering wheel. This wasn’t a standard feature at the time but whoever ordered the demo from Land Rover must have specified it as an option.

Up until this point, I’d always thought of a heated steering wheel as an unnecessary luxury feature that would only be paid for by someone with more money than sense. However, it was seriously cold inside the Range Rover and as it was a diesel model that didn’t have a pre-heater, it was going to take quite a while until the heater warmed the cabin up enough for me to feel comfortable.

I’d therefore take whatever I could get in terms of heat and pressed the button to turn on the heated steering wheel. I can only describe what happened next as something of an epiphany. Nobody would be surprised to learn that my hands were almost instantly transformed from freezing cold appendages I could barely feel to toasty warm hands that couldn’t be happier.

Aftermarket heated cover for a steering wheel

However, my warm hands also made the rest of me feel warmer and more comfortable than I would ever have thought possible thanks to this silly little feature that I’d previously dismissed as a bit of a waste of money.

For the next couple of days, I took every opportunity to bore people senseless with tales of the joys of heated steering wheels, and every top-spec vehicle we ordered for stock or for demonstration purposes from that point onwards had to have a heated steering wheel added.

How much does a heated steering wheel cost?

You can get a heated steering wheel from the factory as part of your required specification, or you can get an aftermarket heated steering wheel and retro-fit it to just about any vehicle. An aftermarket heated steering wheel cover is a low-cost option that can cost from less than $10, but you can also buy aftermarket steering wheels that are heated that can cost hundreds of dollars or even into four figures.

Aftermarket heated steering wheel covers are a bit naff if you ask me. If you have an old car that you use every day and you live somewhere that regularly experiences freezing temperatures in winter then by all means get a heated steering wheel cover. It doesn’t matter what it looks like and it will transform those early morning commutes in the cold, especially if you can’t afford to buy a car that comes with a heated wheel.

A replacement steering wheel that also happens to be heated is an expensive modification. If you’re restoring a vehicle or working on a restomod project then by all means go down this route. You won’t regret it.

As far as I’m concerned, the best heated steering wheels are those fitted at the factory and if it’s an available option for the new car you’re looking at then make sure you check that box. Unfortunately, a lot of the time a heated steering wheel is only offered as part of a cold-weather or winter package that includes other features you may or may not want and it can add a serious amount of money to the price of the vehicle.

For example, let’s say you want to buy a brand new Nissan Rogue SV and you absolutely have to have a heated steering wheel. The only way you can get one is by adding the SV Premium Package to the standard SV specification.

As well as the leather-wrapped heated steering wheel you’ll also be getting heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, rear sunshades, a dual-panel panoramic moonroof, roof rails and a power liftgate. The problem is that this little lot adds $2,660 to the price of the Rogue SV, which is a lot of money if all you really wanted was the heated steering wheel.

Diagram showing the heating element of a heated steering wheel

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Can you cover a heated steering wheel?

If you have a heated steering wheel you shouldn’t cover it with anything that can insulate against heat such as any type of steering wheel cover as it could cause the steering wheel to overheat if switched on.

Which cars have heated steering wheels?

When heated steering wheels were first introduced they were only offered as an option on high-end luxury vehicles, but as time has gone by they’ve filtered down into mass-market models and higher trim levels of most new cars can now be specified with a heated steering wheel.

Do you need a heated steering wheel?

Nobody actually needs a heated steering wheel but it’s a very nice feature to have if you live in a part of the country that experiences severely cold weather in the winter, and once you’ve driven a vehicle with a heated steering wheel on a cold day you’ll never want to be without one. Let’s face it; nobody actually needs air conditioning, electric windows or even ABS brakes, but nowadays most of us wouldn’t buy a new car without them.

A heated steering wheel probably doesn’t fall into the category of features that will one day be standard equipment on even the cheapest new cars like air conditioning is today, but heated steering wheels will definitely become increasingly common and all luxury vehicles will probably have them before too long.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and an automotive writer and journalist for the last 8 years

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