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Finding a new vehicle painful -- literally

I am finally in a position to replace my current 14-year-old vehicle and have come across a problem I never anticipated: hand pain, due to the current thicker configuration of steering wheels. I have chronic pain issues in general and what may or may not be arthritis in my right hand, but I am finding that holding a steering wheel in any position in a new (or new-ish) car is causing me pain. For reasons unknown, the left hand is particularly affected, but it essentially mirrors the pain I have had in my right hand for years. “10 and 2” is only slightly better than holding my hands at the bottom, although it’s least painful to steer holding only my right hand on the lower right part of the wheel.

So far, I have driven three Toyotas, two Hondas, and a Nissan. I have viewed other vehicles online, and this difference in style, while allegedly better ergonomically, is making things very difficult for me. (The guy at Honda offered to grind down the wheel. Um…no.) I have had it suggested to me that I put padding on the steering wheel, but that’s only going to make it thicker to grip, which seems to be the main cause of the pain…the spread between my thumb and the rest of my hand.

Current vehicle is on its last legs and I need to replace it while it still has any trade-in value. Closest thing I have to a possibility right now is the Subaru Forester, and it’s not pain-free driving, just less so than anything else at the moment. Does anyone have helpful suggestions?? Budget is not unlimited.

Sounds like you should give up driving.

A 1950 cadillac…that steering wheel is THIN. But then again the no power steering part… :wink:

All I can say is continue to test drive everything you can. A thin wheel is an uncommon request Id guess.

I don’t think that I can offer much helpful advice regarding this problem if the Subaru can’t be tolerated.

Modifying a car poses a set of liability issues and it may be extremely difficult if not impossible to find someone to alter anything.
An aftermarket wheel may not be the answer due to lack of airbag issues. The only thing I can come up with is the following.

Maybe the stock steering wheel could be removed and sent to an auto upholsterer. The existing cover and underlayment could be stripped off and the wheel recovered so as to make it thinner.

Another option could be a suicide knob which is often used by people with disabilities or on industrial equipment such as forklifts and so on.

All modern vehicles with which I am familiar have thicker steering wheels than cars of yesteryear, and that is a good thing for folks with arthritis, as gripping thin things–whether a ballpoint pen or a steering wheel–can be difficult for arthritic hands.

However, nothing in the world will ever be good for everyone. I think that the OP’s only course of action is to go to a company that does vehicle modifications for the handicapped. I am fairly sure that one of these modification firms will have other options available regarding steering wheels.

I second ok4450’s suggestion of the knob. They just clamp on the steering wheel and should be rather cheap.

The knob added to the wheel is a great suggestion.

Also, if you already are not doing so, try wearing open fingered compression gloves while driving. Ones specifically for arthritis are available that cover all but the fingertips beyond the last knuckle. You can also get ones with only the palm, wrist and lower half of thumbs covered while the fingers remain totally open. You will be pleasantly surprised how much such gloves help with hand pain issues from driving. NOTE: You can find such gloves online, in pharmacies, and in sewing/crafting/quilting supply stores.

I remenber my grandfather had the so called suicide knob, cool, but you can get an aftermarket wheel, Though I amnot sure if you are familiar with kineseo tape,cool stuff!

Yeah I think maybe you’re going to need to settle for the knob. We call them spinners and they are still available. I don’t necessarily like the thick wheels either but In our Acura with electric steering, it takes very little effort to turn the wheel. Just like the way power steering used to be. You might at least try one to see if that makes a difference or not. It does to me. You have to ask though, I didn’t even know I was getting it until we drove it home. I hate car shopping.

If I recall correctly, suicide knobs slowly disappeared from common automobile use because they became illegal (risk of sleeves getting caught was one reason).

Can anyone confirm or deny my recollection?

I can recall that they went away but I never liked them anyway. I think they just went out of fashion. A quick check shows that they have never been illegal in any state.

@tmbaker‌, have you seen a doctor for your hand ailment? You can also do exercises to increase mobility if you haven’t tried them already. I do that to increase mobility of my left thumb. NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen) can also help. You should see a doctor if you haven’t already before taking NSAIDS daily.

missileman Thank you for the suicide knob/spinner information. I was always told they were illegal and wondered why I saw so many of them They were popular when power steering was uncommon. The OSHA regulation was confusing as every forklift I operated was factory equipped with a knob.

There are specialists that deal specifically with adapting vehicles to accommodate disabilities. You may want to seek one out in your area.

You might also want to search the internet for handicap adaptation equipment for cars. I’m sure this’ll take some searching, but it just might bear fruit.

Sincere best.

I’ll second that current steering wheels can be painful to hands. Partly it is the fatter wheel and partly how the wider “spokes” to accomodate all the cruise and audio controls and airbag in the middle limit just where one can place hands. Fatter wheels are not necessarily easier on arthritic hands.

I think you will find that its not really the thickness of the steering wheel that is the problem, but the position of the steering wheel. My experience is that steering wheels have not gotten significantly thicker since 2000. They were much thinner back in the 80’s and early 90’s, but somewhere in the mid 90’s, they got thicker and have remained about the same ever since.

There are no muscles in the human hand, only tendons connected to muscles in the forearm through the carpel tunnel in the wrist, and nerves that also go through the carpel tunnel. At certain angles of the wrist, there can be pain caused that is felt in the hands.

I suspect that over the years, you have found the perfect or almost perfect position for the steering wheel in your present car. Test drives don’t really give you enough time to duplicate that position and there may be some cars that it will be impossible to duplicate that position. The spokes in the steering wheel also play a part in finding that ideal position.

The first step would be to find vehicles with steering wheels that most closely match the one you have now. Then measure the distance from the bottom of your current steering wheel to the front of the seat cushion, or a point on the seat cushion directly below the bottom of the steering wheel.

If you have a small roofing square and a level, use that to measure the angle of the steering wheel. Now when you test cars, you can adjust the steering wheel to approximate your current set up. You may not be able to change the angle so you will want to find vehicles where the steering wheel is about the same as your current one.

The steering wheel angle is probably the most critical. The closer it is to vertical, the less bending of the wrist is required. You may find that trucks have steering wheels that are closer to vertical than most cars.

It does seem that Subaru’s have slightly thinner steering wheels, but they also seem to have the most uncomfortable seats (for me, and apparently for others as it has generated some posts here and at the Subaru forums), so watch out for that. You will want to sit in one for an hour or so, even if it is just in the parking lot or on the showroom floor.

I am going to go against using the steering wheel turning knob. If the OP has pain at the 10 and 2 position just the fact of turning the wheel could cause sharp pains and possibly loss of control.

Steering wheels with three ‘spokes’ tend to be better than those with four as they are in the way less, and the spokes are often made thinner. Alas, these are mostly found on BMWs and other sporty cars.

My mother has problems much like yours, OP, making driving very painful. She has found no solution other than driving only when she has to. Good luck finding a better solution

Wow, thanks so much for all of the suggestions!! I am, in fact, seeing a rheumatologist on Monday and hoping she will have some suggestions.

Yes, it’s both the thickness of the steering wheel circumference and the positioning of the spokes, plus they seem to be more ovate than round, and that is a factor as well. I believe it was the Corolla which had two spokes at the bottom that were so close together I could barely get one hand in between them, and I don’t have large hands. Most vehicles have the tilting/telescopic wheel feature. The theory of the angle of it is worth checking out, too. I hurt my hand yesterday trying to open and close the lever to adjust the height of the wheel.

Driving the Subaru yesterday was the first time I even thought about the positioning of the controls on the wheel itself, which may be a problem but not a big one. I’m more about reliability and basic functions than bells and whistles. Never thought the steering wheel could be a deal-breaker.

The Subaru salesman has already told me that I am welcome to take it home overnight, and hopefully that would give me a better indication than a couple of test drives, but still, there’s no way to know what will happen in the long run.

Not liking the thought of the “suicide knob,” but it will be interesting to see if the doctor is familiar with it.

I’ve had the fibromyalgia, which can produce pain in all kinds of places, for over 20 years. I don’t know when it’s going to be reasonable and when it’s going to flare up, but so far I have been able to maintain my mobility, even if I can’t do as much in one day because of lower energy levels. (Reminder: current pain is not from that, and yes, I can be in pain from different things at the same time.) It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be forced into looking at adapting it from a disability standpoint. Not exactly a cheery thought, but then it does open up other possibilities.

Then there’s the unquantifiable factor of stress affecting the pain. I can’t afford to make a $20K+ mistake – THAT doesn’t cause any anxiety.

Pardon my not commenting per name, if that’s the SOP here. If I didn’t reference yours in particular, sorry, still taking it all in. I’m a little overwhelmed to find so many prompt and helpful replies. Much appreciated.

Ah - missed one in particular. I have tried the special fingerless gloves before and they didn’t help, but this is a different circumstance, so I may try those, too. I do have some concern that it may come down to driving as little as possible. Sure hope that isn’t the answer.

Again, thanks to all.