What is Torque Steer, and How Do You Stop It?

In the “old days,” cars were rear-wheel drive (RWD), which meant that the engine sent its power and torque to the two back wheels through the transmission and driveshaft. However, that started to change in the late 1970s as automakers developed front-wheel-drive (FWD) powertrain configurations. As the name suggests, the two front wheels power the vehicle instead of the rear, which yields better traction and fuel economy.

2008 MazdaSpeed3 Red Front Quarter View on Track Torque Steer

Despite its benefits, FWD does come with a few drawbacks. One major challenge that can occur with the setup is called torque steer. Since the wheels that propel the vehicle are the same wheels that steer the car, there can be some unintended movement under heavy acceleration.

What is Torque Steer?

Torque steer happens mostly in FWD cars and refers to a situation when a car’s engine torque influences its steering. When the driver accelerates quickly, the car’s drive wheels, which also happen to be its steering wheels, can tug or veer to either side. The driver may feel the steering wheel pull to one side or the other, and the vehicle’s direction can shift slightly with input from the driver.

What Causes Torque Steer?

Torque steer occurs for various reasons, some of which relate to the car’s tires, while others involve suspension geometry and chassis dynamics. However, the most common cause of torque steer in front-drive vehicles is the orientation of their engine.

In RWD vehicles, the engine and drivetrain components such as the differential are oriented in a straight line from front to back. This configuration allows the components (half-shafts) that connect the drive wheels to the differential to be the same size and length, which means that they carry the same forces over the same distance.

The engine, transmission, and drivetrain components in FWD vehicles are all located in the vehicle’s front end, but there is no driveshaft. The transmission and differential are mounted on one side of the engine, which causes one half-shaft to be shorter than the other. Different half-shaft lengths mean that they react to torque inputs differently, and one of the front drive wheels can have more power behind it than the other. Since the front wheels also connect to the steering system, the car can pull to one side or the other.

Torque steer can occur if any of the following conditions exist:

  • If there is a defect in the tire’s sidewalls or if the tire is worn, the sidewall can become deformed and lead to a difference in traction between the two front wheels.
  • Similarly, if the tires’ treads are unevenly worn or damaged, the contact patch size and traction differences can cause torque steer.
  • If a car’s suspension is worn or damaged, unintended body roll and movement can occur and cause torque steer.
  • Worn or damaged control arm bushings, CV joints, and other components play a role in torque steer.
  • Engine mount tolerances or damage can cause excess movement during heavy acceleration, as well as torque steer.

What is the Best Way to Stop Torque Steer?

There are many ways to “fix” torque steer in FWD cars, but the best solutions are developed and implemented by the automakers at the factory. In some cases, the car’s power steering system can be programmed to cancel out torque steer partially. The car’s computer system can also intervene and limit torque in lower gears or apply a small amount of brake pressure to balance out the forces acting on the front wheels.

If you own a FWD vehicle that has not had the benefit of a factory intervention for torque steer, there are a few steps you can take to help mitigate the issue. Some home remedies for torque steer include:

  • Maintain your tires. This includes tire pressure, balancing, and proper rotation to prevent uneven wear and traction issues.
  • Check your suspension components. Worn bushings, damaged boots, and other issues can lead to torque steer.
  • Get a tire and wheel alignment. Uneven tire and wheel alignment means uneven traction at the front wheels.
  • Install a new differential. If you’re truly serious about eliminating torque steer and improving performance, you might want to consider a limited-slip differential to help control torque steer.

Summary

Despite the challenges presented by torque steer, FWD cars offer better all-weather traction, more interior space, and better fuel economy than their RWD counterparts. Taking a few preventative measures can help reduce the impact of torque steer, anyway, and the benefits of FWD are enough to far outweigh any downsides for most buyers. Check out our Shopping Guides section to find the FWD car that is right for you.