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What's the Correct Location For Paddle Shifters?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2017

Hello and welcome to Ask Doug, which is everyone's favorite online question-and-answer session -- and by "everyone," I mean the person who wrote the question I selected, and literally nobody else.

Here's how Ask Doug works. You email me your question, and I respond to it online, unless it's a very stupid question about how you bought an original Audi allroad, and you're wondering why it no longer runs. And if you to participate, you can! Just e-mail me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, and I will consider responding to your question right here, like this.

Today's question comes from a reader I've named Maxy, who writes:

Hi Doug,

I have a lot of friends with various levels of sports car knowledge (and also various levels of experience with many different vehicles). However, the biggest argument I get into that I can never find a good way to pursuede my friends about, even though I know with every fiber of my being I am right, is about the location of paddle shifters. So many of my friends are convinced that column mounted shifters are inferior to wheel mounted ones. They are of course wrong, but how can I convince them of that?

Thanks for your help,

Maxy

First off, I want to say something here: Maxy has spelled "persuade" as "pursuede," as if he's trying to convince his friends by using the powers of finely-crafted textiles. That is actually an impressive misspelling, and I salute Maxy for even creating this error, as my own word processor auto-correct feature tries to quash it due to its absurdity.

Now, we move on to the question. What Maxy is asking here is: Where should paddle shifters be mounted on a car? Or, more appropriately: Do I (Doug DeMuro) agree with Maxy that paddle shifters should be mounted on the steering column rather than the wheel?

The answer to this question, Maxy, is that you're right. You don't need to pursuede me, buddy!

Here's an overview of the situation as I see it. Right now, there are two types of paddle shifters -- paddles on the wheel, or paddles on the steering column. The vast majority of street cars with paddle shifters stick them on the steering wheel, while virtually every race car with paddle shifters has them mounted on the steering column.

To me, and to everyone who's serious about driving, the race cars have it right. Here's why: When you're in a tremendously tight corner, and you've gone hand-over-hand on the steering wheel, meaning that you no longer really know exactly what part of the wheel is "up," you don't want there to be any ambiguity at all about where you can shift gears. So if you're in a tight corner, and you're slowing down from 200 miles per hour, and your steering wheel is inverted as you negotiate the bend, you don't want to have to look down and figure out where your downshift paddle has gone. You want that thing sitting there, precisely where you'd expect it, precisely where it always is, on the same side of the steering wheel.

The alternative is tremendously annoying: While you're turning, while you're braking, while you're finding the right racing line, you have to also be thinking about the direction of the steering wheel, in case you need to fire off a downshift. It's bad design for anyone who's really serious about driving on the track.

And so, race cars do it right: In a world where hundredths of a second count, race car designers take great effort to ensure they have no disadvantages. Race cars mount their paddle shifters on the column, and they sit there, bolted down, unmoving throughout the race.

But it isn't quite as easy in road cars. You see, race cars don't have column-mounted stalks for the turn signals or windshield wipers. Instead, virtually everything in most modern race cars is controlled solely from the steering wheel itself, leaving race car steering columns freed up to contain the paddle shifters.

But road cars do have stalks -- for the turn signals, the wipers, the cruise control and sometimes even the transmission. And if a car manufacturer started bolting the shift paddles to the steering column, it would have to redesign a car's column-mounted stalks to be longer, and to have strange angles, so they could still integrate these things easily around the paddle shifters. Naturally, carmakers don't want to do this because it adds cost and complexity, and so most cars have steering wheel-mounted paddles.

However, Maxy, they probably shouldn't. For a serious car, with serious driving capabilities, intended to be used on the track, the paddles should stay still when the steering wheel turns. With that said, most of us don't drive on the track, so most of us don't really care -- and this isn't a topic that earns a lot of complaints. Nonetheless, I hope I've successfully pursueded your friends.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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What's the Correct Location For Paddle Shifters? - Autotrader