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What Is Force Feedback in a Racing Wheel?

Updated: December 08,2022

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When it comes to racing games, there are a few things that can make or break the experience. One of those factors is having a good racing wheel. Not only does it make the gaming experience more realistic and immersive, but it can also give you a competitive edge against your opponents. 

But what is force feedback in a racing wheel, and what benefits could it provide?

In today’s article, we’ll look at what force feedback is, how it works, and the different types of wheels with force feedback. So whether you’re a seasoned racing gamer or just starting out, strap in.

What Is Force Feedback?

While the best PC controllers offer simplicity and portability, racing wheels provide an immersive experience that gives players a better sense of control over their car. This is made possible by force feedback, which is similar to haptic technology that uses vibrations and other tactile feedback to create the illusion of sensory input.

Force feedback steering wheels are designed to give players a realistic driving experience by replicating the forces that would be felt if they were behind the wheel of an actual car. 

In reality, this means that the game will try to simulate car handling, complete with the sensations of resistance and vibration on the steering wheel. How much resistance and vibration you experience will depend on whether you’re driving on mud, gravel, snow, or other surfaces.

How Does Force Feedback Work?

All force feedback wheels have motors that create the vibration and resistance you feel while playing. The strength of the vibrations and resistance will depend on the game and your chosen settings.

Some wheels will also have a second motor responsible for simulating road surface textures. This can add another layer of realism to the experience, as you’ll feel the difference between driving on a smooth asphalt road and a bumpy dirt path.

The way that force feedback works can best be described with an example. Let’s say you’re driving on the road with many potholes. As you drive over each pothole, your wheel vibrates and offers resistance. The same goes for when you’re making a tight turn; the wheel will offer more resistance.

All of this is possible thanks to the Microsoft DirectInput API. Game developers use it for input devices such as your steering wheel, pedals, handbrake, and other gaming controllers. It includes the library needed to produce force-feedback effects for devices with suitable drivers.

Different Types of Force Feedback Racing Wheels

Now that we know how force feedback works let’s take a look at the different types of steering wheels that offer this feature.

Gear Drive

Because it is the cheapest of the three, gear drive is usually the first type of steering wheel with force feedback most people get in contact with. As its name implies, it utilizes a series of gears attached to an electromotor to simulate the force feedback effect. 

One thing to keep in mind with gear drive wheels is that they can be noisy. This is because the gears are responsible for creating the resistance, so they will make clunky sounds as they spin.

Nonetheless, it’s still a good entry point for any enthusiast as it’s affordable and easy to find.

Belt Drive

The second type of force feedback wheel is the belt drive. As you can probably guess, this type of steering wheel uses a belt to create resistance. The system generates a stronger force feedback effect than any gear-drive steering wheel. 

It is more expensive than a gear drive, yet it is the perfect balance of price and quality. The only downside is the belt itself. Over time it will show signs of wear and tear, including stretching, which will require replacement if possible.

Direct Drive

The last and most expensive type of steering wheel is direct drive. This steering wheel is the pinnacle of performance as it doesn’t rely on gears or belts to create resistance. Instead, it uses a direct connection to an electromotor. 

This results in a much smoother and more realistic force feedback effect. However, the price tag can be quite hefty, with some models costing over $1,000. But if you’re serious about sim racing, you’ll want to get this type of force feedback racing wheel.

What Is Force Feedback Clipping?

Clipping happens when your steering wheel maxes out the force feedback effect it can create and, in a way, stops producing new effects. Let’s explain this via an example. 

Let’s say you are driving around, and a simple gravel patch maxes out your steering wheel force feedback effect. As long as you are in a gravel patch, you won’t be able to register any new force feedback effects because your controller can’t physically produce them. 

Force feedback clipping is a common issue that various factors can cause. When it does happen, it’s usually due to your steering wheel settings being too high. You’ll need to adjust them until you find the sweet spot that gives you the best experience. Just keep in mind that different tracks have varying loads.

Do You Need a Force Feedback Racing Wheel?

Now that you know all about direct drive, belt drive, and direct drive force feedback steering wheels, you might wonder if you need it. The answer to this question depends on how serious you are about sim racing.

We suggest getting a steering wheel without force feedback or connecting your Xbox controller to your PC if you’re just getting started. This is because getting a racing sim setup can be quite expensive. Even the budget version of the force feedback steering can set you back between $200 and $300 without extras such as pedals and a handbrake. This isn’t an expense for a Sunday driver. 

However, if you’re already familiar with sim racing, it’s your favorite pastime, and you want to take your hobby to the next level, we recommend getting a good force feedback steering wheel. Then, slowly work your way up to a perfect steering wheel setup rig with all the accessories. 

You should know that it won’t be cheap, but the extra realism of force feedback makes it worthwhile. Once you try it, you’ll never be able to play racing sims on your controller ever again. 

Whether you update your PS5 controller to the latest version or use Sony DualSense with haptic feedback, it will never be able to reproduce the force feedback effect of a direct drive racing wheel. 


Do you need force feedback on a racing wheel?

No, you don’t need force feedback on a racing wheel. However, we recommend getting a steering wheel with force feedback if you’re serious about sim racing. This is because the force feedback effect adds an extra layer of realism to the game that a controller can’t reproduce.

How do I know if force feedback is working?

There are a few ways to tell if force feedback is working. One way is to look at the in-game settings. Most racing games will have an option to enable or disable force feedback. If the option is available, the game supports force feedback effects.

Another way to tell if force feedback is working is to feel the steering wheel while you’re playing. Force feedback is working if you can feel the steering wheel vibrate or shake.

What is meant by “force feedback”?

Force feedback is a feature on some steering wheels that simulates the force you would feel if you were driving a real car. This is done by attaching the steering wheel to an electromotor that creates resistance. 

The amount of resistance varies depending on the force feedback setting. If you want to know more, we can recommend our “What is force feedback in a racing wheel?” article for more details.

What does force feedback feel like?

Force feedback steering wheels provide a realistic driving experience by simulating the force you would feel if you were driving a real car. The amount of resistance varies depending on the force feedback setting, with higher settings providing more realistic feedback. You’ll definitely know when you’re driving on the road with bumps or taking a corner too fast!

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With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.

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