A steering damper is found on the front steering linkage of a vehicle. Typically used on four-wheel drive trucks, the steering damper resembles a shock absorber and is mounted horizontally from the tie rod to the vehicle's frame or chassis. Intended to eliminate much of the steering vibration and wandering characteristics of over-sized tires, dampers may be used in pairs or in multiple numbers in extreme cases or on vehicles with very large tires. A steering damper can also be found on vehicles other than trucks, including motorcycles, outboard boat motors and automobiles.
Installation of a steering damper is a straightforward process, with the most critical step being the mounting of the device with the plunger in the middle of its stroke. The damper must be mounted in the exact center of its stroke to ensure that there is room for the plunger to move in and out as the vehicle's wheels are turned in either direction. It is also imperative to ensure the steering damper does not bind or make contact with any part of the front suspension as the wheels are turned fully in each direction. Any contact with a suspension component requires relocation of the damper.
On a motorcycle, the damper helps to prevent steering wobble that is common at high speeds. As the air passes over the front wheel at high speeds, it has a tendency to pull on the leading edge of the front tire while it also pulls on the trailing edge of the front tire. This can lead to a wobble condition that is actually capable of ripping the handle bars out of the rider's hands. As the wobble continues, it begins to become more drastic as the motorcycle begins to slow. This wobble ultimately causes a crash as it is virtually impossible to regain control of a motorcycle that is undergoing a high-speed wobble.
By placing a steering damper on the front forks and connecting it to the frame in the front yoke area, the damper absorbs the vibration before it can develop into a high-speed wobble. The installation of a damper has virtually no effect on the handling of the motorcycle at any speed other than preventing the wobble. Some very fast motorcycles, commonly known as crotch rockets, have a damper installed on each side of the front fork assembly. This is doubly effective in preventing wobble at extremely high speeds.