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What is a Wheelbase?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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The wheelbase of any vehicle is the measurement from the center of the front wheel to the center of the rear wheel. In an effort to increase the wheelbase and subsequently improve ride characteristics, some vehicle manufactures have designed chassis that place the wheels closer to the ends of the vehicle. It is commonly agreed among designers and engineers that a longer wheelbase provides a smoother ride. On vehicles with a short wheelbase such as a Jeep CJ5, the ride is rough, as the short chassis is unable to traverse bumpy terrain one axle at a time. On short wheelbase vehicles, both axles encounter a rough spot in the road at nearly the same time, causing a harsh ride.

Luxury vehicles such as limousines utilize an extra-long wheelbase in part to offer a smoother and softer ride than can be obtained with a shorter vehicle. The longer vehicle is able to counter a rough spot on the road by floating over the bump. The added distance from axle to axle allows the chassis to dampen the rough road with one set of shocks completely prior to the other axle encountering the bump. The result is a nearly bump-free ride for the passengers of the longer wheelbase vehicle.

Other aspects of a vehicle that are directly influenced by the vehicle's wheelbase are the steering, cornering and the vehicle's ability to negotiate driveway and parking lot entrances. The reaction time for an extremely long vehicle to respond to steering input is slow. When the driver turns the steering wheel, it takes much longer for the rear of the vehicle to begin to turn than a shorter wheelbase vehicle. When the driver of a long vehicle turns the vehicle onto a road that is a 90-degree turn, he must drive past the turn prior to beginning the turn in order to allow the rear of the vehicle to negotiate the turn without driving up and over the curb.

If the driver were to begin turning onto the new street as soon as the front of the vehicle was in line with the corner, the middle of the vehicle could actually strike a sign pole positioned on the corner. By driving past the turn, the driver allows the rear of the vehicle to come into the corner and better follow the front of the vehicle through the turn. This is the same way that a semi-tractor and trailer rig negotiates a turn.

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Discussion Comments

By hamje32 — On Mar 18, 2012

@NathanG - Well, not everything about a longer chassis is okay. For turns it can be a nightmare, especially if you’re dealing with a very large vehicle.

If you’ve ever seen a jackknife truck on the road as it tries to make a turn, you know what I mean. The truck can’t clear a corner and it’s basically stuck, backing up traffic.

Anytime I see a truck try to make a turn I get out of the way – and I mean totally of out of the way. The last thing I want to do is to get sideswiped by the back of that truck.

By NathanG — On Mar 17, 2012

I had no idea that the extra long chassis of the stretch limousine was to create added comfort and help it to navigate the tough spots. I thought it only had to do with all the added room and amenities that they put in the limo, like televisions and mini bars.

For all I know they probably have seats that fold out as beds too. I also thought it added an extra layer of security and privacy. By separating passengers further into the back of the vehicle they are shielded from a lot of the lights and glare that come in through the front windshield. They also segregate passengers from the driver.

You don’t want a lot of banter with the driver when you’re trying to get some peace and quiet. I didn’t know it was also to create a smooth ride, but I guess it makes sense.

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