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Why are Shopping Carts Always so Hard to Steer?

Michael Pollick
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Contrary to what some of us might suspect, the wobbly wheel of a shopping cart is not installed at the factory. If you need additional proof, wait until the grand opening of a new grocery store and test drive a brand new model yourself. Steering shopping carts easily is rarely a problem during the first few months of a grocery store's operation. It's only after the store has been open for a while that steering a cat becomes more and more of a challenge. There are actually a number of mechanical reasons why steering shopping carts is so difficult.

The wheels on modern shopping carts usually contain metal ball bearings which revolve around a metal axle. The wheels are more likely to be solid rubber, similar to office chair casters, than the pneumatic type found on cars. Over time, the ball bearings, axles and swivels may start to rust, which increases friction and makes the front wheels less maneuverable. Steering shopping carts with rusted swivels and axles is much more difficult than steering brand-new shopping carts.

Another consideration is the difference between the rear and front wheels of most shopping carts. The rear wheels are likely to be fixed and rigid, which is ideal for forward and backward motion, but not so good for side-to-side adjustments. The front wheels are free to move in any direction, but both wheels must be aligned for best results. Steering shopping carts with one front wheel out of alignment creates the frustrating sensation of wrestling for control. Replacing the rigid rear wheels with free-turning ones would only make the problem worse, since there could be four misaligned wheels in play.

Time and heavy usage are largely responsible for the frustrations shoppers face when maneuvering shopping carts down the aisles. Most grocery stores do not employ technicians who can make repairs on shopping carts. Over time, the most problematic carts are retired, or replaced with newer models. Before that day arrives, most shopping carts have been seriously abused by younger shoppers, left out in rainy parking lots, overloaded with groceries and used as makeshift scooters. When the wheels become dirty and deformed, and the casters have been forced out of alignment, steering shopping carts eventually becomes nearly impossible.

Shopping experts suggest test driving a few shopping carts before deciding on the best one to use. The wobbly wheel phenomenon may not become a factor until the shopping cart has reached a certain speed, so give all the candidates a good run whenever possible. Steering shopping carts through the aisles of a grocery store shouldn't have to be an endurance test.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGEEK, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon23495 — On Dec 26, 2008

It is about to be 2009....and there is NO good reason why a dumb shopping cart should drag. Supermarkets DO care what their customers want, and if even a small percentage of those of us who have suffered from shopping cart drag simply stopped at the courtesy desk at ANY supermarket,

and left a note asking supermarkets to get up-to-date mechanics for the carts, the Supermarkets would surely do so! Anther good idea: go online to the Organizations that represent Supermarkets, and tell them about it, in an email....or get an easy petition going...this is America,and it takes ONE MINUTE to get an improvement done...so let's do it.

As for me, I am empty-nested and couldn't care less... :-) I am in heaven, strolling about the supermarkets with my little Green-friendly market bag, and taking all the time I want to choose my few delicious morsels...a lovely treat in itself, after all the years with baskets overflowing with needs, first for my growing family, and then later, multiple shopping baskets to feed abused domestics, for a rescue dorm I helped with in my 40s.

I do sympathize but today we are empowered and so it is our responsibility to take five minutes to get a dumb issue like dragging shopping carts FIXED.

By anon23478 — On Dec 26, 2008

Almost all shopping carts in Germany have all four wheels that move in any direction. Contrary to your comment, these carts don't seem to have the problem of wrestling the cart with a bad wheel. However, it is impossible to control a loaded cart in the parking lot, with a hill, with one hand like you can with the American version. The German carts are very easy to maneuver in the store because you can drive them sideways very easily to avoid other shoppers. Also, the norm in Germany is that you can only get a cart from the line of carts if you have a Euro 1 coin, then you must bring back the cart to get your Euro back! No more carts in the parking lots here.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

As a frequent contributor to WiseGEEK, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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