Why do cars use wheels when something like levers would likely be more appropriate?
You could think of a steering wheel like a bunch of levers sticking out all directions from the center of the wheel.
Precision and mechanical advantage. A joystick has like 60-80deg of movement max. Most cars have at least 720deg of movement. Older tractor trailers have like 1440deg.
I don’t see how a lever in and of itself is more appropriate than a wheel. Unless you mean joystick?
A wheel offers mechanical advantage. You can really crank that steering wheel in order to forcibly get the vehicle to turn. This was important back in the days without power steering, and is still important in modern cars in case your power steering dies.
The steering wheel is also relatively insensitive to input. A small twitch in the wheel isn’t going to send you careening off in a random direction. Joysticks, simply due to their limited axis of movement, mean that you need a very fine degree of control in comparison.