You’ve likely heard terms like air conditioning and climate control used in relation to cars, but what are they? And why should you pick one over the other?
Climate control and air conditioning are basically systems which control the temperature inside the car cabin.
But where air conditioning requires you to set the airflow and temperature yourself via dials or controls on the dashboard, climate control is a more high-tech, automated way of controlling the exact temperature of your car - sometimes down to the half-degree.
Here we’ll explain the differences between climate control (also called automatic climate control) and air conditioning.
Essentially, air conditioning makes the cabin of the car warmer or cooler by pumping hot or cold air into the cabin via the vents. Air conditioning systems vary from vehicle to vehicle, however you’ll usually have:
As mentioned, air conditioning requires manual control of the fans and dials and/or switches.
Once set, you have to keep turning the dials up and down to reach a temperature comfortable for you.
So how does air conditioning work?
Put simply, air passes from the engine through a system of compressors, condensers, expansion valves and evaporators which cool or warm the air, which is then pushed out through your car vents.
Climate control (also called ‘automatic climate control’) uses sophisticated technology to sense the current temperature of the cabin and coordinate the car’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems to reach your desired temperature.
In this way, automatic climate control in a car is similar to a home heating system. You set the car’s temperature via a central panel, and the car does the rest.
So, no more twiddling knobs and swivelling fans required.
However, you can adjust the fan speed if you wish, as well as the recirculation settings - that is, whether you want to bring in fresh air from outside or recirculate air from inside the cabin.
Automatic climate control further allows you to control the temperature of each part of your car cabin, depending on the sophistication of the system. You may have heard the terms ‘dual zone’, ‘tri-zone' (also called multi-zone) and ‘four-zone’ climate control.
This is as straightforward as it sounds. Your car is divided into ‘zones’ and the system can maintain different temperatures in each.
Dual-zone climate control - One temperature for the driver, one for the front seat passenger.
Three-zone climate control (Also called multi-zone or tri-zone) - One temperature for the driver, one for the front seat passenger, one for the whole back row.
Four-zone climate control (Also called quad-zone) - One temperature for the driver, one for the front seat passenger, one for the left-side rear passenger, one for the right-side rear passenger. Due to this being more sophisticated, four-zone climate control is usually the most expensive option.
You might be looking at your budget and wondering, should I buy a car with automatic climate control? What is the point of climate control? Will the benefits outweigh the price?
As climate control is a system designed to give you ultimate control over your temperature when driving, this is a decision to make based on your desired level of comfort.
It can be compared to the replacement of classic crank-down windows with electric switches; it’s not essential for getting from A to B, but has enhanced the driving experience, giving the driver control over all windows whilst in motion.
The price of the system depends on whether you choose dual-zone, tri-zone or four-zone climate control - evidently the more sophisticated, the more expensive it is.
Think about what you might need automatic climate control in a car for - will it be mainly you and one other riding up front?
Or will you have children in the back seats who might be freezing because you like cool up front when you’re driving?
Similarly, will you only be making short trips, or will you be driving the length and breadth of the country in the height of summer?
The sophistication of climate control, including its need for sensors and computers naturally means fuel consumption will be higher.
However, when you want cool air, it’s not a world of difference in terms of consumption to air conditioning, or to having the windows open.
You’d actually use extra fuel balancing out the excess drag caused by the windows being down.
Air conditioning and automatic climate control therefore don’t use up loads more fuel than having the windows open, and opening windows often lets warm air into the cabin, which is counter-productive.
So there you have it; air conditioning is a simpler system whereby you choose your temperature and the force of air flow using the dials on the dashboard, which you must then manipulate to reach a comfortable temperature.
Meanwhile, automatic climate control is a more luxury way of regulating car cabin temperature, with zero effort required on your part to reach the optimal temperature - you can just choose your setting and focus on driving.
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28th of May 2020
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