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What Is Climate Control In Car Vs. Air Conditioning?

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While used interchangeably, air conditioning and climate control systems are two different features. So, what is climate control in car? Is it better than AC?

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  • What Is Climate Control In Car Vs. Air Conditioning?

The term "climate control" and "air conditioning" are often used interchangeably, especially when talking about cars. Both systems are responsible for producing and blowing cold air, so the internal temperature of a vehicle is kept cool. However, the inner workings of both systems are highly different, and they each have unique advantages. So, what is climate control in car, and is it better than air conditioning?

In short, an air conditioning system (otherwise known as "air con" or "AC") is controlled manually by the driver or passengers. When the inside of a car gets too hot, you must use the controls to activate the cooling system and then turn it off later when you're ready.

On the flipside, climate control systems monitor the cabin temperature of the car and start automatically when a temperature threshold is reached. That's where the "control" aspect of the name comes into play. It activates by itself and turns off once again if the car reaches a set "cool enough" temperature.

A vehicle may come equipped with one or the other, or it may only be compatible with one as a later upgrade. Let's explore everything you need to know about these two systems, how they work, and which one is ideal for you:

Car Air Conditioning - What Is It?

The concept of air conditioning inside cars was invented in 1939 by the Packard Motor Company. By the 1970s, almost half of all new cars were shipped with an AC system pre-installed. Amazingly, the fundamentals of air-con remain the same today with the same three components. Namely, the:

  • Compressor
  • Condenser
  • Evaporator

How Does It Work?

All three components push refrigerant through a closed-loop system, allowing it to change from a gas to a liquid and then back again. This process occurs in the condenser, driven by the compressor attached to the car engine for power.

The condenser dissipates heat and cools the high-pressure refrigerant gas into a liquid. From here, the liquid is stripped of water by the receiver/dryer, before entering the thermal expansion valve via a pump.

Once there, the liquid is allowed to expand and becomes a low-pressure liquid. This helps it enter the evaporator, which turns the refrigerant into a gas, which is blown by a fan into the main vehicle.

For more information about the air conditioning process, check out our blog post here.

Car Climate Control - What Is It?

When matched against AC, climate control is far more sophisticated. Instead of turning on the system manually, users can select their preferred temperature through an interface (which is often digital in newer cars). From here, the system takes over to automatically:

  • Activate and deactivate as needed
  • Change the rate and amount of cool air entering the vehicle

Aside from ease of use, this system provides greater precision. Unlike air conditioning, the driver or passengers do not have to manually gauge how long the system needs to be on or how intensely it should blow cool air to reach the preferred temperature.

As a bonus, this also improves driving safety, as there's no need to divide your attention between the road and your AC controls.

How Does It Work?

To perform this role, a number of sensors are used in a climate control system to gauge how hot or cool the current air is. Information from the sensors is then used to gauge:

  • How much air should blow from the vents
  • How cold that air should be
  • When to reduce the airflow or increase its temperature to maintain the preferred state

These functions are carried out by adjusted fan speeds, recirculation settings, and coolant distribution. It can even be modified based on whether the user prefers fresh or recirculated air pumped into the vehicle.

More modern cars have dual or multi-zone climate control. Multi-zone climate control, as the name implies, allows for the temperature of multiple separate zones in the car to be controlled at once. The driver, for instance, could set their own temperature to 17 degrees, while the backseat and passenger areas could be warmer at 24 degrees.

How To Know Which Is Right For You

Different vehicle models will come fitted with different cooling systems. Usually, more modern and expensive cars have climate control already installed. Older or budget vehicles often have AC.

It's possible to replace one system with another, but this requires a skilled mechanic and a budget starting at £900. This may go up depending on the make and model of your car, the cooling system it already has installed, and how advanced you'd like the features to be in your new system.

If you need your current climate control or AC system maintained, then get in contact with your local Autofusion centre. We're happy to regas or repair your current setup, or discuss upgrading to a more advanced cooling system to fit your needs.