If you want to know whether cruise control improves your car’s fuel efficiency, The answer is a wholehearted yes! Although, there currently needs to be more research that stipulates how much gas you can save.
Cruise control systems are worth their weight in gold as they reduce the number of times you need to slow down or accelerate on the highway, which enhances your car’s mechanical and fuel efficiency when you drive at a steady pace.
How Cruise Control Works
It’s essential to understand how cruise control works and why, if used correctly, it can save you money over time. So, here’s a brief overview before we delve into the most efficient way to use it.
The Basics of Cruise Control
Cruise control is an automated electronic operating system that controls a driver’s speed or throttle position via a cable attached to an actuator.
Since a vehicle’s accelerator is linked to its throttle by a cable, the car’s gas pedal moves up and down slightly to control its speed. The car’s actuator is capable of incrementally adjusting speed by 1mph.
Even though this is a simplified explanation, car manufacturing companies are increasingly adding more sophisticated cruise control features to produce autonomous cars.
Regular cruise control is manually activated via a switch on your steering wheel or your steering column lever when you have accelerated to your desired speed.
Cars equipped with Adaptive cruise control (ACC) systems have switches that allow you to increase or lower your driving speed. The vehicle then automatically accelerates to a specific driving speed.
ACC cruise control systems use laser sensors or radar to provide excellent safety features like blind spot sensors and lane-straddling warning systems. They can also increase or decrease the distance between two cars to avoid bumper bashings.
With ACC-enabled cars, you retake control of the throttle and deactivate the system by pressing the button.
Although all cruise control systems can be deactivated if you brake, which is an essential safety feature. And most vehicles have cruise control memory features; thus, you can drive at the desired speed after the brakes are applied.
Alternatively, the cruise control system can be deactivated by pressing a clutch in cars with manual gearboxes.
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How Cruise Control Saves Gas
It uses gas every time you slow down or speed up while driving your car. So, using your cruise control is essential as it maintains a consistent speed and, by default, saves on your gas consumption.
According to a Natural Resources Canada study, compared with maintaining a fixed speed. Vehicle speeds that change between 47-53 mph every 18 seconds may increase a driver’s overall fuel consumption by at least 20%.
Although there are so many variables like driving styles, vehicle types, and driving terrains, it is nearly impossible to ascertain precisely how much cruise control systems save on gas.
This fuel economy federal website states that rapid acceleration, speeding, or sudden braking on the highway can use 15-30% more gas and 10-40% more gas on urban, stop-and-go streets.
However, the previously mentioned website could be more specific about how much gas cruise control systems can save on average.
A 2019 Volvo and National Renewable Fuel Laboratory study proved that adaptive cruise control systems may increase a vehicle’s overall fuel efficiency by 5-7% on average compared with cars driven manually.
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Pros and Cons of Cruise Control
Like most things in life, cruise control systems have benefits and disadvantages. So, here’s a low-down on their main pros and cons.
Benefits of Cruise Control
Even seasoned drivers may inadvertently slow down or speed up slightly without realizing it, especially when driving on flat terrains.
Cruise control systems are far more efficient on level surfaces compared to humans. Apart from saving on gas when driving at a consistent speed, it offers the following added benefits:
- Enhanced road safety
- Less speeding fines
- Lower driver fatigue
- A pleasurable ride
Potential Downsides of Cruise Control
While cruise control is far more efficient on level road surfaces, it falls short on hilly terrains compared to patient drivers who foresee elevation changes and maintain a more stable rate of acceleration.
Cruise control is also not suited to heavy traffic due to the associated safety risks, coupled with the fact that all the required speed adjustments will not result in fuel-saving.
While cruise control may save gas, it can be hazardous in wet weather conditions or if a driver is prone to fatigue or feels tired on long stretches of road when they become too relaxed and less vigilant.
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Considerations for Car Shoppers
Here is a rundown of the four main cruise control systems ranging from a rudimentary speed limiter to a semi-autonomous cruise control system, including their pros and cons.
How to Choose the Right Cruise Control for Your Needs
are built-in speed limits that may either be manually activated by a driver or automated in certain vehicles (like vans with a 70mph speed restriction).
While you can program a maximum speed, you are still in control of the vehicle’s accelerator. Although when you reach your highest speed, the speed limiter will kick in.
- Pros: helps you to adhere to the speed limit and saves on gas
- Cons: you need to continuously use the throttle to maintain speed.
This is a stock standard in most new cars. It is easy to activate by switching it on, reaching your desired speed, and pressing a button to maintain a certain speed.
- Pros: it makes long drives far less strenuous, and apart from saving on gas, you can stick to the speed limit.
- Cons: not ideal for slow traffic where there is a lot of stopping and starting.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC):
As previously mentioned, relies on laser sensors or radar to ascertain safe following distances on the highway. Albeit with the added advantage, the driver can always take control of the vehicle.
- Pros: it removes the strain of driving far distances, saves on fuel, and regulates speed according to the amount of traffic.
- Cons: laser sensors can malfunction in wet weather conditions. Furthermore, it may not sense that traffic has suddenly slowed down. The considerable distance from other cars may tempt other drivers to cut in, and the ACC system may be jerky when it changes speed.
Semi-autonomous cruise control:
These high-tech systems control a car’s throttle, steering, and brakes, although the driver must still take control if the system does not detect potential road hazards.
These types of semi-autonomous cruise control systems vary in their level of complexity. Although, they can guide your steering inputs, adjust your speed based on GPS data, move in heavy traffic, and change lanes with the click of your indicator.
- Pros: Unlike other, less sophisticated types of cruise control, semi-autonomous cruise control systems are efficient in saving fuel in peak traffic and lessen the strain associated with driving long distances.
- Cons: Like ACC sensors, this cruise control system needs optimal weather conditions. And it is far easier for drivers to lose concentration when driving, which may be potentially dangerous.
Questions to Ask Yourself About Cruise Control
When you are shopping around for a new car with an in-built cruise control, its essential to answer the following questions if you want to get the best value for money:
- Is the cruise-control system efficient in peak traffic?
- Should I spend more on a high-tech, expensive cruise-control system if I primarily drive in mountainous areas where it is less efficient?
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There’s no doubt that cruise control systems save on gas, primarily when driven on the highway and on even terrains. It also has the added benefit of improving road safety, lowering driver fatigue, and providing a highly pleasurable ride.
Although, cruise control systems vary dramatically in terms of features and price points. So, it’s essential to opt for one that suits your lifestyle.