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What does AC mean in a car?

What’s the Difference Between Air Conditioning and Climate Control?

What’s the Difference Between Air Conditioning and Climate Control?

Discover the differences between air conditioning and climate control systems in cars and how to choose the right one for you.

Temperature control in cars

Air conditioning and climate control are two systems used in vehicles that often get confused by drivers, with the two terms being used interchangeably. However, this isn’t actually the case, as the two systems function in slightly different ways.

In the most basic terms, you can think of air conditioning as the entry-level, manual system, whereas climate control is the more luxurious, automatic option. Air conditioning used to be an optional extra in expensive car models, but in today’s market, it’s generally considered a standard feature and climate control is now the option that is either found on higher trim models, or is an extra add-on to pay for.

Both of these systems control the temperature of the car’s cabin space, they just do so in different ways.

  • How does air conditioning work in a car?
  • What is climate control in a car?
  • Dual zone climate control
  • Difference between air conditioning and climate control
  • Climate control vs air conditioning: which is right for me?

How does air conditioning work in a car?

Air conditioning, also known as AC or air-con, essentially works by sucking out the warm air from the car’s cabin and then pumping cool air back in.

The air-con system allows you to set the temperature you want in the cabin as well as the fan speed and position, which is commonly set to the windscreen, your feet or your face.

Once the cabin is cooled to the set temperature, the system will automatically stop, but the fans will continue as the controls for the temperature and fans are separate with air-con. The fans can be manually switched off or reduced using the dials or controls on your dashboard.

If you’re looking to heat your car using the air-con, set the temperature dial to hot, which will automatically turn the cooling system off, causing hot air to be blown out into the cabin space. The heat is drawn from the engine, which is why you may experience inconsistent temperatures whilst at a standstill, as the engine won’t be as hot as when you’re driving.

If your car has air con rather than climate control, you’ll usually only have the temperature dial that features red and blue zones, or the fan dial that has numbers around it for the speed of the fan.

What is climate control in a car?

Climate control is a system that regulates the car’s cabin temperature in a much more comprehensive way than air conditioning. This system is a more automated and user-friendly way of controlling the car’s temperature, as you just set the temperature you want in the cabin and the climate control does the rest for you.

When you have chosen the desired temperature, you just press ‘Auto’, and the climate control will either heat or cool the car in order to achieve and then maintain the temperature you have chosen.

In the majority of cars with climate control, you can manually override this function by changing the temperature or fan speed using the dashboard dials. When you want it to go back to being automated, simply reactivate the automatic mode. Some models may differ in this process of switching between manual and automatic temperature control, but this can usually be found in your owner’s manual or in the specifications on the manufacturer’s website if you’re unsure.

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Dual zone climate control

In certain car models and specifications, the climate control system is even more sophisticated, allowing you to individually control the temperature in each area of the car, achieving different temperatures for the driver and passengers.

Depending on the level of technology in your car’s model, you could get dual-zone, tri-zone, or even quad-zone climate control. This ranges from having different temperatures for driver and passengers, to having various temperatures in every corner of the car, perfect for those inevitable journeys where one of you is too hot and the other too cold.

Difference between air conditioning and climate control

The main difference between air conditioning and climate control is that the latter can be automated, whereas air-con isn’t.

Climate control consistently monitors the temperature in the car and then heats or cools the cabin space accordingly, whereas air-con is more of a manual system where you have to tell it what to do. You set the temperature and fan speed, and then the air con will stay on those settings until you adjust them yourself.

Climate control vs air conditioning: which one is right for me?

This completely depends on what your individual needs are for your car and what features you want to include.

Climate control offers more freedom and convenience, but as it can come with an additional cost, it may not be worth it for everyone.

Arguably, climate control is the safer of the two systems, as you’re able to utilise its automatic mode to prevent distractions while behind the wheel.

If you’re on a lower budget however, air conditioning achieves the same thing as climate control, just in a lower-tech way, making it the perfect alternative if climate control doesn’t quite fit into your budget.

Care for your car with Evans Halshaw

No matter which system you have in your car, the most important thing is making sure it’s working properly.

When these systems are faulty, there’s a range of issues it can cause in your car, from bad smells to leaks and problems with other parts in your vehicle. It’s really vital you’re getting these systems serviced as there are issues that can crop up, with regassing the air-con being the most common.

You can book a vehicle health check with your local Evans Halshaw dealer if you’re concerned about your air conditioning or climate control system, or they just haven’t been serviced in a while.

What does AC mean in a car?

Now that the sunny weather is finally upon us, keeping cool in the car takes more of an importance than it does at other times of year. Though lowering the windows, sliding the sunroof back or — in certain cars — folding away the roof completely may seem like a good option to keep the heat at bay, there’s really only one way of properly doing it — and that’s with air conditioning.

Some cars have more complex climate control systems than others, ranging from manual air conditioning to automatic air conditioning, but all feature a myriad of buttons to help control them.

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What is Air Conditioning?

Air conditioning and climate control systems keep a constant temperature inside your car. In its most simple form, manual air conditioning, you select whether you want it cooler or hotter than it currently is in the cabin, deciding the blower speed and air distribution manually, and this will be the same temperature throughout the entire car.

A car’s A/C system works by cooling the ventilated air with a refrigerant gas, which then circulates through your car to cool it, whilst also helping to filter out pollen, pollutants and bacteria.

What is Climate Control?

Climate control in a car allows you to set the desired temperature of the cabin, using extra sensors and a computer to allow more precise management of the cabin temperature.

What is Automatic Climate Control (Automatic A/C)?

Automatic Climate Control provides electronic control of the temperature, air-flow and air distribution inside the car, by controlling the fan speed and air circulation automatically.

Zone Climate Control

If you’re car shopping, you may have come across the terms “dual-zone climate control,” and “tri-zone climate control”, perhaps even “quad-zone”.These zones refer to two sets of controls, so that the driver and passengers can control their own ‘micro-climate’ within the car.

Dual Zone Climate Control / 2-zone Air Conditioning

Dual zone climate control in a car separates the car into left and right halves, allowing you to control both zones, or adjust them separately.

Tri Zone Climate Control /3-zone Air Conditioning

Using the 3-zone climate control, separates the left and right front passengers, as well second-row passengers in the rear of the car, so all passengers can choose their own individual climate.

Quad Zone Climate Control /4-zone Air Conditioning

In some cars, you have the option to adjust the air conditioning for each seating zone, meaning that each side of the second row gets individual controls, or, in a 3-row vehicle, both the second and third seating rows can tailor the temperature, blower intensity and direction of the air to their needs.

What do the symbols on my car AC mean?

Do you have a firm understanding of your car’s AC, or are you guilty of pushing car buttons randomly and hoping the air feels more comfortable as a result? If you’ve bi-passed reading your car’s manual to learn how to operate the AC, you may want to know what those common A/C symbols mean.



Snowflake Button / A/C Button

The snowflake button is one of the most crucial to the air conditioning’s control. Why? Well, it turns the system on, for starters. Pushing the aircon snowflake symbol engages the air conditioning, and kick-starts the a/c pump which draws heat and moisture out of the air before leaving it cooler than it was before.

One thing to note — you’ll have to turn the air blowers on in order for the air conditioning system to initiate.

  • Fan — The fan symbol indicates the power that air will be blown through the car’s vents. Where there are two icons, one just an outline and one that is filled in, the filled in symbol indicates a higher strength.
  • Front Windshield Defrost — The symbol consisting of wavy lines intersecting an upside down curved trapezoid (to represent the front windscreen) is the windscreen defrost function. Activating this will trigger the vents at the base of the windshield to expel hot air, gradually warming the glass and eliminating condensation and frost to defog your cars windscreen.
  • Rear Window Defrost — The button showing wavy lines intersecting a rectangle, activates rear window defrost functionality.
  • Upper Airflow — Pressing the button showing an arrow pointed at a person’s face will limit the air to blow only through the vents located on the dashboard at chest-level.
  • Lower Airflow — The button with an arrow pointed at a person’s feet will only blow air through the vents located underneath the dashboard and underneath the seats to the back-row passengers.
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Do you see that button on your dashboard with the image of a car and a curved arrow? Want to get your car as cool as possible? You’ll want to use this button, the recirculation button.‘But what is the recirculation button in a car?’ we hear you ask! Well, it recycles the cold air generated from the air conditioning system, instead of pulling the warmer air from outside into the car. When used correctly, using the recirculation button can help save on fuel consumption.

The longer the recirculation button is on, the cooler your car will be, just make sure you don’t use it when things get chilly outside. This is because the air conditioning needs to be adding fresh air to the cabin and reducing the amount of moisture inside — so fogged up windows are more likely to happen, so if your windshield and windows are fogging up, be sure to check the recirculation button is switched off.

  • External Air Intake — If the arrow is entering the car from the outside, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system will draw in air from outside the vehicle. If you don’t see this icon, your car will do this automatically when the air recirculation button is off.
  • Auto sign — Most new cars on sale today come with automatic air conditioning. This means that the on-board system notices the desired temperature you’ve set for the cabin, and constantly adjusts the air conditioning to ensure that this is maintained.
  • Sync — The sync button again applies to those cars which are fitted with dual-zone climate control. As driver and passenger can both choose separate temperatures, it can mean that one side of the car has the potential to be wildly warm and the other freezing cold. Clicking the ‘sync’ button aligns the two temperatures — meaning the cabin will be one consistent heat rather than two.
  • The Importance of an Air Con Service — An air-con service can help keep your air-con system in top condition. This includes draining and re-gas the system; disinfecting it; checking the hoses, filters, belts and connections to ensure there are no little splits where the gas can leak out as well as checking the performance of the compressor and condenser.


Why should you service your Car AC?

The refrigerant gas dissipates and if you don’t replace the lost gas, then your air conditioning system will become less and less effective, as well as less efficient, which can increase fuel consumption.

An effective AC system in the car will maintain the cool temperature in the car and make the environment humid free. Air con protects you from hazardous air pollution and health issues by filtering the air. In winters, cars usually face visibility problems due to fog. Air con is needed to regulate the inside temperature and maintain your safety. Ideally, an air-con service should be carried out every 2 years.

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Car Air Conditioning Tips

What tips are there for using the Climate Control & A/C effectively? Always keep the windows closed whilst the air-con is on to maximize the efficiency of the A/C Keep the air conditioner in the recirculating mode when in use Use the air-conditioner only when it is necessary to improve fuel efficiency

Keep the front grill clear of obstructions Air vents are — obviously — the source of the air being transferred into the cabin. Keeping them clear and dust-free means you shouldn’t get any grubby air sent into the interior of your car.

How to Keep Your Car’s AC Working

Modern life has spoiled most of us. We’re used to traveling around with adjustable seats, auto-everything, and GPS so we never get lost. We also expect a cooling system we can set to the precise temperature for maximum comfort.

Your car AC is one of those things you take for granted. That is until it dies during the heat of the North Carolina summer. Then you realize how much you appreciate it.

You can ignore your car’s AC system until it stops working. Hopefully, this doesn’t occur on a road trip far from your trusted local repair shop.

Or you can schedule regular AC recharge services. Once every year or two is probably sufficient. Spring is a good time to do this.

We advise you to schedule an AC recharge before your unit stops blowing cold air entirely. If you notice that the air coming out of your vents is not quite as brisk, give us a call.

How Does Your Car’s AC System Work?

Before we answer the question ‘what is an AC recharge,’ let’s briefly describe how electric air conditioning works.

An auto air conditioning unit is a ‘closed-loop’ system. This simply means that there is no starting point or ending point. The refrigerant goes around and around. If your system has no leaks, it works great. The refrigerant doesn’t need to be ‘topped-off.’

Car air conditioning systems contain these five parts: a compressor, a condenser, a thermal expansion valve, an evaporator, and an accumulator (or receiver/drier).

The AC Compressor

The compressor pushes the refrigerant through the system at high pressure. The refrigerant turns from liquid to gas form when it is subjected to high pressure. This process pushes the gas to high temperatures as it pulls heat from the surrounding air.

Refrigerant has a very low boiling point. If you remember your high school science class, you remember that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, R-134a car AC refrigerant boils at minus 15 degrees.

When the refrigerant starts boiling—thereby turning into a gas—it absorbs heat. This is how it cools the air down in your car.

But now that the refrigerant is in gas form, we need to turn it back into liquid so the process can continue. That’s what the compressor does.

The Car AC Condenser

The condenser works like a radiator and cools the refrigerant. As the gas cools down, it turns back into a liquid.

The AC Thermal Expansion Valve or Orifice Tube

Now that the refrigerant (which is liquid at this point) moves through the tubing to a small valve. The valve tightly regulates the flow of refrigerant and lowers the pressure. In the process, the liquid refrigerant is turned back into a gas, though at much lower pressure than before.

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The AC Evaporator

The next stop for the cold refrigerant is the evaporator which lives in your dashboard. The evaporator turns the liquid back into a gas which cools the surrounding air. An electric fan blows the cold air through the vents and into the cabin, thereby keeping your ice cream from melting.

The Accumulator or Receiver/Drier

Automotive air conditioning units also pull the humidity out of the air. This is a welcome feature in humid climates like ours. Your system has either an accumulator or receiver/drier to perform this function.

What If I Can’t De-Fog My Windows In Cold Weather?

Because AC units work so well at de-humidifying, most automobiles use the AC system to de-fog windows. If your system can’t clear your windows during cold weather, it could be a sign you need an AC recharge.

What Is An AC Recharge?

AC systems perform best when the refrigerant is at the recommended level. There isn’t a lot of wiggle room here.

Before your refrigerant is replaced, your service technician will test the unit. An ultraviolet dye will be injected into the system. This allows your technician to detect any leaks that are present.

Your technician will also test or inspect the other system parts previously discussed.

For the recharge part of the service, your technician will attach a special machine to your air conditioning unit. The machine will suck out the existing refrigerant and oil. Then they will refill it to the right level.

Wasn’t Freon Outlawed Years Ago?

Older drivers may remember that the Environmental Protection Agency outlawed Freon because it dissolves the ozone layer. The type banned (in 1994, by the way) was R-12 Freon. Air conditioning systems manufactured since then use R-134a Freon. If you drive a car built before 1994, you can retrofit your AC for the legal refrigerant. Talk to us if you need more information about AC retrofits.

Chapel Hill Tire AC Repair

If any parts, hoses, or belts are malfunctioning, your technician will replace them with quality equipment. Your service advisor will also check for blockages that reduce cooling function. Our 3-year/36k maintenance warranty gives you peace of mind.

Where Can You Get an AC Recharge?

The Chapel Hill Tire AC recharge is available at all eight of our Triangle-area locations. This includes AC service in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Carrboro, and Durham. No matter where you find yourself in the NC Triangle, the Chapel Hill Tire professionals can help you get your car’s AC working like new. Bring your car into your local Chapel Hill Tire location for a quick and efficient AC recharge.

Keep Your Cool With Chapel Hill Tire Air Conditioning Service

The next time you feel a refreshing blast of cool air coming from your vent, you can thank Willis Carrier, the inventor of electrical air conditioning.

The next time you need an automotive AC service, you can rely on Chapel Hill Tire for providing timely, quality work at a fair price. Give us a call today to learn more, or make an appointment to come get an AC recharge.

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