Air Conditioning Expertise: How to Get the Most from Your Car’s AC

Summertime is here, and it is one of the busiest times of year for car repair! Nothing quite causes trauma to a vehicle like excessive heat. Of course, the heat has quite an adverse effect on us humans, too. So, here are some tips to best take advantage of your car’s air conditioning to stay cool this summer!

Park carefully so your AC system has less work to do

Vehicles in a parking lot with little to no shade makes giving air conditioning expertise a difficult task
Vehicles on a lot | Getty Images

According to Geico, carefully planning where you park is one of the best ways to make the best use of your car’s AC system. While that may seem a little counterintuitive, since you’re making the car cooler to begin with, it is actually the case!

According to Jill Trotta, head of industry advocacy and sales for Repairpal, a car’s AC system can typically drop the temperature of a car’s cabin by a max of 40 degrees. According to AC Pro, your car’s interior temperature can increase more than one degree per minute for the first thirty minutes. So, on a 90-degree day, a 30-minute stop at a store could see your car reach temperatures of 120 degrees or higher.

Dropping that temperature by 40 degrees will only net you an inside temperature of 80 degrees. So, your car would only be 10 degrees cooler than the outside temperature in this scenario. Park in the shade if you can!

Use the recirculation feature

the climate controls found in a new tesla model s, manage your climate to extend the range of your ev battery
Tesla Model S Climate Controls | Tesla

When you activate the recirculation mode on your car’s HVAC system, the car uses only the air in the cabin for the air conditioning system. So, in the above example, if you’d parked in the shade and got your car down to a cozy, say, 70 degrees, the AC system would be cooling the already cooled air instead of pulling hot air in from outside.

Additionally, most modern vehicles with a recirculation system will turn off the AC compressor once the desired temperature is reached. Then you’ll be using gas more efficiently, too!

Don’t pre-cool your car before a drive

2016 Volkswagen e-golf electric vehicle EV engine start button
e-Golf “engine” stop/start button | Braden Carlson, Motorbiscuit

Your car’s air conditioning system works most efficiently when it has consistent airflow. So, though it may be hot and unfortunate to get into at first, getting into your car and beginning to drive immediately is the best course of action.

Starting your car and letting the AC run for a while before leaving is not ideal.

Change your cabin air filter!

If you’ve noticed your car isn’t pushing as much air as it used to or isn’t cooling down as fast as it once did, you may need to change your cabin air filter. This is the filter that cleans the air running out of your vents before they’re blown into the cabin. Typically, it’s found in or under the dashboard.

Typically, most cabin air filters should be replaced every 15,000 to 20,000 miles or about once a year. However, many folks have never even changed theirs before!

Don’t ignore leaks; charging your AC is not a maintenance item

Two car mechanics swap an old dirty white air filter for a new red high-flow one to improve gas mileage
Two car mechanics with air filters| Jack Milton/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Having to top off or refill your AC system is not something that is a standard-issue maintenance item for vehicles. Though it may temporarily restore your AC, it’s not solving the problem.

AC systems are sealed and should not be leaking. If yours is slowly leaking, having an AC expert diagnose and fix the leak is the best solution.

Overall, these tips will keep you nice and cool throughout the summer. Drive safe, and don’t get stranded in the heat!

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