QOTD – How Do You Use Your Automatic Climate Control?

I am convinced that Automatic Climate Control (a.k.a. Automatic Temperature Control) is one of the greatest automotive inventions. You set the temperature you want and press the “Auto” button, and the system handles everything else: Fan speed, A/C compressor engagement, hot/cold air blend, and even the direction of airflow. While mechanical ATC systems of the 60s and 70s were kind of wonky, modern computerized systems do their job remarkably well.

Automatic Climate Control seems to be one of the most misunderstood automotive features. Allow me, then, to pick a particular nit of mine: While most cars anymore have some form of automated temperature control, almost inevitably while riding in someone else’s car so equipped, the temperature, blower, and air directions are all overridden to manual settings.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve sweltered in someone’s car because they had the temperature set all the way to “HI,” or frozen because someone manually set the blower speed to a ridiculously low setting. It is all I can do in these situations to resist reaching over and pressing the “Auto” button to set things right.

I suspect that there are numerous causes for people overriding their ATC using the manual controls. On cold days, most ATC systems will disengage the blower until the water temperature has reached a certain point, to avoid blowing cold air on already cold occupants. However, some people (especially those unfamiliar with the operation of ATC) may misinterpret this to mean that the system is switched off, or they think they may get some heat a little sooner by manually increasing the fan speed.

The other bit of psychology I suspect is going on here is people thinking the car will heat up faster if you turn the temperature setting up higher. I’ve seen this thinking applied to other settings, such as warm conference rooms that people think will cool down more quickly if the thermostat is turned all the way down. But again, unless you are dealing with multi-stage heating and cooling systems (which most cars and homes do not have), this thinking is false: Most ATC systems will run the heat (or A/C) at full blast until it gets near the set temperature. Turning the temperature beyond the set temperature won’t make the heater output any more heat, or get to the set temperature faster.

I’m not sure whether it is a matter of people failing to understand how automatic climate control is supposed to work (pick your temperature and press auto), or if people make a conscious choice to override the automatic settings (hence the purpose of this question). So I’ll put it to the crowd:

Are you a control freak, constantly fiddling with the temperature and fan settings, or are you an auto-pilot like me, pressing the “Auto” button and letting the ATC system do its job? And what is the reason for your choice?