Cruise control lets you set a speed for your car to maintain even if you take your foot off the gas. On long trips, it can reduce fatigue and make you more comfortable. Cruise control can also prevent speeding and increase fuel efficiency by limiting unnecessary acceleration and braking.
The actual controls to operate cruise control in a car are relatively simple. Buttons activate the system, set your speed, accelerate, and slow down.
How does cruise control work?
According to Scientific American, cruise control in cars has been around since the early 1900s, but it’s changed over time. Early versions were mechanical, using a second throttle lever mounted to the steering wheel. Modern cruise control is electronic and uses a computer to adjust your speed. Electronic cruise control now comes standard on most cars. Even models that don’t include cruise control on the base model almost always have a car trim level that includes it.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) is the latest type of cruise control that’s becoming widely available in cars. ACC maintains your speed but incorporates sensors to measure the distance to the car ahead of you. Once you set a distance, the ACC adjusts your speed to ensure you stay at that distance — usually a car length or two.
According to our report on how car technology impacts safety, adaptive cruise control can be a little confusing for drivers, so learning how to use it correctly is essential.
When to use cruise control
Cruise control is best suited for long drives on large, straight roads with cars traveling at a relatively constant speed. It’s inappropriate in stop-and-go traffic when weather conditions are bad, on narrow, curvy roads, or with frequent speed limit variations.
How to set cruise control
Check your car’s controls
If it’s your first time using your car’s cruise control system — or if you’re not 100% sure how to turn on cruise control in your car — then the process starts before you crank the engine. Get out the car’s manual and learn what each cruise control button does. Different makes and models may have different combinations of buttons or features.
For example, some cars have a combined button to set the initial speed and accelerate. Others have fine-tuning buttons that you can click to increase or decrease your speed by a set amount, often one mph.
Evaluate the road
Once you’re familiar with your car’s cruise control system, you’re ready to try it out. Wait for a moment when it’s appropriate to use cruise control before turning it on. Check that the road is clear, that weather conditions are good, and that you’re on a road where you won’t have to stop or change speed often. If conditions are right to use cruise control in your car, turn on the system.
Come up to speed
Once the cruise control is active, you’ll need to bring the car manually to the speed you want and then use the “set speed” control. Make sure that your speed is within your area’s established speed limits.
Set distance for ACC systems
If you have adaptive cruise control you will also need to set your distance, so the system knows how much of a gap to leave between you and the car ahead of you. Check your owner’s manual for specifics on how your system works. Some manufacturers include three settings, while others can have up to five. The car will automatically brake and accelerate to keep the correct distance.
Cruise control isn’t autopilot. While knowing how to use cruise control can reduce leg fatigue, it can require more mental concentration. The car will maintain speed even if road conditions change, so you must be especially careful to pay attention to the road and traffic.
Adjust speed as necessary
If you want to speed up or slow down, use the appropriate control. Accelerating with the cruise control system in a car is like using the pedal in terms of acceleration rates and should feel familiar. Slowing down is akin to taking your foot off the gas and won’t slow the car as fast as applying the brake. When decelerating using the cruise control, give yourself adequate time to change speeds or use the brakes to slow down and hit the “set speed” button again.
One quality you want from a good car for road trips is cruise control. Not only can it help you get better gas mileage, but it can make driving safer and much more comfortable.