AutosEconomic air conditioning: Save fuel without sacrificing comfort

Economic air conditioning: Save fuel without sacrificing comfort

Appropriate use of air conditioning allows savings on fuel.
Appropriate use of air conditioning allows savings on fuel.
Images source: © fot. Marcin Łobodziński
Marcin Łobodziński

10 July 2024 17:19

Today, it's hard to imagine traveling by car without air conditioning. Nevertheless, every bit of saving is invaluable in an era of rising fuel prices. Specialists from SAE International conducted studies showing that intelligent use of air conditioning can bring tangible benefits.

Some people drive in the summer with the air conditioning constantly on and set to one temperature. During heatwaves, driving in a cabin with a bearable temperature is more pleasant and safer because it's easier for drivers to maintain focus and good reaction time. On the other hand, motorists value the comfort of a cooled car but also remember the fuel consumption. Is it possible to reconcile these issues?

Engineers at SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineers) emphasise that proper air conditioning use minimises fuel consumption increase, while improper use leads to a noticeable increase in consumption. Experts advise how to cool the vehicle's interior efficiently while minimising costs. Taxi drivers also confirm this.

Many refrain from using air conditioning, fearing increased fuel costs, which can directly affect their income. The average fuel consumption can increase by 1.1 to 1.9 litres per 60 miles. For small engines, this increase is even more noticeable.

SAE International specialists recommend opening windows to cool the car's interior, but only at speeds below 45 miles per hour. In such a situation, air exchange is effective, with minimal air resistance, which does not significantly impact fuel consumption.

However, when the speed exceeds 50 mph, opening windows can increase fuel consumption by up to 20 percent. Studies by the International Society of Automotive Engineers confirm this.

At higher speeds, air conditioning is not as significant a burden, making it more cost-effective to use it rather than opening windows and worsening the vehicle's aerodynamics. Aerodynamics play a key role in fuel consumption at high speeds.

How to use air conditioning economically? Here are some tips:

  • at low speeds (city driving), open windows and turn off the air conditioning;
  • at higher speeds, close windows and use air conditioning;
  • turn on the air conditioning only when it is really hot;
  • do not set the air conditioning to a very low temperature;
  • park in the shade to keep the car cooler, making air conditioning unnecessary;
  • after starting, open windows but turn on air conditioning only after a few minutes, once the interior has aired out;
  • avoid using air conditioning when the car is stationary;
  • cool the interior before disconnecting from the charger in cars with batteries (electric and plug-in hybrids).
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