QOTD: Why Do You Hate Automatic Climate Control?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro

I recently posted a column about automatic locking, wherein I reached the following conclusion: automatic locking is the worst thing in the world. Worse than being buried alive. Worse than cutting off your own toes, one by one, for sport. Worse than a college student who won’t shut up about her MacBook Air.

As I was reading through the comments section of this column, I was delighted to find that most of you agreed with me: automatic locking, bad. Regular locking, good. But I also noticed something else: most of you don’t like automatic climate control. Poor little ol’ automatic climate control, just doing its best to make your automotive experience a little more temperate. Most of you hate it. Why is that?

Personally, I love automatic climate control, and I’ve recently realized maybe half of the people who hate it simply have no idea how it works. So allow me to educate you. Here’s what happens: you set it to 72. You push “AUTO”. It then blows out whatever air is necessary to reach 72. On a hot day, it’ll blow cold air. On a cold day, it’ll blow hot air. And once it’s at 72, it stops blowing until it gets down to, say, 71, at which point it’ll blow more hot air. Just to maintain that perfect air temperature equilibrium in your life.

My girlfriend doesn’t seem to understand this. The way she thinks it works is this: you get in the car, you turn it to 85 degrees, and THEN you push “AUTO”. After several minutes, she’ll look down and wonder why the hell the car is so hot. Well, here’s why: the automatic climate control is going to blow warm air until it reaches 85 damn degrees! So then she turns it down, and she adjusts the air speed, thereby defeating the entire purpose of automatic climate control.

The thing is, automatic climate control actually works quite well when you use it properly. In my daily driver, I set it to 72 – or, if I’m feeling like I want a slightly cooler experience, 71 –and I push “AUTO”. Then the thing just blows air out for a while until I’m nice and relaxed, cruising along at precisely the temperature I wanted. Admittedly, sometimes it blows the wrong air temperature for several minutes, but I’ve always chalked this up to the fact that I drive a Land Rover, and I’m lucky the damn thing starts in the first place.

Now, where I admit automatic climate control goes a little wrong is when it becomes dual-zone automatic climate control. Here’s what I mean: the driver sets his side to 57 degrees. The passenger sets his side to 84 degrees. You know what happens? The temperature ends up being somewhere in the lukewarm 70-ish degree range throughout the entire cabin. This is because dual-zone automatic climate control is a myth: there is only one zone, and it’s called “inside the car.” As long as there’s no partition between the seats, air from the passenger side will reach the driver, and vice versa.

And then you have an even bigger lie with this new fad called “quad zone climate control.” Have you heard of this? A wide range of new luxury cars have climate control for four zones: the driver, the passenger, and both rear passengers individually. Apparently they do not realize that air blowing on the driver will likely find its way into the back and will also blow on the rear passengers, and the third-row passengers, and basically every person involved with the vehicle who has a beating heart, unless you’ve placed a family pet on the roof, Mitt Romney style.

So my point here is this: when done right – with one single zone – automatic climate control is a very good thing, and I’m very curious to find out why you don’t like it. When done wrong – with two zones, or three, or four – it can be a bit of a gimmick. In that situation, and only in that situation, I feel like it’s bad. Really bad. Not bad as central locking, of course. But worse than, say, finding your street blocked by volcanic lava. So why don’t you agree?

Doug DeMuro
Doug DeMuro

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  • Directorjustin Directorjustin on Jan 13, 2018

    I agree with you. I love automatic climate control, and I love watching your videos, Doug!

  • Pfram Pfram on Jan 18, 2022

    I like it when it's well implemented. My usual habit is to set it to either the highest or lowest temperature when I get in, then set it for something more reasonable when I'm comfortable. Most of the cars I've owned ('05 Accord Hybrid, '99 Chrysler LHS, '91 Dodge Monaco, '73 Cadillac Deville) made this easy. But one, a 1977 Old 98 with vacuum-driven automatic temperature control was awful; no matter how close it was to the desired temperature, you either got scorching hot air or freezing cold air; if you set it just right, you were treated to an alternating pattern of each. The manual controls on GM's B and C body cars were excellent, so this $50 option was a complete waste. For some reason, through most the 1970s, GM only made its excellent electronic climate control available on Cadillac models.

  • FreedMike Interesting time capsule.
  • 6-speed Pomodoro I had summer and winter tires for a car years ago. What a pain in the butt. You've permanently got a stack of tires hogging space in the garage and you've got to swap them yourself twice a year, because you can't fit a spare set of tires in a sportscar to pay someone else to swap 'em.I'd rather just put DWS06's on everything. But I haven't had a sportscar in 8 years, so maybe that's a terrible idea.
  • ShitHead It kicked on one time for me when a car abruptly turned into my lane. Worked as advertised. I was already about to lean into the brake as I was into the horn.
  • Theflyersfan I look at that front and I have to believe that BMW and Genesis designers look at that and go "wow...that's a little much." Rest of the car looks really good - they nailed the evolution of the previous design quite well. They didn't have to reinvent the wheel - when people want a Mustang, I don't think they are going to cross-shop because they know what they want.
  • Theflyersfan Winters go on around Halloween and Summers go on in late March or early April. However, there were some very cold mornings right after the summers went on that had me skidding a bit due to no grip! I do enough (ahem) spirited driving on empty hilly/mountain roads to justify a set of sticky rubber, and winters are a must as while there isn't much snow where I am (three dustings of snow this entire winter), I head to areas that get a bit more snow and winter tires turns that light, RWD car into a snow beast!