QOTD: Why Do You Hate Automatic Climate Control?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
qotd why do you hate automatic climate control

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?

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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.

  • MaintenanceCosts This truck could go plenty farther (assuming good basic maintenance) but the price:remaining life ratio still makes me gag a bit. The used truck market remains overheated and the price is probably market correct, but these are the sort of prices that would make me prefer to buy a new truck if I could afford it.
  • Jeff S I ignore the commercials. Never owned a Mazda but I would definitely look at one and seriously consider it. I would take a Honda, Toyota, or Mazda over any German vehicle at least they are long lasting, reliable, and don't cost an arm and a leg to maintain.
  • GregLocock The predictable hysteria and repetition of talking points in the meeja is quite funny. it does not divide Oxford into six zones. it restricts access at 6 locations , one on each road, to reduce congestion in the town centre. Florence, which faces the same issue, traffic and narrow historic streets, lined with historic buildings, simply closed the entire town centre off. Don't see anybody whining about that.
  • Jeff S I have rented from Hertz before and never encountered this but if I had I would sue them. Would not want a gun pointed at me and thrown in jail for renting a car.
  • Arthur Dailey I did use a service pre COVID to get the pricing that the dealers were alleged to have paid the manufacturer. It also provided 'quotes' from multiple dealers .
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