What's the Difference Between Air Conditioning and Climate Control?

11th Nov 2022

By Heather Lewis

Temperature control in cars

Air conditioning and climate control are two systems used in vehicles that often get confused by drivers, with the two terms being used interchangeably. However, this isn't actually the case, as the two systems function in slightly different ways.

In the most basic terms, you can think of air conditioning as the entry-level, manual system, whereas climate control is the more luxurious, automatic option. Air conditioning used to be an optional extra in expensive car models, but in today's market, it's generally considered a standard feature and climate control is now the option that is either found on higher trim models, or is an extra add-on to pay for.

Both of these systems control the temperature of the car's cabin space, they just do so in different ways.

How does air conditioning work in a car?

Air Conditioning Controls On Car Dashboard

Air conditioning, also known as AC or air-con, essentially works by sucking out the warm air from the car's cabin and then pumping cool air back in.

The air-con system allows you to set the temperature you want in the cabin as well as the fan speed and position, which is commonly set to the windscreen, your feet or your face.

Once the cabin is cooled to the set temperature, the system will automatically stop, but the fans will continue as the controls for the temperature and fans are separate with air-con. The fans can be manually switched off or reduced using the dials or controls on your dashboard.

If you're looking to heat your car using the air-con, set the temperature dial to hot, which will automatically turn the cooling system off, causing hot air to be blown out into the cabin space. The heat is drawn from the engine, which is why you may experience inconsistent temperatures whilst at a standstill, as the engine won't be as hot as when you're driving.

If your car has air con rather than climate control, you'll usually only have the temperature dial that features red and blue zones, or the fan dial that has numbers around it for the speed of the fan.

What is climate control in a car?

Hyundai Santa Fe 2022 Rear Driving

Climate control is a system that regulates the car's cabin temperature in a much more comprehensive way than air conditioning. This system is a more automated and user-friendly way of controlling the car's temperature, as you just set the temperature you want in the cabin and the climate control does the rest for you.

When you have chosen the desired temperature, you just press 'Auto', and the climate control will either heat or cool the car in order to achieve and then maintain the temperature you have chosen.

In the majority of cars with climate control, you can manually override this function by changing the temperature or fan speed using the dashboard dials. When you want it to go back to being automated, simply reactivate the automatic mode. Some models may differ in this process of switching between manual and automatic temperature control, but this can usually be found in your owner's manual or in the specifications on the manufacturer's website if you're unsure.

Dual zone climate control

Dual Zone Climate Control Rear Controls

In certain car models and specifications, the climate control system is even more sophisticated, allowing you to individually control the temperature in each area of the car, achieving different temperatures for the driver and passengers.

Depending on the level of technology in your car's model, you could get dual-zone, tri-zone, or even quad-zone climate control. This ranges from having different temperatures for driver and passengers, to having various temperatures in every corner of the car, perfect for those inevitable journeys where one of you is too hot and the other too cold.

Difference between air conditioning and climate control

Nissan X-Trail 2022 Front Driving

The main difference between air conditioning and climate control is that the latter can be automated, whereas air-con isn't.

Climate control consistently monitors the temperature in the car and then heats or cools the cabin space accordingly, whereas air-con is more of a manual system where you have to tell it what to do. You set the temperature and fan speed, and then the air con will stay on those settings until you adjust them yourself.

Climate control vs air conditioning: which one is right for me?

Peugeot 408 2022 Interior Dashboard Controls

This completely depends on what your individual needs are for your car and what features you want to include.

Climate control offers more freedom and convenience, but as it can come with an additional cost, it may not be worth it for everyone.

Arguably, climate control is the safer of the two systems, as you're able to utilise its automatic mode to prevent distractions while behind the wheel.

If you're on a lower budget however, air conditioning achieves the same thing as climate control, just in a lower-tech way, making it the perfect alternative if climate control doesn't quite fit into your budget.

Care for your car with Evans Halshaw

No matter which system you have in your car, the most important thing is making sure it's working properly.

When these systems are faulty, there's a range of issues it can cause in your car, from bad smells to leaks and problems with other parts in your vehicle. It's really vital you're getting these systems serviced as there are issues that can crop up, with regassing the air-con being the most common.

You can book a vehicle health check with your local Evans Halshaw dealer if you're concerned about your air conditioning or climate control system, or they just haven't been serviced in a while.