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7 ways to get the most out of your car’s air conditioner

7 ways to get the most out of your car’s air conditioner
Posted at 6:30 AM, Jun 29, 2023

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Most of us control our car’s air conditioning by turning a knob and adjusting the vents  — ideally, to point the cool air right at us, at full force.

But sometimes, these moves aren’t enough. The air doesn’t cool down fast enough, or the temperature never quite makes it to that perfect place. It’s then that we learn the cold, hard facts: There’s more to this car air conditioning situation than meets the eye. If you want to learn how to maximize the cooling effects of your car’s air conditioner, keep reading.

1. Resist the Urge To Cool Down the Car Before Driving

When you step into a car that’s been baking in the sun, those first five minutes can feel miserable. So, you might be tempted to pre-cool your car before you step into it.

Don’t do that. When the car is idling, the freon doesn’t circulate with the same pressure as when the car is driving, according to Consumer Reports. In other words, the AC is running inefficiently. It’s not worth the extra time and gas.

Instead, begin by opening all the doors and waiting a few minutes to allow the hot air to escape. Then, get in and start the air conditioner when you start driving the car. Roll down the window for about 20 seconds to release the stifling air — which is always hotter than the air outside, even on a scorching day. Don’t worry about letting the air-conditioned air escape through the windows. It will take 20 seconds for it to start cooling, anyway.

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2. Take Precautionary Measures To Help Your AC Along

Obviously, it’s better if the air conditioner has less hot air to battle in the first place. If possible, park in a garage or in the shade (even if it means a farther walk in a parking lot) and put a sunshade behind your windshield. Some of the sun’s heat will be reflected or absorbed before it infiltrates the car.

Cracking the windows is also a good way to ventilate the car. Considering the possibility of rain or theft, you may want to just lower them an inch or two.

MORE: Keep your car cool in style with a ‘Golden Girls’ sun shade

3. Check the AC Settings

For starters, it’s best to turn your AC’s temperature setting to low. Your AC runs more efficiently on low, and it saves gas, according to Consumer Reports.

Secondly, make sure the “recirculation” setting is turned off. According to Autoscope Car Care, that would just move around the hot air that’s already in the car. Instead, the AC needs to bring in the air from outside. (Again, even on a hot day, it’s cooler than what you’re dealing with inside the car.)

Then, once the car is cooled down to your liking, change it back to the recirculation setting. This makes it possible for your AC to function as efficiently and quickly as possible.

4. Point the Jets Toward the Roof

Pointing them directly at yourself feels good, but it isn’t the best way to cool down your car. Ultimately, you’ll have more even air distribution if you direct the vents up. Why? Because heat rises. So the cool air will ultimately come down and make the whole car evenly cooled.

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5. Have Regular Check-Ups

Various mechanical issues can be causing problems with your AC. Is the refrigerant low? Is the condenser clean? Is the filter worn out? Vehicle Wisdom says you should have a mechanic check your AC every 10,000 to 15,000 miles, if possible.

MORE: Does your car’s air conditioner smell musty? Here’s how to fix it

6. Consider a Solar-Powered Ventilation Fan

Garage Living recommends trying a car ventilation fan, which you can affix to your window or set on the dashboard. An outward-facing solar panel gives the fan the energy to blow the hot air out of the car’s interior. It also pulls cooler air into the car.

One caveat: Solar Power First says the effectiveness is limited. If your AC is functioning properly, it will help circulate the cold air around and push hot air out of the car—but it doesn’t actually produce cold air itself.

7. Install an AC Curtain

If you have a big car like an SUV or Minivan, PA Auto Inspection says you might be wasting your cool air on the back area of your car. If you only have a few passengers, try installing an AC curtain (which you can buy at Walmart for $13.05) to block off an area you don’t need to be cooled anyway. This will allow the part of the car you do want cooled to do so much more quickly!

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