How Does Cruise Control Work?


Dec 03rd, 2021

How Does Cruise Control Work?

Driver-assist features come and go because they become obsolete when something better is invented to replace them. Still, one feature has stood the test of time, and that’s cruise control.

Cruise control keeps your car driving at a steady speed without you pressing the accelerator. When used correctly, it can reduce fatigue and make long drives more comfortable. Another feature called adaptive cruise control is essentially the same but will adjust your car’s speed to keep a safe distance from other vehicles.

Keep reading as we explore how this common car feature works and when you should (or shouldn’t) use it.

What Is the Use of Cruise Control?

Cruise control is a very straightforward feature that many vehicles have. Simply put, turning cruise control on keeps your car moving at a fixed speed without any input from you. That means you won’t have to keep your foot on the accelerator for as long as the cruise control feature is turned on.

As you might imagine, there are plenty of benefits that come with using cruise control. That’s especially true if you’re taking a monotonous long-distance drive, like on a highway across the country, for example.

How Does Cruise Control Work?

Traditionally, cruise control in cars works by using an actuator connected to the accelerator. Once you've accelerated to the speed you'd like to maintain, you'll enable cruise control. Then, the car takes over and keeps that same speed until you disable it later.

Cruise control only relates to the car's speed, and it's not auto-pilot, so you'll still need to control the steering wheel and keep it going straight.

Do All Cars Have Cruise Control?

No, not all cars come with cruise control as a standard feature, but don’t worry if your vehicle doesn’t have it. There are plenty of options for aftermarket cruise control that you can retrofit into your car.

Pros and Cons of Using Cruise Control

Naturally, a feature like cruise control comes with its fair share of benefits and drawbacks. Here are some of them:

Benefits of Using Cruise Control

  • Reduces fatigue – most drivers enjoy using cruise control because it reduces fatigue. That’s because the car maintains a steady speed, which means you won’t have to press and release the accelerator pedal repeatedly.
  • Prevents over-speeding – maintaining a steady speed means that you won’t have to worry about accidentally going over the speed limit.
  • Improves fuel efficiency – as cruise control keeps your car moving at a fixed speed, you’ll also enjoy better fuel efficiency. That's because your vehicle won't repeatedly slow down then accelerate for as long as cruise control is enabled.

Overall, cruise control gives you a much more comfortable ride as it takes over one of the most repetitive tasks of driving a car, i.e., operating the accelerator.

Drawbacks Of Using Cruise Control

As impressive as cruise control is, there are some significant drawbacks that you must be aware of. They include:

  • Makes you less alert: Driving a car requires the driver to perform several tasks simultaneously. While that can be tiring, it also forces your mind to stay sharp throughout the entire journey. By ‘outsourcing’ some tasks to the cruise control feature, some drivers become more easily distracted. Worst of all, some drivers might even fall asleep behind the wheel.
  • Delayed slowing down: When drivers need to slow their cars down, letting go of the accelerator slows the car down a bit even before you press on the brake pedal. But when cruise control is activated, the car still moves at a fixed speed until you deactivate it and press on the brake pedal. As a result, your ability to react to dangers on the road is delayed.
  • Risky in bad weather: Cruise control doesn't take weather into account. All the car knows to do is maintain the same speed, even if the road is wet or icy. Because of that, you run the risk of losing traction when the car drives over water or ice since cruise control keeps it going at the same set speed.

When Should I Use Cruise Control?

Cruise control isn’t suited for all driving conditions. So, you’d benefit the most if you use it when:

  • Roads are clear, with little or no traffic, allowing you to enjoy continuous and uninterrupted driving at your chosen speed.
  • When your route has the same or higher speed limits. That way, you won’t accidentally break the law by maintaining the same speed in an area with lower limits.
  • On long trips, especially on highways or roads with no traffic lights. In these conditions, cruise control can save you a lot of energy by letting your legs take a break from operating the pedals.

Is Cruise Control Dangerous?

Cruise control can cause hazards in some situations. 

Don’t use cruise control if: 

  • You’re easily distracted or you’re already quite tired. Firstly, using cruise control requires you to pay extra attention (not less!) to react to potential dangers on the road. Plus, if you’re already exhausted from driving, switching cruise control on could cause you to fall asleep.
  • The roads are wet or icy. As mentioned before, you don’t want to use it if the roads are wet or icy, as you could lose traction and skid into another vehicle.

The bottom line is this: cruise control is a straightforward feature, but you should never take it lightly. You should only rely on it if you understand when it’s safe to use cruise control and how to deactivate it quickly in emergencies.

Cruise Control Vs Adaptive Cruise Control: What’s the Difference?

On newer car models, you’ll often see something called adaptive cruise control (ACC). You can think of that as cruise control but on a much higher level.

Remember: conventional cruise control relies on an actuator and wires connected to your accelerator. However, adaptive cruise control also includes a computerised system with several sensors included as well.

Those sensors gather data, particularly from the front. The system measures the speed and distance of the car in front of you and will automatically adjust your vehicle’s speed. In doing so, it prevents your car from hitting the one in front even when cruise control is activated.

So, yes, ACC is still cruise control at its core. But with all the additional electronics, it becomes a cruise control system that can think for itself and keep you safe whenever it's activated.

Find Great Deals on CarPart AU!

To shop for aftermarket cruise control systems, check out CarPart AU. You can find great deals on all sorts of used parts in the Marketplace, and you could also use the Parts Finder to get quotes from automotive suppliers and wreckers across Australia.

By Ray Hasbollah