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What Is Cruise Control?

BY: Andrew Giorgi

We all love cruise control systems. Whether on a familiar road headed back to the house or cruising the interstate on our way to a vacation adventure, cruise control has become a common and beloved part of our daily commuting process.  

But what exactly is cruise control, and how does it work? What is adaptive cruise control? The evolution of cruise control has changed the way we as Americans drive. 

Let’s take a closer look at the system we know as cruise control. 


What Does Cruise Control Do?

Cruise control allows a driver to set speed and maintain that speed without heavily pressing the accelerator pedal. A light on your dashboard will alert you when the cruise control set button is on, and you are ready to cruise, but what else does it do?  

Cruise control works to moderate fuel consumption. Tesla, the EV maker that has been making headlines in recent years, has made incredible innovative steps in cruise control, its variations, and autonomous driving.  

Drivers tend to speed up and slow down with emotion, music, even inattentiveness. These speed-ups unnecessarily burn fuel. With cruise control maintaining a more constant speed, less fuel is consumed.  

Cruise control maintains the vehicle’s speed by reading the rotating drive shaft, speedometer cable, and wheel speed sensor from the engine’s RPM. Sometimes it will make use of internal speed pulses that the vehicle generates electronically.  

If you drive a modern car in America, chances are you have access to cruise control. If you still aren’t sure, you can check your owner’s manual for more clarity. 

What is Adaptive Cruise Control?

As technology has increased over the years, so too has cruise control. Adaptive cruise control systems add an extra note of convenience and security that can make you feel like you are driving in the future.  

Adaptive cruise control is a detail that helps some used and new cars maintain proper following distance from other vehicles. Not only does this remove emergency braking from continuously happening, but it can help you remain at a safe distance to avoid a forward collision. It also helps to ensure that the vehicle stays within the speed limit.  

Instead of a driver having to manually adjust the vehicle’s speed, the driver instead would use the cruise control to set the maximum speed that they want to travel at. If a car in front of you is traveling at a slower speed than you, adaptive cruise control takes over.  

Using a radar sensor to detect traffic ahead, it will sense traffic in your lane and adjust your speed to match and follow said traffic at a certain number of seconds behind.  

Adaptive cruise control is adjustable by the driver within a certain extent, usually two, three-, or four seconds following distance.  

Adaptive cruise control, which is also known as ACC, is most often complemented with a pre-crash system that will alert the driver and most often begin braking in the case of a deceleration of traffic that your vehicle is following.

It is possible to find adaptive packages for around $500 to $600. Of course, if you are looking in this price range, the system you get will probably operate only at speeds between 20-30 miles per hour. If you, however, want all the bells and whistles, you should be prepared to shell out between $2,000 and $2,500. 

Limitations of Adaptive Cruise Control

So, ACC sounds amazing, and it is certainly a marvel of modern technology, but does this mean that your car is basically autonomous? Can you just sit back and gently guide your vehicle to your destination?  

Not quite. We have reached a level where your vehicle can help you, but ACC has more ease of access than autopilot. Anytime one is in control of a vehicle, one needs to be alert.  

Your adaptive cruise control will, for example, often give you a brake alert, often even beginning to brake for you. No automatic system, however, can match the human reflex and alertness. If a vehicle suddenly brakes to avoid something in the road, you need to be ready to respond and alert at the steering wheel.  

Adaptive cruise control is not designed to handle emergency situations or the randomness of human beings. It is simply designed to make a commute more streamlined. 

Just like there are certain things you should check on your vehicle in certain weather conditions, inclement weather conditions can sometimes fool your ACC system. Conditions like fog, snow, even heavy rain can confuse the system’s sensors, causing it to act in unexpected ways. Adaptive cruise control is best used in mild weather conditions, but always with an alert driver. 

Another caveat of ACC is that it does not react to curves inroads. If you are on a windy mountain road, you don’t want to rely on ACC to keep your speed relative to the curving conditions of the road, or you are going to have a bad time. Speaking of road conditions, potholes and uneven road conditions will not activate adaptive cruise control. If road conditions are hazardous, it is always best to control the speed of your vehicle for yourself. 


The History of Cruise Control

Modern cruise control was invented by Ralph Teetor, a blind American engineer, in the 1940s. He was inspired to action after riding as a passenger to his lawyer, who would unconsciously change speeds, constantly speeding up and slowing down as he spoke. Teetor decided that there should be a way to maintain a constant speed other than keeping your right foot perfectly still.  

Thus began the long journey toward cruise control. After ten years of work, Teetor received his first patent on a speed control device in 1945. What we now know as cruise control was originally trademarked as “Speedostat,” though it also went by such names as “Touchomatic” and “Pressomatic.” Personally, I’m happy we landed on cruise control. 

By the 1950s, the “Speedostat” was being offered in top model cars like the 1958 Chrysler Imperial, Windsor, and New Yorker. As we reached 1960, Cadillac had fully committed, and cruise control came standard on all of the luxury cars.  

In 1973, the oil crisis and rising gas prices caused the popularity of the fuel-saving device to skyrocket in America, steadily increasing in popularity to the point that you would be hard-pressed to find an American car today without the feature. 

Save Thousands on Vehicle Repairs

Cruise control has made wide strides and changed the way Americans enjoy their vehicles. No doubt, as the future bears down upon us, new technology and innovations will continue to change the way we drive every day.  

One thing that will never change is that your car needs the proper breakdown protection in place. Parts wear out and can be costly. Investing in the proper breakdown protection can ensure you don’t pay out-of-pocket for repairs. You can also get up to $3,500 in maintenance coverage with Endurance’s newest protection plan, EnduranceAdvantage™. Request a free, no-obligation quote today. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Cruise Control

What Happens When You Put Your Vehicle on Cruise Control?  

When you turn on your cruise control, you can set your desired travel speed, and your car will automatically maintain that speed for you without the need to press the accelerator. 

Can Cruise Control Ruin My Car?  

Absolutely not! Cruise control is 100% safe for the mechanics of your vehicle. 

How Do I Use Cruise Control in My Car? 

Cruise control is generally activated by pressing a button on the end of the control stock. Once on, a light will indicate that cruise control is active. Achieve your desired speed, then press the stock down to set that as your desired speed

Does Braking Stop Cruise Control? 

Yes. Either pressing the button on your control stock again or braking will deactivate cruise control. Braking does leave the cruise control on, however, allowing you to set a new speed without again pressing the button at the end of the control stock.

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