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How Does Cruise Control Work?

Cruise control is a popular feature in just about all of today’s cars allowing you to maintain a constant speed without having to manually control the accelerator. While first rolled out in the late 1950s, the tech has evolved significantly over recent decades.

The Mechanics of Cruise Control

In short, cruise control relies on several key components: the actuator, the speed sensor, and the control module. Starting with the actuator, this component adjusts the accelerator accordingly, either increasing or decreasing engine power to keep the vehicle at the nominated speed. The speed sensor is responsible for monitoring the vehicle’s speed and sending this data to the control module. In turn, the control module processes this information and determines the necessary adjustments to maintain the designated speed.

When a driver activates cruise control and sets a desired speed, the system gains control of acceleration. The speed sensor continuously monitors the vehicle’s speed and sends real-time data to the control module. As such, if the vehicle’s speed drops below the desired speed, like when driving up a hill, the control module signals the actuator to increase acceleration and boost engine power. On the other hand, if the vehicle starts to exceed the set speed, such as when going downhill, the control module effectively eases the power.

Adaptive Cruise Control

In some cases, like adaptive cruise control, the control module may actually activate the brakes to reduce your driving speed if necessary. In higher-end cars, adaptive cruise control can even bring a vehicle to a complete stop and subsequently increase your driving speed when traffic conditions allow.

The main difference with adaptive cruise control is the functionality. Adaptive cruise control uses radar or laser sensors to detect the distance to the vehicle ahead. It automatically adjusts the speed to maintain a safe following distance, slowing down when approaching slower traffic, and speeding up when the road is clear. This advancement enhances both convenience and safety, especially when it comes to diring on a busy highway.

Operating Cruise Control

The user interface for cruise control typically includes buttons on the steering wheel or a stalk on the steering column. These controls allow the driver to set the desired speed, adjust the speed up or down, and cancel or resume cruise control. Some systems also include a display that shows the set speed and other relevant information.

Keep in mind, cruise control can significantly reduce driver fatigue during long trips by allowing you to rest your foot and maintain a consistent speed. It may also support fuel efficiency since the system can manage your acceleration more smoothly, thereby optimising power output. Nonetheless, it is not to be mistaken for a replacement in remaining alert and active at the wheel.

Modern advancements make cruise control a vital tool on the road, and it goes without saying that this feature is a favourite among many, especially drivers putting in long distances on the road.