How To Use Cruise Control

The age of self-driving cars is upon us, with Elon Musk’s EVs leading the race to bring an aura of total relaxation and safety to the road. Pilotless cars are a technological marvel, but don’t allow these modern wonders to overshadow the clever inventions of the past. Long before cars could read the lay of the land themselves, another kind of tech allowed drivers to relax at the wheel… at least from the knees down. Cruise control – it’s been around for a while but is still present on cars today. Here’s what it does and how to use it.

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What Is Cruise Control And How Does It Work?

Cruise control can be activated by the driver of a car that’s equipped with this technology to set a particular speed that the vehicle will automatically maintain. It can give the driver the freedom to remove their foot from the accelerator pedal entirely, holding the car at a set speed, or to completely put their foot down on the pedal without the vehicle accelerating beyond a determined top speed.

In older cars, cruise control worked in a much more tangible way, with a series of cables physically holding the pedal in place when the system was activated by the driver. In newer cars, however, with electrical components being present in every part from front to back, computers and sensors digitally maintain the speed at which the vehicle is travelling. Even more advanced cruise control systems can work similarly to self-driving cars, in that they can slow down or speed up in reaction to the actions of the car in front.

How To Set Cruise Control

For each specific make and model of car, this process could be a little bit different, but generally, it’s a fairly simple process. After all, it’s supposed to be activated whilst driving on dual carriageways and motorways, so it needs to be doable with one hand and without looking.

  1. First of all, reach a speed you’d like to maintain. If you’re using cruise control on a motorway, you should really stick to the left lane and match your speed with the other cars ahead of you.
  2. Next, turn cruise control on. This won’t automatically lock the car’s speed, but will rather simply wake up the system. You’ll set the speed in the next step.
  3. Choose your speed using the correct buttons and dials on your dashboard or stalks. Check the manual ahead of time so you know what you’re doing.
  4. Cruise control should never lead you to stop paying attention to the road. If you need to quickly adjust your speed, like during an emergency stop, simply using the pedals as normal will override the system.

Is It Safe To Use Cruise Control?

Absolutely, using cruise control can be seen as safe. In fact, some would argue that it makes your driving even more safe than usual, as it allows you to drive at a steady pace, most likely without breaking any speed limits along the way.

However, there are certain scenarios where using cruise control is not recommended for safety reasons. You shouldn’t use cruise control when you’re driving in 30 mph zones as these are likely to be busier, filled with other cars and pedestrians. The real problem there though is the constant need to adjust your speed. 30 mph zones are typically in residential, suburban or even city centre settings, where you’re constantly going to be stopping and starting, turning corners and reacting to other people’s behaviour. For this reason, trying to maintain a set speed simply isn’t realistic.

It’s also not advisable to use cruise control in poor weather conditions, particularly when the road surface is slippery. Aquaplaning is a genuine concern for any driver when the rain starts to pour, with the best advice being to slow down and drive more carefully. Your car, set to cruise at, for example, 60 mph down a B road, won’t be able to react to a dangerous puddle. That’s in your hands.

There’s also the tiredness angle to consider. For years now, we’ve been told not to drive while tired. In all honesty, it’s worrying that this message even needs to be drilled into people so hard! If you’re tired while driving, the best thing to do is pull over where safe to do so and take a break. Probably the worst thing you could do would be to activate cruise control and allow yourself to relax. Even Tesla had to change their autopilot technology after a driver fell asleep at the wheel, and that didn’t end in disaster!

When Should You Use Cruise Control?

The best time to use cruise control is when you’re doing exactly that – cruising. Now that doesn’t refer to when you’re cruising along a half-mile stretch of dual carriageway, because by the time you’ve set the speed limit, you’ll be changing speed again.

Instead, use cruise control when you want to maintain a steady speed on long stretches of the same road, like a motorway. If you’ve got a 70 mile slog ahead of you, it’s going to be exhausting to keep your foot level for an entire hour, so this would be the perfect time to hit the left lane, settle in and relax those ankles.

For more tips on staying safe while travelling cross-country, take a look through our guide on how to drive safely on the motorway.

Can Cruise Control Damage Your Engine?

There’s a longstanding urban myth that using cruise control will damage the engine of your car. This is, in fact, not true. There’s no evidence to suggest that cruise control will have a negative impact on your car. On the contrary, using this feature might even make your car perform better than it would without, particularly when looking into the mileage it can get from a full tank of fuel.

Disadvantages Of Cruise Control

Cruise control might seem like a great idea that simply makes driving easier, but that’s not always the case. There are some clear disadvantages to using this tech feature when you’re driving.

First and foremost, it can cause you to be distracted. Cruise control could give some drivers the illusion that they’re free from some of the responsibilities of being on the road, but this is simply not true. You are still the person in control of the car, cruise control activated or not.

In conjunction with that, it also means it takes more time to slow down. If you’re sitting in the driver’s seat with cruise control on, your feet are further from the pedal. Those extra fractions of a second that it takes you to sort your feet out could quite literally be the difference between life and death when you’re hitting motorway speeds.

There’s also the issues around tiredness and bad weather that we covered above, with both situations requiring total concentration from the driver – something which cruise control tends to counteract.

Does Cruise Control Use More Fuel?

Cruise control can be a bit of a double-edged sword in this regard. If you’re using it when you’re on a motorway, it absolutely can reduce the amount of fuel that you use. This is because it keeps your speed steady, rather than constantly fluctuating between faster and slower speeds. The principle is the same as when driving erratically or aggressively. You’ll use more fuel than by driving smoothly because the car is having to work harder to repeatedly change its speed.

On the other hand, if you’re using cruise control on a more uneven, hillier road, then you’ll end up using more fuel. Essentially, it’s for the same reason as above. The car will have to work harder to keep itself at the set speed and can’t predict any upcoming changes to the road level like you could with your own eyes.

Tips For Driving With Cruise Control

Let’s summarise the above into some handy tips on how to drive with cruise control:

  • Learn how to use it before you try to activate it for the first time
  • Don’t use it if you’re going to be driving slowly
  • Don’t use it in built up areas or on roads that require a lot of speed changes
  • Use it to when you’re covering long stretches of motorway, for comfort and to save fuel
  • Use it when driving conditions are good, with dry roads and optimal braking distances

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