What is climate control?

Climate control vs air conditioning – what’s the difference?

More and more cars have climate control, but what is it and how does it differ from air conditioning? Here’s what you need to know.

Graham King Cazoo

By Graham King

Published: 10 July 2023

Most modern cars now come with air conditioning, even on the most basic models. But some have climate control, which at first glance appears to do much the same job. So are air conditioning and climate control the same thing? How do you use each and which one is best? 

In this guide we’ll answer those questions and many more, to help you understand the difference between air conditioning and climate control.

What is air conditioning?

Often referred to as AC or air con, air conditioning is a system that takes the air in your car and either heats or cools it to a desired temperature. It dehumidifies the air, too. It’s a step up from a simple heater, which is fine in the winter to warm up a cold car interior, but less useful in the summer when it’s blazing hot and humid.

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How does air conditioning work?

In-car air conditioning uses a heater system and a separate cooling system, which works much in the same way as your fridge. Here’s the science bit: a liquid is turned into a gas inside a device called an evaporator, then a compressor turns the gas back into a liquid. That process cools the area around the liquid and if that area is full of air, then the air turns cool. That cooled (or heated air) is what gets blown into the car’s interior through its air vents.

What is climate control?

Climate control is a more advanced version of air conditioning. Basic AC units, often found in more affordable cars, let you select whether the AC system is on and you then manually adjust the settings (using buttons or a dial) to make the interior of the car hotter or colder.

Climate control systems, however, let you select a target temperature. The system will then use sensors to adjust itself and keep the car at that temperature, without any further input from you.

Is climate control better than air conditioning?

Climate control is considered an upgrade over air conditioning – it uses newer, more advanced technology and it gives you extra functionality and greater control. 

While the majority of modern cars include AC as a standard feature and many have climate control, you’ll find that AC is typical in the more cost-effective versions of older or lower-priced models while climate control is standard in higher-spec cars.

How do I use climate control?

You can, if you want, use climate control in much the same way as a more basic AC system, turning the car’s interior temperature up or down as you like  and adjusting the fan speed (how hard the air blows through the car’s interior vents) yourself. 

Climate control, however, gives you precise control over the temperature inside your car, usually in increments of 0.5 degrees Celsius. And there’s usually an ‘Auto’ mode that lets you choose the temperature while the climate control automatically adjusts the level of heat/cooling and the strength of the air blowing through the air vents.

What’s two-zone climate control?

Many cars have climate control systems that (in theory at least) allow different temperatures in different parts of the car. They’re often referred to as two-zone climate control, or dual-zone climate control, although more expensive cars can have even more zones.

For example, if the driver wants the interior temperature at a chilly 17 degrees C but the passenger would prefer a toasty 21, the climate control system will monitor and adjust each zone accordingly. You can’t stop the air from one side of the car mixing with the other, of course, but this kind of system does allow you to have air of different temperatures coming out of the vents.

What’s three-zone climate control?

In addition to allowing you to set different temperatures for the air flowing to each front seat, three-zone climate control allows you to also select a different temperature for the air going to the back seats. 

Four-zone climate control goes one step further, splitting each side of the back seat. There are even some seven-seat cars that let you choose a different temperature for the air flowing to the third row of seats.

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