As our summertime temperatures begin to heat up, there’s one innovation we can all be thankful for – AC. But drivers from the early 1900s didn’t have it so easy. In the last century, the auto industry has made great strides in providing ever evolving features that make our lives more comfortable. One area of innovation? Vehicle cooling and heating. Unlike our predecessors, drivers today can control the temperature inside their car with the push of a button. If you’re curious how we got here, we’re unpacking a brief timeline so you can see how far we’ve come.
The Earliest Vehicles
The earliest Model T’s had no doors and a collapsible roof. Most drivers were more concerned with keeping warm while driving in the winter rather than worrying about keeping cool in the summer – so they used the open air to keep cool. Soon after those first Model T’s hit the market, closed body vehicles were introduced with doors and open windows. These cars had vents installed under the dashboard which would circulate the outside air in an effort to keep passengers cool.
Early Innovations in AC
Some new options for car owners came on the market after the closed door models were introduced. The Knapp Limo-Sedan Fan was an electric fan mounted to the interior of the car. The other option was the car cooler which was mounted on the roof of the car, and used water evaporation to deliver cool air through the open window. Both of these options could reduce the inside car temperature by about 15 degrees.
Factory Installed AC
In the 1940s, Packard became the first car manufacturer to offer factory installed AC. The unit was installed in the trunk, and required drivers to get out of their vehicle to manually install or remove the drive belt from the compressor to turn the AC on and off. This unit could only circulate air inside the car (and did not use outside air). The condensed water ran overhead and was known to drip on passengers.
Post World War II Advances
World War II brought advances in air conditioning. Prior to the War, only 3,000 cars had installed AC, while after the war over 1 million cars had AC installed. In 1953, General Motors, Chrysler, and Packard all introduced new AC systems. More specifically, GM developed a new system that fit into a car’s engine. In 1963, Cadillac made a further breakthrough and invented comfort control – where the driver could set the temperature inside the car.
In the 1970s, environmental concerns became an issue when scientists discovered that compounds chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs) were depleting the earth’s ozone layer. The primary refrigerant being used, called R12 (also known as Freon), was a CFC. Scientists realized that a new option needed to be developed. After years of testing, a suitable replacement was found in a refrigerant called R-134a. In 1987, the U.S. government signed the Montreal Compact, which in part required manufacturers to make the switch to R-134a by 1996.
Modern Day Air Conditioning
Today, our car air conditioning is highly advanced with options for dual and rear climate control. While we don’t hear about environmental concerns, driving with the AC turned on can still decrease your fuel efficiency by 25%. Some simple tips to help include: only driving at highway speeds with the AC turned on, not idling with your AC on, and opening your windows before turning on your AC to let the hot air out.
With all our modern advancements, it’s still a good idea to have your AC system checked on a yearly basis. If you haven’t had your maintenance appointment yet this spring or summer, our team is ready to help you test your AC and prepare you for the dog days of summer.