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Does My AC Really Affect My Gas Mileage?

East coast residents from Boston to New Jersey have famously bad commutes and spend a lot of time in their cars (or Crashbusters® vans in the case of our Claim team). During the summer months, this means cranking up your car’s air conditioner to beat the heat.

On those really hot and sticky days, using your air conditioning is a no-brainer. But, you may have asked yourself: “Does my AC really affect my gas mileage?” Or, something like: “Is it worth avoiding the AC to save some money on gas?”

Drivers have been arguing about windows down vs. air conditioning for years, but the honest answer is that there is no single solution. The type of car you drive, the actual temperature outside and the condition of your AC system will all play a role.

As a general answer, a Consumer Reports study found that, yes, running the AC does reduce gas mileage.

That said, here are some tips to help you balance your fuel consumption with comfort.

  • Generally, using the air conditioner burns up gas, so use it wisely. If temperatures outside the car are pleasant, open the windows and let your car cool down for a few minutes before using the vent or AC on low to keep a comfortable air flow in the car.
  • Your air conditioner works the hardest when your car is the hottest. Take steps to reduce your need to run the AC on full blast for long periods by parking in the shade or using a sun visor. This will give you a head start on keeping your car cool and will reduce the time you have to run the AC on its max settings.
  • When travelling at speeds above 40 mph, keep your windows up and the AC on a moderate setting. When cruising at speeds below 40 mph, go with windows down to keep cool. Remember, running the vent does not burn extra fuel.
  • One other thing to keep in mind is the size of your car. Body and engine size weigh heavily on your AC. Although new air conditioners are very efficient, they still run directly from a belt attached to the motor. Large vans and SUVs have bigger engines, but more space to cool. A smaller automobile with an average four-cylinder engine can be cooled more efficiently. That is something to consider when purchasing your next vehicle, especially if you have a long commute

If you’re concerned about trying to save fuel, try these tips for driving smarter. And it will get hot (at some point this summer) so it might also be worthwhile to make sure you have the proper protection for your car in case you’re the victim of parking lot thefts or mishaps while traveling.

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