Last updated October 11, 2022
Now a feature that comes as standard across a wide variety of makes and models, many drivers prefer to drive with cruise control, due to its overwhelming convenience. Cruise control is an electronic device which allows a vehicle’s driver to lock the accelerator on a specific speed so they can take their foot off the pedal. It’s designed for use on roadways that don’t feature turns, frequent stops or require driving manoeuvres – perfect for the motorway, for example.
Cruise control could be considered a form of driving on auto-pilot. It’s usually activated and controlled by pressing buttons on the steering wheel while driving. The main controls are generally on/off, set, cancel, and resume. Simply pushing these buttons will allow you to set a constant speed for your vehicle without needing the physical presence of your foot on the pedal.
Whilst cruise control might be slightly different on each vehicle, most systems work in a very similar way.
Before you use cruise control for the first time, check the handbook to ensure you know where the buttons are. After all, it can be incredibly dangerous to fumble around looking for buttons when you’re already driving at speed on the road.
Cruise control is designed for driving at a steady speed of a minimum of 30mph without constant stopping. Before using cruise control, build up to a steady speed of 30mph or more.
Once you’ve reached your desired speed, turn on the cruise control system. In most vehicles, these buttons are on or behind the steering wheel. A light will appear on your dashboard once it has turned on.
When the system has been switched on, press the set button. This will communicate with your car to hold the current speed. In many vehicles, the dashboard indicator will go green to indicate it has been set. After cruise control is set, you can remove your foot from the accelerator and the car will maintain its speed.
Most cars will have either an up arrow or a + symbol to let you raise the car’s speed. If you press the accelerator pedal, this will normally override the system.
Tap the down arrow or – button on the cruise control system or apply the brake. For safety reasons, cruise control will be deactivated as soon as the brake is applied.
The cancel button pauses cruise control, giving you full control again without the system switching off fully. It should retain the speed you chose to cruise at. If you want to return to your previously programmed speed, just press resume.
The cruise control system will often be a speedometer symbol with an arrow pointing to a set speed. It will light up green when it has been successfully set, and an amber or yellow light can indicate that cruise control is enabled but not set, or that there is a problem with the system.
As this is a feature found not only in luxury vehicles but in cheaper city cars, and everything in between, cruise control won’t cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, these days, it can often come as standard kit on many vehicles if you don’t go for the entry-level version. The price if it is an added option, as ever, will vary from car to car.
In the long run, cruise control does have the potential to increase your fuel efficiency. Whilst most people drive at normal speeds, it can be easy to speed up when the road is wide, and the visibility is good, – and cruise control will prevent this if you’ve set it. So, the upfront cost can save you money, but it won’t make too much of a difference when it comes to the price you’ll fetch when you sell your car.
Some cars are now equipped with adaptive cruise control (ACC). This is a more advanced technology which will enable you to set specific speeds while the system reads the traffic ahead and keeps your car at a safe following distance. It does this by using radar sensors mounted in the front of the car, so your speed matches that of the vehicle in front.
When the system senses a change in the distance of the car ahead, it automatically brakes or accelerates to maintain that safe distance. If the car in front speeds off suddenly, however, your car won’t routinely follow it. Instead, the ACC system holds the pre-set speed until you change it, or until it finds a new car to follow.
To use adaptive cruise control, follow the same steps detailed above to switch it on. Then, you can set the gap you want to maintain from the car ahead using the relevant buttons (these will be given in seconds or metres, depending on your vehicle).
Traffic jam assist is a form of advanced adaptive cruise control, which operates in crawling traffic. When speeds fall, your car will reduce the gap to the car in front and will stop right behind it if traffic has ground to a halt. If you’re in standstill traffic for more than a couple of seconds, you might have to use the accelerator and reactivate cruise control. Traffic jam assist is often used alongside self-steering systems.
Speed limiters are similar to cruise control, as they allow you to set a maximum speed that your car won’t go over. However, unlike cruise control, you still need to use the accelerator pedal to maintain that speed.
Similar to adaptive cruise control, cruise control with brake function allows the driver to set a following distance to the car in front of them, maintaining this distance all the way up to the set speed. This then applies the brakes to slow the car down and maintain the braking system, and in more advanced systems, will even be able to do emergency braking.
There will usually be a button in on your cruise control system that shows “Res+” or “Res/Accel”. Pressing this button can allow you to accelerate or resume a previously set speed.
Cruise control systems work best on fast, empty routes like motorways and A-roads. On these roads, you can keep going at the same speed for miles at a time, and you won’t have to tiresomely switch cruise control on and off.
Avoid cruise control in heavy traffic, when going downhill, on winding roads and when approaching a bridge. Wherever maintaining a constant speed is impractical, you shouldn’t use cruise control. Turn off cruise control on slippery roads, as it will increase the chances of sliding. You should also never use cruise control late at night or when you feel tired. Because you don’t have to keep your foot on the accelerator, it’s easier to nod off – and to lose control of your vehicle.
The first version of cruise control emerged in the early 20th century, in a Wilson-Pilcher car. The driver was able to set the chosen speed using a lever on the steering column. In terms of modern cruise control as we know it, this was invented in the late 1940s by a blind engineer named Ralph Teetor. His invention, first called a “Speedostat”was introduced in a Chrysler car as a luxury option. This feature became overwhelmingly popular and led the brand to install it in all its vehicles. General Motors eventually christened the feature ‘cruise control’ when they began to install it in Cadillacs.
More modern cruise control systems emerged in the 1990s, with manufacturers utilising more advanced digital technology in the design.
Adaptive cruise control was first patented in 1991 by General Motors, after being invented by engineers Pamela Labuhn and William Chundrlik. Using more advanced technology allowed these inventors to adapt the current form of cruise control using sonar energy to gauge the speed of the car in front.
When we heavily accelerate or brake, it can cause us to use significantly more fuel than maintaining a set speed. Therefore, cruise control can save you money, as driving at a consistently steady speed with lower revs can improve your fuel economy.
Cruise control can improve your fuel economy, help you to drive within the speed limit, works well with automatic cars and can allow you to increase or decrease your speed at the click of a button. However, it hampers your reaction time, can induce drowsiness, and doesn’t work well with manual cars due to gear shifts.
Manual vehicles can come with cruise control – however, you will need to manually control the gear shifts when the vehicle accelerates or decelerates when the system is engaged.
Many modern cars have cruise control as a standard feature (or included in the option packs people tend to add on to their car specification), so check your manual to discover whether you have it. You’ll also be able to see the cruise control buttons around your steering wheel.
It’s not recommended to install a cruise control kit in your car if you don’t already have one, as new vehicles have complex electronics, and your car simply might not match up. Additionally, installing this kind of kit would involve a lengthy, complex process, and likely also void the warranty provided by the manufacturer.
The most common reasons why a cruise control stops working is due to are a blown fuse or defective brake pedal switch. In older cruise control models, a broken vacuum line can stop the system working. If you’re worried, take your car to a qualified mechanic.
Whilst features like cruise control might have made your car valuation a bit higher in the past, it’s standard on almost all vehicles now, so won’t make too much of a difference.
As long as you aren’t towing a heavier weight than recommended, using cruise control should be fine. However, as with standard cruise control, use your judgement to work out whether or not the conditions are appropriate for such equipment.