When you think about it, the auto industry has made significant advances in the last century. From the way we drive to advancements in fuel efficiency, drivers today have many luxuries that the very first car owners couldn’t have dreamed of. One area that is very evident is in vehicle air conditioning. From the first cars on the market to our modern-day choices, car makers have made great strides in keeping us comfortable while driving in the dog days of summer. If you’re curious about this history of AC, then we’re here to provide a brief history.

The Earliest Cars

The earliest Model T’s had no doors and collapsible roofs. Most drivers, at this time, were more concerned about how to keep warm when driving in the winter as opposed to cooling off in the summer. If drivers and passengers wanted to keep cool, they would simply collapse the roof and rely on the open air to cool off.

The auto industry improved their earliest models by adding doors and windows. In this next level model, vents were installed underneath the dashboard that circulated the outside air to keep drivers cool. The main complaint about this new improvement was that it didn’t keep dirt & dust out of the inside of the vehicle which made maintaining a clean car a bit of a challenge.

New Cooling Innovations

Car makers knew that new products were necessary to solve the problem of the heat of summer. The Knapp Limo-Sedan fan was introduced to level up in-car cooling. This fan was an electric fan mounted to the interior of the car to circulate outside air and keep passengers cool. If drivers didn’t like the fan option, they could also look at the car cooler. This was attached to the roof of the car and used water evaporation to deliver cool air through the open windows. These options could reduce the inside car temperature by 15 degrees.

The Advent of Factory Installed AC

In the 1940s, Packard was the first automaker to offer factory installed air conditioning. The unit was located in the trunk and required the driver to get out and manually install or remove the drive belt from the compressor to turn on and off. This AC system could only circulate air inside the cabin, and did not use outside air. The condensed water ran overhead, and was known to drip on passengers.

Post World War II Advancements

Before WWII, there were about 3,000 cars that had air conditioning installed. After the war – over 1 million cars boasted to have this feature. Things really took off after the war, and in 1953 General Motors, Chrysler, and Packard all introduced new AC systems in their cars. To be more specific, GM developed a revolutionary system that fit in the car’s engine – no more hopping out of the car to turn on the AC for drivers. In 1963, Cadillac made a breakthrough with the invention of comfort control. Drivers could finally set the temperature of the inside of their car in the warm summer months.

Environmental Concerns

In the 1970s, scientists discovered that compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were depleting the earth’s ozone layer. R12 (also known as Freon) was the common refrigerant used in vehicle air conditioning and was a known CFC. Scientists knew that a new option needed to be developed. After years of testing, a safer replacement was found in the refrigerant R-134a. In 1987, the U.S. government signed the Montreal Compact, which in part required manufacturers to switch to R-134a by 1996.

Modern Air Conditioning

Drivers today have highly advanced air conditioning systems with dual and rear climate control. While we are no longer worried about dangerous-to-the-environment refrigerants, current air conditioning can decrease fuel efficiency by 25%. Some simple tips to help with fuel efficiency when running your AC include the following. Only driving at highway speeds, no idling with the AC on, and opening the windows before turning the AC on to let out the hot air.

As we look back over the last 100 years, we’ve made many advancements to make driving safe and more comfortable. But modern advancements don’t eliminate the need to have your auto AC maintained. Especially in our summer months. If it’s been a while since you’ve had your AC and coolant checked, our team is ready to help. Make an appointment and we’ll ensure you’re comfortable all summer no matter where the road takes you.