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What is cruise control?

  • What is cruise control?
  • How does it work and do I need it?
  • Also find out what Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is

Cruise control is a clever system that allows you to programme in a set speed for your car to maintain without any input needed from you, the driver. For instance, you can set your cruise control to 70mph to maintain that speed while you 'cruise' along the motorway. 

Your car will continue at the speed you set until you deactivate the cruise control - although pressing the brake or sometimes clutch pedal also interrupts it, depends on your car's cruise control settings. 

Most cruise control systems feature buttons on the steering wheel or stalks for switching the system on and off, setting the speed, pausing the system and adjusting the set speed up and down.

How does cruise control work?

Cruise control systems monitor the road, adjusting the throttle position in reaction to inclines and declines to maintain the selected speed set by the driver.

As most cars now have electronic throttle pedals (using a sensor rather than a physical link to the engine), the function is easily built into the car's engine management system.

Do I need cruise control?

If you do a lot of motorway miles, cruise control can really take the sting out of your right shin. It's not so useful on slower or busier roads where you find yourself repeatedly adjusting your speed.

Where can you find cruise control? 

Most new cars feature cruise control, although it is often an option on cheaper models or base-spec equipment grades. Cruise control is sometimes supplemented by a speed limiter.

What is adaptive cruise control (ACC)?

Adaptive cruise control (or radar-guided cruise control) automatically adjusts the speed of your car in order to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front. The driver can pre-set their vehicle’s maximum speed and minimum distance to the car in front.

How does adaptive cruise control work?

Radar waves are beamed towards the vehicle in front, calculating the speed the car needs to maintain in order to sustain a predetermined gap. If the car in front brakes, the system will detect this, letting off the throttle and/or applying the brakes of your vehicle.

The car will follow the one in front up to a pre-determined speed set by the driver. Typically, it works only at motorway speeds, switching itself off at lower speeds, although newer systems now operate at lower speeds and in traffic jams too.

Do I need adaptive cruise control?

ACC is incredibly useful on motorways. This uprated cruise control system works best with automatic gearboxes. If you can stretch to the additional cost, we'd say it’s a fine option to have on your car.

Where can you find adaptive cruise control? 

Since its introduction, ACC has been fitted to a wide range of vehicles. Initially the preserve of expensive luxury cars, the system is now available on humble family hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia.

It's one of the building blocks of autonomous self-driving technology, so expect this tech to continue expanding.

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions.