Adaptive Cruise Control For Beginners – How It Works, Why You’ll Love It

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Adaptive Cruise Control is becoming common on all vehicles. Here is an overview for those who have not yet tried it. 

At a recent technology seminar hosted by the New England Motor Press Association at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., an expert panel brought up the point that many new vehicle buyers do not understand and do not use many of the newer features the vehicle they buy comes with. The large group of industry experts was in agreement that more could be done to help shoppers make better use of the vehicle technology they are buying. To that end, we would like to offer our readers who may not have tried Adaptive Cruise Control an overview on exactly what it does and how it is used.

One of the best new technologies that have trickled down from pricey models to mainstream vehicles is Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). Like the conventional cruise control we all know and love, ACC controls the speed of your vehicle on the highway. It just does it better. Older cruise control systems allowed a driver to set a certain speed, typically on the highway. The car would then do its level best to maintain that speed. To cancel the cruise control, one need only tap the brake or use the steering-wheel-mounted controls to cancel the system. One added feature is the ability to increase or decrease the speed settings using the controls, rather than the power pedal.

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ACC can do all of this as well, and to initiate the system, the steps are identical. Simply power up the ACC system as you would conventional cruise control (Blue arrow). Normally, there is a button that enables the system on the steering wheel. Once the system is active, one then uses the “Set” button to set the speed that the driver wishes the car to travel at (Green). Here too, the operation is the same. Once underway, the ACC will act just like normal cruise control. Until you begin to catch up to a vehicle in front of you. That’s where things get a bit different.

ACC looks at the traffic ahead and it focuses on the vehicle in front of yours. Using radar and/or cameras, it then “locks onto” the speed that vehicle is traveling and adjusts yours so that you follow that car at a set distance if it slows. If the vehicle then speeds back up, your ACC system will also then speed up, but it will level off at the original speed you set it at. The big upside here is that you don’t have to keep canceling and then re-setting your cruise control as traffic ahead ebbs and flows.

Wondering the button labeled “Mode” does? That allows you to use the vehicles speed limiter or to use the ACC stop and go function, which allows the vehicle to follow slower traffic, even it then stops. And then restart following after the vehicle ahead moves again.

ACC also lets the driver set the gap spacing your car will allow between the cars. If you are on an open highway, the longest gap works just fine. However, at slower speeds in moderate traffic, you will find that a shorter gap will help keep other vehicles from constantly cutting in front of your vehicle. The setting button for the gap is usually indicated by a set of horizontal lines (Purple button shown above).  As you adjust it, an image in your gauge cluster will show the gap setting (see above). You will find that when a car does cut in front of you while ACC is active that your car may slow down. This is the ACC system trying to keep a safe distance between your car and the new one ahead. Early ACC systems had an abrupt slowing effect that drivers didn’t like. Newer ones and, shall we say better ACC systems, are muchsmoother in this situation and in some others. To cancel the system, you simply tap the brake or you can cancel using the wheel-mounted controls, just like with conventional cruise control.

Some new ACC systems can combine other driver aids. For example, many will now also allow a driver to enable a lane departure alert or a lane departure mitigation system. These are safety systems that alert you and may help correct your position in a lane if you drift out of it. A separate, and more helpful feature, is called lane keep assist or lane centering. With this system, your vehicle will maintain its position in the center of your lane, even as the road turns. You still need to keep your hands on the wheel and stay attentive. Lane centering is sort of a fatigue fighter that helps you on long trips. It takes some getting used to. It can always be shut off separately from ACC, so if you don’t like it, don’t use it. All lane monitoring systems are disabled when you put on your turn signal. If you try to change lanes while they are set, they will alert, or may help to steer you gently back to your lane. All of them let you steer the car in all situations, particularly any emergency situations.

If our instructions here are not clear enough for you, we encourage you to ask your dealer for help or try another resource. New driver aid systems get high marks from those who use them. We suspect that you will enjoy their use once you give them a try.