As summer starts to heat up, there’s one thing we all take for granted – cooling off the inside of our car. During the dog days of summer, you’re probably thankful to have dual comfort control and that it works. But did you know that we’ve made major advancements when it comes to cars and air conditioning in the last 100 years? If you’re curious about how we got our modern air conditioning systems, then keep reading as we cover a brief history of auto AC and refrigerants.

The Earliest Cars and Keeping Cool in the Summer

The earliest Model Ts had no doors and a collapsible roof. Back then, drivers were more concerned with keeping warm in the winter over keeping cool in the summer. Drivers and passengers alike, just collapsed the roof and relied on the open air to keep them cool when driving on those hot days. The next innovation from car makers was the closed body vehicles. They differed from the earliest models with doors and open windows. These vehicles had vents installed under their dashboard that would help circulate the outside air. They did have one drawback – these vents didn’t keep dirt and dust out of the car so this option became kind of messy.

Early, but Primitive Innovations

Car makers were continuing to experiment to upgrade the cooling experience of drivers. Eventually, the Knapp Limo-Sedan fan was introduced which was an electric fan mounted to the interior of the car. Around the same time, the car cooler was introduced. This attached to the roof of the car and used water evaporation to deliver cool air through the open window. Both of these options focused on circulating the open air and could reduce the interior car temperature by about 15 degrees.

The Advent of Factory Installed AC

In the 1940s, Packard became the first automaker to offer factory installed air conditioning. The unit was installed in the trunk of the car, and the driver needed to get out of the car and manually install or remove the drive belt from the compressor to turn on and off. This was the first unit that only circulated air from inside the car. It functioned by running condensed water over head, but was not ideal because water would drip onto the car’s passengers.

Post World War II Advancements

Before WWII, there were 3,000 cars that came with air conditioning installed, and after WWII there were 1 million cars with air conditioning. This boom in cars with air conditioning started in 1953 when General Motors, Chrysler, and Packard all introduced new air conditioning systems. GM developed a new AC system that fit in the car’s engine (so no more hopping out to install the drive belt in the trunk). Further breakthroughs came in 1963 when Cadillac invented comfort control so drivers could set the inside of the car to the temperature they wanted.

Environmental Concerns

In the 1970s, scientists discovered compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were depleting the earth’s ozone layer. The AC refrigerant commonly used, called R12 (also Freon), were CFCs and contributed to this problem. Scientists knew that a new option needed to be developed, and after years of testing a new and safer refrigerant R-134a was introduced. In 1987, the U.S. government signed the Montreal Compact, which in part required manufacturers to make the switch to R-134a by 1996.

Modern AC

Today, we have the luxury of having dual and rear climate control AC installed in most cars. While we no longer worry about the impact on the ozone layer, running your AC can decrease your fuel efficiency by 25%. Some simple tips to save on fuel efficiency include the following. Using your AC only when driving at highway speeds, not idling with your AC on, and opening your windows before turning on your AC to let the hot air out.

We’ve come a long way when it comes to auto air conditioning and refrigerants, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need regular maintenance. Before it gets really hot this summer, it’s always a good idea to schedule maintenance so we can perform an AC output test to keep you cool all summer long.