Sign up ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free.

On a recent long, hot journey in Spain, I was pondering which was the most efficient way of cooling the car. Which of these would be the most effective?

  1. Switching on the air conditioning, thereby consuming more fuel
  2. Winding down the (both driver and passenger) windows, thus disrupting the airflow around the car and ostensibly creating extra drag

Let's assume I'm travelling at 100km/h on level road, in a 1.2 litre Fiat 500. (It's a valid assumption, because it was true). Let's also assume that both methods cool me down equally as well.

For what's worth, I went with option 2.

share|cite|improve this question
I've once heard that 60 km/h is the switching point, above which air conditioning is more efficient, but I have no further prove. – Bernhard Jul 21 '12 at 17:28
Interesting. That figure agrees with my driving around the local back-roads and watching the consumption, but I'm not sure I'd enjoy the drive from the south up to Madrid at that speed! ;-) – Robin Williams Jul 21 '12 at 17:58
No, then you hit the gas, close the windows and turn on airconditioning. But I think the outside temperatur is also an important factor – Bernhard Jul 21 '12 at 18:02
Duplicate: – Steve B Jul 21 '12 at 22:41 – N. McA. Oct 24 '13 at 15:21

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

That is a rather difficult calculation, even if we assume that both processes are equally effective at cooling. You would need to know the drag coefficient of the car with windows up and down as well as the efficiency of the AC. The best way to settle a question of this sort is with an empirical experiment.

It turns out that this is precisely what the Mythbusters did, as reported in this post. They found that driving with the windows down significantly beat driving with the AC at full blast, getting 24 kilometers more out of the windows down car. They were driving at 72 kph, which is a little slower than your case.

share|cite|improve this answer
Nice Mythbusters link; I'm glad it's not just me who thinks like this :-D – Robin Williams Jan 11 at 14:04

Let´s assume... it´s not valid at all. It depends completelly on many factors: interior T, exterior T, performance of your AC equipment, your "feeling"... From my point of view, of course you can reach the outside T of the car, which could be -10°C if you want (in winter)... and your AC won´t be able to reach that T for sure.

But in summer, with 30°C outside, there´s no way for you to have better results by opening the windows: you need to turn on your AC, so spend some money in gas, if you want to have less than 30°C in your car.

For your information, cars are equipped with AC capable to reach a confort T (let´s say around 25°C in heads). But that´s a little bit tricky too: Many people prefers to "feel" more than that or more, so they control the AC in different ways. You can only control the epperture of windows, more o less, but you´ll never be below the out T. Just an opinion, but your question and assumption is kind of lazy. Best regards,

share|cite|improve this answer
how cool we feel doesn't depend upon temperature alone. We feel cool when we lose energy to the outside environment. If the outside temperature is 30 degrees, our body is 37 degrees and there is a strong wind passing us, then there is more air in contact with the body, which can steal the energy from our body. If however there is no outside air, we will heat up the air around our bodies, and it will take longer for this hot air to be replaced by cooler air. Thus we will feel colder in the wind, despite both scenarios being 30 degrees. – Mew Apr 27 '13 at 8:32
Its not about temperature, its about heat loss. Heat loss is greater in wind. Temperature affects heat loss but its not the only factor. – eJunior Aug 25 '13 at 14:22
This is no answer at all. The OP specifically said to assume both methods are acceptable to the occupant. The real question is therefore which burns more gas, running the air conditioner or rolling down the windows? You didn't address that at all. – Olin Lathrop Nov 23 '13 at 16:44

protected by Qmechanic Aug 25 '13 at 16:00

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.