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The inside word on car heating and cooling

We talk to a Ford engineer about how HVAC systems...

The inside word on car heating and cooling

The heat is on in Australia at the moment and that means you really notice whether your car’s air-conditioning system is up to the job.

A lot of car heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVAC) are designed and produced with cooler climates than Australia in mind.

But not so the Ford cars available in Australia.

I caught up with Mario Cappola, a Climate Control Systems Engineer with Ford Australia to talk more about how HVAC systems work and how Ford goes about ensuring their cars are adequately cool and warm.

Mario, thanks for your time, is it true that some manufacturers have more focus on cold weather climates, rather than what we see in Australia in summer?

Designing the air-conditioning system in conjunction with the heating systems to get up to the many quite warm temperature markets in the world is always a challenge.

But we believe we do a pretty good in Australia with help from an advanced simulator here in Melbourne, called the ACART Wind Tunnel.

The facility can provide conditions ranging from a Canadian winter all the way through to what you would find in the Australian outback.

The inside word on car heating and cooling
A Ford Everest being put to the test in the ACART tunnel.

We can put the cars through their paces in any temperature on any given day.

For example, in Melbourne today we are in the low 20’s, but we could be producing the harsh Australian outback sun or the Canadian sun, all at the flick of a switch.

Does the testing go beyond the temperature, for example can you alter humidity?

Absolutely, the facility is able to control temperature, humidity, and also sunlight.

So, for example, you could have up to 55 degrees Celsius, up to 95% humidity and full Australian sun in the testing area.

What’s the secret to a really effective climate control system?

There’s no one single thing that really nails it down, it’s a real holistic approach, you’ve got to look at it on an individual vehicle level.

It’s one thing to get the air into the cabin, it’s another thing to actually get the air out, we want to get that air flow through.

You have to look at the air coming in, also the air going out.

So, big priorities are the air flow control, i.e. the pressure that the air comes into the cabin and the refrigerant pressures and controlling the temperature of the evaporator which is inside the HVAC system.

When you’re talking about automatic climate control systems you’ve got to make sure that you’re monitoring the outside temperature, the inside temperature, the temperatures of all your heat exchangers and the sun load as well.

The sun load is particularly important with dual-zone climate control systems to make sure you’re getting the right temperature to each passenger in the vehicle.

It really is a holistic approach and being able to understand that, and the way everything interacts, is really the key.

Even things such as the grilles on the air vents can affect the airflow on the condenser which cools down the refrigerant.

It sounds to me like a lot more work goes in to designing a HVAC system than we might imagine?

Absolutely, it’s a very interesting topic because you really are thinking about every component on the car and how they all interact to make sure the customer is comfortable no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.

Mario, do you ever get into other people’s cars and look at their climate settings and notice that they’re using it wrong? For example, fresh air and recirculate settings and fan speeds.

Yes! I often find with my friend’s cars that I take over, but when its someone I’m just an acquaintance with I tend to leave it alone.

Everyone’s different and everyone likes their settings their own personal way. If they’ve got a manual system that’s pretty straight forward, but with auto systems we try to be as accommodating with as many people as we can.

That means 22 degrees is the nominal temperature that most climate control systems are calibrated to, we want them to be comfortable at that and if they want to have their own settings from that they can manually override it.

Do you think in the future we will increasingly see the ability to start our cars remotely so that we can get the heating/cooling going before we get in?

Yes, that technology is really starting to roll out now and we will see more of it in the future.

It does help and even if the system doesn’t actually turn the air-conditioning on, just getting the air pumping around the cabin, as well as taking the air out and replacing it with new air from outside can make a big difference.

For example, it might be a 40 degree day outside, but the interior of your car is probably above 50, so being able to regulate the inside and outside temperatures can make a huge difference to how you feel when you get in.

When the heat is on it’s not just people that struggle, it’s also hard on the mechanical elements of our cars. Any tips on what we can do to ensure we are protecting our vehicles as well as we can?

Making sure the front of your car is free of obstructions is a big one. The front of your car is where it gets all the cooling power from.

Also, ensure your car is serviced regularly.

Thanks for letting us know more about HVAC systems, Mario.

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About Joel Helmes 3716 Articles
Joel is the founder and CEO of Behind the Wheel. Joel has a background as a radio broadcaster with on-air roles at 4BC, 4KQ, 2KY, 2LT and 2UE amongst others, as well as a news editor and program director. Joel’s relationship with cars stems back to his early childhood learning to change oil and brakes with his father and uncle. This continued on into his driving years owning an assorted collection of cars.

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