When it comes to the myriad of buttons and controls in our cars, there’s one that we seldom pay much attention to. It usually has a little icon of an arrow circling back on itself and is the unsung hero of your air conditioning system. It is, of course, the air recirculation button. And it’s not only good for fuel efficiency, but can also be good for your lungs too. But, when and where should you use it?

Keeping your interior as cool as a cucumber in summer

As for the “when”, let’s use summer as our first example. During the sweltering summer months, the recirculation button could be your greatest ally because it reuses the already-cooled air inside the car, meaning your air-con isn’t pulling in the hotter air from outside. This in turn means that your aircon doesn’t have to work as hard as it otherwise would. So, the obvious benefits are that it cools the interior quicker with less wear and tear on the system – A real win, win.

However, perhaps an initial exception to the above is if your vehicle has already been sitting baking in the sun and you’re just about to use it. In this situation, you’re better off winding the windows down first when you start driving to let the ultra-hot air out quicker. If you do this for a few minutes prior to switching on your air conditioning, it will again mean the unit doesn’t have to work so hard to cool your car.

A more efficient warm-up in winter

In the winter, the recirculation mode can also be beneficial to warm up the interior quicker by reusing the hot air that’s already been heated by your hot air blower. However, if you recirculate the air for a long time, it can cause the windows to mist up due to the moisture from the car occupant(s) breath. You can easily get round this by switching the recirculation option off periodically.

Traffic and tunnel use

Irrespective of the season, if you find yourself in bumper-to-bumper traffic or you’re crawling through a long tunnel like the Dartford Tunnel in Kent, using the recirculation mode can really help a lot. If your car is still pulling in air from outside, it’ll be thick with toxic fumes – not recommended!

So, by not pulling in the pollution and exhaust fumes from outside, you’re significantly reducing the toxic air you’re breathing. As a case in point, this study from 2013 concluded that using the recirculation mode reduces the amount of bad air you breathe in, in some cases by as much as 10 times!

A word of caution

While the recirculation mode has definite benefits, it’s important not to rely on it all the time. As us humans breathe in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide, it’s crucial that we let the fresh air in too – fresh air is vital for preventing the air inside from becoming stale and ensuring there’s adequate oxygen levels and the CO2 is vented. You should therefore make a point of switching back to fresh air mode regularly.

Automatic climate control

If you’ve got a new car, all the above might be one big moot point if you’re fortunate enough to have one with automatic climate control. These save you the bother of having to figure out which setting is best in which situation. This type of “intelligent” system considers factors such as outside temperature, air quality and humidity and adjusts things automatically.

Final thoughts

If you’ve never really used the recirculation button, we hope that you now have a better understanding of the where and whens of using this small but handy little button properly. With your newly acquired knowledge, remember to use it wisely during both summer and winter whilst keeping an eye out for misting windows and the need for fresh air from time to time.

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