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What your car's air recirculation button really does

Most of us have the button on our dashboard, but do you actually know what it's used for?
Credit: WZZM 13

We've all seen it: The little button on your dashboard with an arrow on the inside of your car. Now that temperatures in Michigan are in the high 90s and nearing 100, you might to make sure the air recirculation button is turned on.

According to worldclassautoservice.com, the button is mainly used for the summertime, helping your car get as cool as possible when it's hot out and you have the A/C on. The button helps recirculate the "kind-of-cool" air you get from your A/C when you first turn it on, and the longer it's on, the cooler your car gets until it's as cool as possible.

Autodeal.com says it's best to use it in four instances:

  • When you need to cool down in a hot cabin: If you parked your car in a sunny parking space, you're going to want to cool it down quickly. To do this, roll your windows down and put the A/C on in full blast, but also turn the A/C recirculate off. This allows the air trapped in the vehicle to dissipate quickly.
  • When you need fresh air inside: The recirculation button helps keep pollutants from entering your car, but it can also keep oxygen from getting inside. If you turn off the recirculate function every hour for 15-30 minutes, your car will replenish the oxygen inside the car.
  • When you want to cut down on fuel costs: If you keep the recirculate function on in the winter, turning it off can help lessen the fuel costs because it allows cold air to enter the vehicle's cabin, making the air conditioning system work less.
  • When you want to remove windshield fogging: The fogging is caused by a temperature difference from inside to outside, and it happens most often in the morning. If you turn off the recirculate function, the cold air can go inside to balance the temperature out. It can also help minimize fuel consumption.

Your car also might have a fresh air feature, a button with an arrow going from outside to inside the car. That feature pushes outside air through your heater core, so it's helpful in the winter when you need to warm up. 

In the summer, however, avoid using the fresh air feature. The website says it has to continuously cool the hot air from the outside when pulling it into the vehicle, making your A/C compressor work faster and getting less fuel economy as a result.

It's possible your car doesn't have recirculation or fresh air button. If this is the case, it's because many newer models have sensors that monitor your cabin's air and moisture levels.

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