Cruise al­ways ‘on’ does no harm

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Explore - BY RAY MAGLIOZZI Car Talk – Michael Visit www.cartalk.com.

Dear Car Talk: There are times when I dis­cover that my cruise con­trol is “on” but not en­gaged. Is driv­ing like that do­ing any dam­age, such as low­er­ing my gas mileage? Dear Michael: No. It’s like hav­ing a lamp plugged in, but not turn­ing it on. It’s a safety sys­tem. Most cars have a “master” cruisec­on­trol switch. Un­til you set that switch to “on,” you can­not en­gage the cruise con­trol and use it to set the car’s speed.

They want to pre­vent you from ac­ci­den­tally hit­ting the “set” but­ton on cruise con­trol while you’re driv­ing, and then pan­ick­ing when the car keeps go­ing af­ter you take your foot off the gas. Or, even worse, they don’t want you to hit “re­sume” when you’re go­ing 45 mph in traf­fic, and have the car zoom back to 70 mph – where you last had the cruise con­trol set. So they make you use two switches. Kind of like the guys in the mis­sile si­los in the Cheyenne Moun­tain Com­plex.

To use cruise con­trol, the first switch you need to ac­ti­vate is the master switch. Once that’s turned on, you’ll prob­a­bly see a green or or­ange cruisec­on­trol light on the dash­board. Only then can you use the steer­ing-wheel con­trols (on most cars) to set your speed.

By the way, for years, Mercedes has put its cruise-con­trol switch on a stalk that comes out the left side of the steer­ing col­umn. We al­ways thought that was a bad de­sign, be­cause it’s pretty easy to hit it by ac­ci­dent when you’re us­ing the turn-sig­nal stalk. In fact, we’ve done that when test­ing Mercedes cars. And it re­quired an im­me­di­ate change of pants.

As you can imag­ine, a safety “on/off” switch is even more im­por­tant in a car with an er­gonomic is­sue like that. Al­though we wish they’d just put the con­trols on the steer­ing wheel, as most other au­tomak­ers now do. But to an­swer your ques­tion, you’re not do­ing any harm to the en­gine or to your mileage by leav­ing the master switch on. You’re just tak­ing the first of two steps in ac­ti­vat­ing cruise con­trol.

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