The History of Car Heaters

by Contributing WriterUpdated July 11, 2023

Modern car users enjoy a level of comfort that early motorists could only dream of. Throughout the history of automobiles, significant efforts have been made to provide climate control features, with heating being a particularly crucial aspect. Let's delve into the evolution of car heaters and the milestones that shaped their development.

First Modern Rides

In the late 19th century, cars were initially seen as a step up from horse-drawn carriages. However, these early vehicles lacked the comforts we now associate with cars, including heating systems. It wasn't until the early 20th century that enclosed cars with glass windshields started to appear, offering some protection against the elements. To keep warm, motorists relied on heavy clothing and portable heaters like gas lamps and burners, similar to those used in horse carriages.

Getting Warmer

In 1907, the first enclosed cars emerged, including glass windshields. These helped keep the elements at bay. In the meantime, motorists used heavy clothing and portable heaters such as gas lamps and burners to warm up the interior. These were the same heaters used in horse carriages for centuries.

Exhaustive Search For Heat

As demand for comfort increased, engineers and users sought safer and more efficient heating solutions. In 1917, the first car heaters emerged, utilizing exhaust fumes as a heat source. These heaters circulated exhaust gases into pipes, providing some warmth in the cabin. However, by 1929, this design became outdated with the introduction of the first real heaters in the Ford Model A. These heaters directed hot air from the engine into the interior, though they were not consistent and took time to warm up. In 1933, Ford introduced the first in-dash heater, a small gas-fueled boiler.

The Water Option

During the 1920s, an alternative heating design to gas heaters gained popularity, redirecting engine coolant to provide heat. General Motors (GM) pioneered the heater core in 1930, utilizing a radiator to get hot coolant from the engine, which was then circulated into the compartment using a fan. This concept remains the basis of car heating systems to this day.

Refining The Process

Advancements continued in the late 1930s, with Nash Motors introducing filters and improved controls for regulating airflow and temperature. GM introduced car seat heaters in 1939, driven by the needs of military vehicles during World War II. This period marked the establishment of the current design for heating and climate control systems.

Getting Closer

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, car makers began using outside air for climate control, improving the efficiency of heating systems. Before, the heater core warmed up whatever air was under the hood, but the more modern design uses rams and scoops that actively gather air and bring it to be heated up. The late 1950s saw standardization of heaters across models, reducing costs. By the early 1960s, modern heaters became standard in GM cars, and other manufacturers worldwide soon followed suit.

More Recent Developments

The 1973 energy crisis renewed interest in electric cars, which employ electric heaters for climate control. Cadillacs were among the first cars to feature fully automatic climate controls, adjusting interior temperatures to match external conditions. However, most gasoline cars, including hybrids, still utilize the heater core design, and most depend on heaters rather than air conditioners for effective heating in cold weather.

Throughout the years, car heaters have evolved to provide optimal comfort in the passenger compartment. Today, heating systems, along with air conditioning and defrosters, are essential components of car climate control systems, ensuring a comfortable driving experience.

As the automotive industry progresses, manufacturers like Chevrolet, Chicago, and Chrysler continue to refine their heating and cooling systems. Understanding the history of car heaters helps us appreciate the convenience and reliability of modern heating systems and their significant contribution to the overall comfort of our vehicles.

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