Adaptive Cruise Control For Pickup Trucks What You Need To Know

What do adaptive cruise control systems offer pickup trucks owners and should you get one? Here's everything you need to know: The good, the bad and the beautiful.

Adaptive-Cruise-Control-For-Pickup-Trucks-What-You-Need-To-KnowIf you're considering buying a new Ram or Ford truck, you probably noticed the optional feature of Adaptive Cruise Control or Smart Cruise Control. If you've never driven a vehicle that had that, you may be wondering if it's worth the additional cost.

Adaptive cruise control knows how to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you - at all times - without you having to worry about it. We think that this is a great safety enhancement feature that every pickup owner should be familiar with. 

In this post, we'll explain what Adaptive Cruise Control is, how it works, and which pickup trucks currently offer the system. We'll also go into the pros and cons of using adaptive cruise control, including sharing our own experiences with it.

What is Adaptive Cruise Control?

We are all familiar with cruise control – that system in our vehicles that allows us to take our foot off the accelerator while maintaining a constant speed. Adaptive cruise control (ACC) is a relatively new feature that takes this technology one step further. Sensors installed on the vehicle monitor vehicles ahead of yours and then adjust your speed to maintain a safe following distance.

Most systems allow drivers to choose the following distance (say, 2, 3 or 4 seconds) they are most comfortable with. It’s wise to start with the longest following distance allowed by your car when you are still familiarizing yourself with your new system.

Right now, adaptive cruise control goes by several names, including

  • Intelligent cruise control
  • Radar cruise control
  • Autonomous cruise control.

As the technology becomes more mainstream, the industry will likely settle on one common name. No matter what you call it, this technology is seen as the first step towards autonomous cars. Some systems are able to do much more than simply follow the cars in front of them, with carmakers such as Tesla making headlines for their “Autopilot” system able to steer around corners, change lanes, and even take freeway exits without any driver inputs.

Which Pickup Trucks Have Adaptive Cruise Control?

More pickup trucks than ever are offering ACC systems today.

If you are shopping for a truck with this technology, there are plenty to choose from. It’s no surprise that some of the older models, especially the Nissan Frontier, don’t offer adaptive cruise control.

Current Trucks WITH Adaptive Cruise Control Available

  • 2020 Ford F150
  • 2020 Ford Ranger
  • 2020 Ford Super Duty (F250/350)
  • 2020 Honda Ridgeline
  • 2020 Ram1500
  • 2020 Ram 2500/3500
  • 2020 Toyota Tacoma
  • 2020 Toyota Tundra
  • 2020 Chevy Silverado

Current-model trucks WITHOUT Adaptive Cruise Control available

  • 2018 Nissan Frontier
  • 2019 Nissan Titan

How to Use Adaptive Cruise Control on Your Truck

Essentially, there are two steps to switching on your ACC.

  1. Click the button on your steering wheel which turns it on.
  2. Set the top cruising speed.
  3. Down-click the same button you would use to start cruise control.

This works a lot like cruise control, so you can also adjust the top speed while the system is in operation by down-clicking or up-clicking the same buttons on your steering wheel.

Here's a short video showing how the system operates in a Dodge Ram truck -

F150 adaptive cruise control

The F150 is America's most popular truck, so we thought you'd like to take a look at how it drives with cruise control and stop-and-go -

Chevy Silverado Adaptive Cruise Control

Chevrolet was late getting into the adaptive cruise control game, at least where pickup trucks are concerned. The popular Silverado has only been available with this feature since the new 2020 models arrived. Chevy bases its adaptive cruise control on a camera rather than a radar, using their own unique software to read the image and adjust the speed of the vehicle.

According to Chevrolet -

The system features a single high-mounted camera behind the rearview mirror that scans the road and uses proprietary software and algorithms to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle ahead. The system can bring the Silverado to a complete stop and is integrated with the stop/start capability of the engines to help optimize efficiency. Adaptive Cruise Control - Camera is available on Silverado LT, LTZ and High Country.

How Adaptive Cruise Control Works

When you switch on the ACC system in your pickup truck, how does the vehicle know when there's another vehicle ahead of it on the road?

Let's talk about the history of Adaptive Cruise Control systems and then see where we're at now, in terms of current types.

Mitsubishi was the first automaker to bring a distance-detection cruise control to market in 1992. Their lidar-based system, however, was only available in Japan and was only a warning system. Starting with Mitsubishi’s 1995 “Preview Distance Control”, laser-based systems were able to adjust the vehicle’s speed through throttle inputs. You can often spot the presence of these laser systems because they require a large black box on the front of the vehicle.

In 1999, Mercedes Benz was the first to use a radar system. Since then, the market gradually moved away from lasers in favor of radar technology. These systems offer many advantages, including being more easily integrated into the front fascia of the vehicle. These systems can come with either one sensor or multiple sensors (usually reserved for higher-end vehicles like Audi).

The newest type of ACC to hit the market is the optical system Subaru introduced in 2013. These systems use front-facing video cameras at the top of the windshield, next to the rear-view mirror, to monitor traffic ahead. There are other, less common systems out there, but these are the main contenders right now.

Modern Adaptive Cruise Control Systems

Today's systems are far more reliable than past ones simply because they combine available technologies.

When you drive a pickup truck (or car) that has ACC, the vehicle almost always uses a combination of cameras, radar, and sensors to tell if there's another vehicle in front.  This technological redundancy dramatically increases the reliability and safety of using ACC while driving.

Features of ACC

If you're considering buying a pickup truck with a built-in Adaptive Cruise Control system, consider the following features. They can add to your safety, regardless of whether or not you wish to let your truck monitor your following distance for you.

Collision Avoidance System

Adaptive cruise control systems help drivers by applying brakes when the car in front is too near. This dramatically reduces the risk of collision. When you use regular cruise control over a long stretch of the road, it's easy to lose focus and not notice when the vehicle in front of you is braking. This is where ACC can literally save your life.

Also, vehicles with ACC almost always have what's known as a Collision Avoidance System. In Europe and Australia, it's known as "Autonomous Emergency Braking".

The idea here is that the vehicle utilizes the ACC systems - those cameras, radar, and sensors - to tell when the vehicle is about to collide with another vehicle in front. That works even when you don't have your Adaptive Cruise Control switched on.

This type of assistance is often referred to as a “pre-crash system,” because it kicks in once it detects a high likelihood of crashing.

Multi-sensor Systems

As the name implies, multi-sensor systems integrate other forms of detection to assist the ACC. For example, GPS can be used to keep track of cross-streets and offramps. Also common is the use of cameras to read street signs or brakes lights and turn signals on the vehicles ahead.

Again, these systems are not the Adaptive Cruise Control system itself but they are associated with it. They use the same infrastructure so they come hand-in-hand with ACC. Do check regarding the model of pickup truck that you're looking to buy to make sure they are available.

What the Future Holds: Predictive Systems

Going even further, predictive systems attempt to predict what events will happen in the future and get the vehicle ready to react. A camera system can be used to monitor other vehicles besides the one your vehicle is following and predict when a neighboring car will merge into your lane. This allows the ACC system to slow down or be ready to slow down before the cars in front even notice a problem.

That's a smart feature that moves the truck even further in the direction of an autonomous vehicle. It's not yet available in most models though, even with ACC.

Pros of Using Adaptive Cruise Control

The pros of using Adaptive Cruise Control are -

  1. Safety
  2. Convenience

ACC Increases the Safety of Driving Your Pickup Truck

The first and most important goal of ACC is safety. By ensuring that your vehicle stays a safe distance behind the car in front of you, this technology aims to prevent accidents. Because these systems use advanced technology, they can react faster than people and can even predict emergency situations before a human can.

ACC Makes Driving Easier

Following closely behind the safety factor, however, is the convenience of not having to constantly adjust your speed manually as you slog through dense traffic.

Anyone who has ever dealt with hours of stop-and-go gridlock knows just how tiring and irritating it can be. In those circumstances, ACC shines.

And actually, that's also safety-related, right? ACC reduces driver fatigue. Driving tired is demonstrably dangerous, so this is another area where adaptive cruise control makes driving safer.

Cons of Using Adaptive Cruise Control

There are a few potential problems with buying a pickup truck that has adaptive cruise control.

  1. System malfunctions can be very dangerous
  2. These systems tend to be expensive
  3. Some drivers don't like the loss of control that comes with these systems

Let's break these down.

The Risk of a System Malfunction

Early, laser-based systems often fail to work properly in adverse weather or when the sensor becomes too dirty to function properly. Newer systems use radar for this reason – it is less prone to becoming inoperable due to weather conditions. Even radar systems can become compromised due to snow and mud, however, so it is imperative for drivers to maintain awareness of the current state of their ACC system.  

In addition to malfunctions caused by poor road conditions, these systems can, of course, break down for other reasons. Recent headlines have shown some flaws in advanced driverless car technology.

Whether it’s because of drivers becoming overconfident and letting their guard down or a technological glitch, this can lead to serious accidents. So, even though these systems can often react faster than humans can, they can also misinterpret inputs and cause accidents that most human drivers would have been able to avoid.

Having said all that... modern adaptive cruise control systems are generally very reliable.

It's always your responsibility

Probably the single thing you should always remember is that you are legally responsible for your vehicle when you are behind the wheel. It is your responsibility - and yours alone - to make sure the vehicle stops when necessary. Any damage caused as a result of a malfunction in your vehicle's ACC system is still your responsibility. If you use ACC, always be sure that you are ready to take control of the vehicle if a malfunction occurs.

These Systems Can Get Expensive

How much does adaptive cruise control cost?

Specifying an intelligent cruise control on your new vehicle usually adds a couple of thousand dollars to the bottom line.

Adding to this con is the fact that you cannot simply add ACC to a vehicle that does not already have it. Because the systems are so complex and interwoven into the architecture of the vehicle, owners must purchase a new vehicle with a system already installed in order to have it.

In other words, it's a feature found in luxury pickup trucks. That may quickly change in the coming years, but for now, a pickup truck that offers ACC is likely to be of the more expensive type.

You May Not Like the Feeling of Driving With ACC

When ACC is enabled, the vehicle will speed up and slow down on its own. If you opt for a two to three second following distance, this might make you slightly uncomfortable. Some people simply prefer to manually control their vehicle.

Imagine the Following Scenario -

Driving your truck on the highway, you set up the ACC system for a top speed of 65 miles per hour and switch it on.

Traffic becomes too heavy and the vehicle in front of you slows down to 50 mph. This means your truck slows down to 50mph too, keeping the same pre-set following distance. All is well - this is exactly what you expect from adaptive cruise control, right?

Then that vehicle in front of you changes lanes. The road ahead of you is suddenly clear for a few hundred yards. You can still see that the traffic is fairly congested after that, but right now, your lane is free.

Now, had you been driving without ACC, you wouldn't pick up speed at this point, anticipating the slowdown, right?

That's not how your truck sees things. As far as the ACC system is concerned, your lane is open right now, so it's time to get back to 65mph. You and your passengers will feel the truck picking up speed right away. Which is a little bit scary when you yourself know that there's still traffic ahead.

That's something that happens with adaptive cruise control fairly often. It can actually be scary the first few times before you learn to trust the system to brake in time too. As we said, some people just don't like the feeling of letting the vehicle be in control.

So, what's the bottom line?

Should You Buy a Pickup Truck That Has Adaptive Cruise Control?

In our opinion, yes. This is a safety enhancement that every vehicle should have even if only for the built-in collision prevention system.

If you're driving on the highway a lot, this could soon become your favorite feature in your new pickup truck. It's perfect for easy, relaxed driving, keeping your foot off the pedals and allowing you to rest.

If you love using your cruise control, then consider ACC to be an enhancement of that. It adds an additional layer of safety. It's like having an assistant that helps you in case the vehicle in front of you happens to brake or slow down.

Having said that, if you're not sure and are worried about the extra expense, ask to test drive the truck first. Go to the dealership, Ford, Ram or any other brand and ask to drive a truck with ACC on the highway before making your decision.

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    • Hi Nat, good question. As far as I can tell, heavy-duty Ford trucks started having adaptive cruise control in 2017. It was available in the F150 models before that (including in 2015).

  1. Toyota Tundra and Tacoma has ACC and AEB standard for every new one. Just not full speed ACC( disable at 25mph). Toyota is moving to the right direction to make their new pickup safer, add a full speed ACC will be even better.

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