If your car’s air conditioning system isn’t as cold as it should be, before you feel sick, it’s time to do something about it. A car’s overall air conditioning system is made up of many individual components. There is no single unit to describe automotive air conditioning; it’s a closed loop of multiple components. So, if you notice some unusual behavior of your air conditioner, like weak airflow, warm air instead of cold, or weird noises, it’s possible that a component is malfunctioning. Depending on the malfunction, you can replace it at a relatively low cost or repair individual components. Sometimes when a component like a compressor fails, it can circulate debris and damage other components. This may require re-shipping of the entire system, which can be expensive. In this guide, we’ll cover the different aspects of servicing an AC system and the associated costs.
What Are The Parts in a Car’s AC System?
Air conditioning system components include:
Refrigerants: The lifeblood of air conditioning systems. It changes from gas to liquid depending on which part of the system it flows through. It allows the system to turn hot air into cold air.
Compressor: The beating heart of the system. It acts as a pump for the refrigerant and uses high pressure to circulate the substance to the rest of the parts.
Condenser: As a heat exchanger, it works like a radiator. It condenses the refrigerant from a gas to a liquid, releasing some of the heat it carries.
TX Valve or Throttle: The TX valve regulates the amount of refrigerant released into the evaporator. Some systems have a throttling tube that does that too but doesn’t control overheating like the TX valve. At this point, the boiling point of the refrigerant leaving the evaporator is measured.
Evaporator: The evaporator cools the air passing through the evaporator and pushes it into the cockpit.
Receiver Dryer: The receiver dryer temporarily stores oil and refrigerant when the system does not need it.
Heater core: The heater core is responsible for delivering hot air to the cabin, but this is done through coolant. It is considered part of the HVAC system but does not use refrigerant.
How Does a Car AC Work?
Regardless of the make and model of your vehicle, you can be sure that your car air conditioner will work just like any other. Car air conditioning units are powered by alternators and run on refrigerant (a high-pressure gas), including:
A compressor, which converts the refrigerant into a fluid and sends it to the condenser;
The condenser, removes the heat from the refrigerant and sends it to the expansion valve or throttling pipe;
Expansion valves or choke tubes that return the refrigerant to gas and push it to the receiver/dryer or accumulator;
A receiver/dryer or accumulator, which removes moisture from the refrigerant and moves it to the evaporator;
Finally, there is an evaporator, which absorbs heat from the air passing through it, delivers it to the refrigerant, and creates a flow of cool air.
What Causes Damage to AC
There are many different reasons why your car’s air conditioner may need service. Some are quick and easy fixes, while others are more complicated and cost significantly more.
It’s easy to quickly determine if your car’s air conditioner needs service: During sunny driving, when you need to cool off, the hot air blowing into your face can feel very uncomfortable. This is one of the most common signs of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit, meaning the compressor has stopped working. (However, please note that this should only happen on cars with 150,000 km or more.) A damaged compressor may cause further internal damage; if you are in this situation, a mechanic may recommend that you get a full air conditioning service, which may result in further costs.
If the air from your air conditioner is cold but smells a little weird, it’s because of a buildup of bacteria. In this case, your unit needs to be reacquired: this is a relatively simple procedure and one that is required for the life of your vehicle in any situation. Your car’s manual should detail when this might be required, but due to Australia’s extreme climate, this may have to happen earlier.
Even the smallest leaks can cause problems with your car’s air conditioning units, and the first thing a qualified technician will do is to check them, even during a simple rework. Once the problem is identified, the refrigerant will be purged, related repairs will be made, and the system will be flushed to ensure there is no residual contamination.
How Long Does Car Air Conditioning System Work?
When you drive, you want to know how long these parts will last. You already know how often to change your oil, turn your tires, and check your brakes. However, we didn’t talk much about the usage time of the air conditioning system.
In most cases, it is normal to need to refill the refrigerant every few years. Some people choose to check their air conditioning system every year before the hot weather arrives. These inspections typically cost around $100 but provide peace of mind when you need to cool the cabin. During a professional inspection, check the refrigerant level and evaluate all important components.
The hose can sometimes fail, especially after years of use. Compressors are also a common failing component, often lasting eight to ten years. However, if you don’t maintain the air conditioning system or run it with low refrigerant, it will fail prematurely.
Signs To Replace An AC System
The main sign of a problem is that the air from the system becomes hotter than normal. Depending on the reason for the failure, the process can be a slow change or a sudden change. You may also notice some strange smells coming from the system when parts fail.
In addition to that, if you hear any strange noises, whether it’s rubbing or squealing, check the air conditioning system. Of course, if any damaged parts are found, like a damaged hose, action needs to be taken.
How Much Does It Cost To Fix AC In A Car?
You may have to pay between $10 and $1,000 to fix your car’s air conditioner. If you just need to refill the refrigerant, and you can do the work yourself, you’ll only need to spend $10. However, if the parts need to be replaced, or you need a professional mechanic to do it, you can quickly spend $1,000 or more.
The Cockpit Filter Is Clogged
You probably wouldn’t correlate a cabin air filter with interior temperature, but it’s important to assess it. If the air gets hot, the filter can become clogged. A clogged filter will not allow the proper amount of airflow through the system. Regular filter replacement can prevent clogging. Most manufacturers recommend replacing every 15,000 to 30,000 miles.
Again, this repair is inexpensive and can be done in your home garage with almost no tools. Your new cockpit filter can cost $10 to $25. It only takes a few minutes for you to remove a clogged filter and install a new one. If you can’t do it yourself, it may take you an hour to give birth.
AC System Leakage
The system may just be low on refrigerant. This is the cheapest and easiest problem to fix. If you have the gauge and experience to charge the system, you can buy a can of Freon for $10 or less (even though we highly recommend a professional mechanic with the right tools to charge it to avoid problems).
However, if the refrigerant continues to be low, a leak may occur. As a closed system, the refrigerant should not leak more than one ounce per year. As hoses and clamps age, they can wear and break.
You can use a special UV dye to find the cause of the leak. This dye is pumped into the system and you can use the special glasses provided to find leaks.
Any leaks found must be repaired before the system can be charged. If the leak is on the o-ring, you’re going to need a small amount of money. On the other hand, some parts will cost $500 or more to repair. Either way, you don’t want to keep the leak going because it’s bad for the environment and could cause damage to the compressor.
Failure of Mechanical Parts
There are many other components to an air conditioning system. While the compressor is most likely to fail, you can’t ignore that one of the other compressors has failed. Condensers and evaporators can also fail. In addition to this, the blower motor may stall, resulting in insufficient flow in the cockpit.
In the event of any mechanical failure, professional tools need to be used to replace parts, and the system needs to be recharged. Depending on what type of car you drive and the parts you need to replace, you could easily end up spending $1,000 or more at the end of the day.
Air Conditioner Compressor Failure
There are many mechanical parts that can be damaged, but the most common is a malfunctioning air conditioner compressor. When the compressor is off, there will be no cold air in the vents. It also makes unusual sounds when the system is turned on.
Many people do not have the expertise to operate a compressor. It requires special tools to replace and requires a lot of labor. You can expect to pay around $100 to $250 for the compressor, while labor can add another $250 to $750 to the bill.
Tips to Maintain AC System
The best way to ensure your car’s air conditioning system continues to function properly is to perform regular maintenance. Many people think that the air conditioning system should not be checked frequently, but it needs to be included in your regular maintenance.
Here are some tips for keeping your AC system running at its best.
- Perform air conditioning repairs as soon as there are signs of failure. If you let the problem continue, you may allow other failures that are more expensive to fix.
- Use the air conditioner in winter. Even if it’s cold outside, you can turn on the air conditioner to remove moisture and humidity from the air.
- Run defrost mode weekly. You only need to drive about five minutes a week. This step removes moisture and helps reduce mold growth.
- Run the air conditioner weekly. It is best to keep it on the highest speed and coldest setting for at least 10 minutes. This simple step helps maintain gas pressure.
- Charge the system when needed. Check your air conditioner every two years and recharge if necessary to protect the compressor.
Thanks to your attention to detail, it’s easy to keep your air conditioner running at its best, ensuring you get the cool air you need when you need it most.
A working air conditioner is an easy way to ensure your vehicle is at its most comfortable, especially during the hot Australian summer. There are many reasons why your air conditioner needs to be repaired, ranging from relatively simple leaks of seals to more systematic failures, such as compressor failure. When your car’s air conditioner is not running, it must be repaired as soon as possible, failures are caused for different reasons, and repair costs are also different.