Don't Let Vehicle Air Conditioning Get You Hot

By: Jim Champion/The Auto Guy Email
By: Jim Champion/The Auto Guy Email

Now is not the time to experience air conditioning problems in your vehicle, especially while on a long trip.

Here's how the system works. The AC compressor is driven by a belt that is attached to the engine and its job is to push refrigerant through the system. The refrigerant circulates from the compressor in the engine compartment through hoses into the evaporator core inside of the vehicle. The evaporator core looks like a small radiator and it gets very cold as the refrigerant passes through. Heat is absorbed by the refrigerant as it passes through the evaporator and the refrigerant passes back out through a different hose under the hood to a condenser in front of your radiator. As air passes through the condenser, the heat in the refrigerant is released into the outside air. After the heat is released, the refrigerant heads back to the compressor and the whole cycle starts over again.

The most common reason that AC systems don’t work as well as they used to is because refrigerant leaks out over time. On newer systems, if the amount of refrigerant is off even one ounce, the system might not perform as well as it should.

Finding the leak can be tricky, but there are ways for your mechanic to find it. Electronic equipment is sometimes used to sniff out a leak. This type of tool has sensitive sensors that detect where a leak is located, but they are sometimes hard to get into tight spaces to get a good reading. Adding dye to the refrigerant is a common way to track a leak over time. If there is a small leak that is hard to spot, this type of dye is a great option. You can see the neon green dye with a special light, even in tight spaces. Once the leak is located, the part that has failed needs to be replaced. The shop cannot simply add refrigerant over and over, even if the customer requests it.

Trying to do it yourself can be risky. Buying a recharging kit at a discount store and putting it into you’re AC system might ruin the compressor, plus shops might not be willing to work on your AC system in the future if they detect that this type of product has been installed in the system.

There are a lot of parts that can fail over time, but the most common ones that we see are the compressor, pressure hoses, condenser and evaporator core. Repairs might cost you around $200 on the low end up to $2,000 on the high end.

There are lots of other reasons for your air conditioning system to act up, from electronic controls in the dash to other parts under the hood. So have a trained mechanic look into any problems that your air conditioner has and you will have the coolest summer ever.


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