Is My Car A/C Broken?
How to tell if your A/C is broken, or just needs recharging!
As Summer rolls around, you may find yourself having trouble beating the heat. Don’t sweat it just yet, you may not need to spend too much to get it FIXD. Let’s look at some of the ways to determine if your A/C needs repair, or just recharging.
The way car air conditioners work is similar to your home’s air conditioning. The air conditioner is a closed system that condenses and evaporates a refrigerant in order to cool down the air before it blows through your vents. What a “closed system” means, is that the inside of the A/C is sealed off from the outside atmosphere in order to function properly. So, if your A/C isn’t blowing cold air, it could be a variety of problems, some easy to repair and some more expensive than others.
Just need a recharge?
Just to be clear, “recharge” has nothing to do with a battery in the A/C system. This refers to adding more refrigerant to the system, meaning some was lost due to a leak somewhere in the closed system. Many people think that an old A/C just needs a quick recharge and is good to go, but that is unfortunately not true. However, there are some ways to identify a leak in the system so that you can fix them and then recharge the A/C. Here are some signs that may mean your A/C is in need of a repair.
Random Fact: “Refrigerant” is often called “Freon”, it has become synonymous with the word “refrigerant” similar to how the brand name “Kleenex” is synonymous with “tissues”.
- No air coming from the vents. If your A/C does not blow any air at all when the car is running, and the fan is turned on, there could be an issue. If you are getting no air at all from the vents, there is likely a problem with the blower motor, blower motor relay, blower motor resistor, A/C control head, or the wiring to these components. Often times, as blower motors age, the motors that turn them make more amperage and will blow the fuses that power them. If this concern is happening, you may want to try checking/replacing the blower motor fuse(s). If it starts working again, your blower motor may be on its way out and in need of replacement. If the fuse(s) blow again, the blower motor could still be the problem but there could also be a short in the electrical and should be checked out by a mechanic. Tech Tip: Some blower motors have two fuses that power them, so make sure you check/replace both if your vehicle is equipped with two blower motor fuses.
- Strange noises. Are you hearing strange noises coming from the vents when you turn the A/C on? Does it sound like the dash is vibrating and gets worse as the fan speeds up? You may have debris that has gotten sucked up into the blower motor. This is an easy fix and just requires basic hand tools to remove the blower motor and check for debris if the concern is still there you may need a blower motor. Check out this video as a how-to. Does it sound like a hissing when the A/C is first turned on almost like a gas leak? In this case, the system may just be low on refrigerant and in need of a charge. Check out this video on how to charge the A/C
- Foul smells. Does the air coming out of the vents have a nasty smell to it? If so, that could be a sign of mold growth within the system. There is a lot of condensation and evaporation going on in an A/C system, and sometimes that condensation can cause mold growth. That mold can build up over time and clog up the system leading to some malfunctions. If this is happening, I would advise not running the A/C at all since mold can cause respiratory issues, especially if you or a passenger is allergic. Some shops offer an A/C evaporator cleaning service that will neutralize and remove most of the mold as well as clean out the drain. When you have this service performed, I also recommend replacing the vehicle’s in-cabin filter, if your car is equipped with one.
- Water stains inside the car. Seeing water dripping from the bottom of your car on a hot day is normal since there is a drain beneath the car for the condensation coming from the A/C unit. However, if there are water stains on the inside of your car, that could be due to a clogged A/C drain.
- Warm air coming from the vents. Warm air coming from the vents could be the sign of a leak in the system. Usually, these leaks are small and hard to identify, but it is possible to do an at-home test using an A/C dye specifically designed for finding leaks. Also, check to see if the A/C compressor is turning on when the A/C is turned on. Check out this video to see how to check your A/C compressor and see if recharging the system is a viable option. If you’ve decided to recharge the system, check out this video for step by step instructions on charging the refrigerant system. However, if you don’t feel up to the task, a professional will certainly be able to help you out.
A leak in your A/C will continue to cost you money if you don’t have it FIXD, but if you are set on not spending the money and just want a quick and easy fix… you CAN add refrigerant with an A/C refill canister. It’s not too expensive, and you can do it in your garage with little experience. However, this is by no means a permanent fix to your problem, and it will come up again in a matter of time! Whatever you decide, do it quick so you don’t have to mess up that pretty hair driving to work with the windows down!