When your air conditioner is on the fritz it can be an extreme inconvenience, especially at the height of Summer. Even though you don't need an air conditioner to drive a car, it definitely makes things better when you're on a long road trip, stuck in traffic, or just trying to get the car started after it's been parked in the hot sun all afternoon. Unfortunately, when your air conditioning goes bad the cost of repairs can get pretty dramatic if the situation is bad enough. Depending on what's wrong with your air conditioning you could look at costs of anywhere between $150 and $275 just to get it inspected and topped up with freon. If you have any leaks or repairs needed to the system you could have pain anywhere between $150 to $750 to get those repairs done. For instance, a new compressor is going to cost you probably between $500 and $1,000 if yours breaks. If your entire air conditioner needs to be swapped out and replaced with a new unit you may have to pay anywhere between $1,500 and nearly $4,000.
Obviously, this is quite a range of potential repair costs and it depends heavily on the make, model, and year of your vehicle as much as it does on where you go to get the repairs done. As you know the mechanic nearest to your house may charge you much less than a mechanic on the far side of town does. Likewise, mechanic fees tend to vary greatly from city to city and state to state.
Also, worth noting that if you are interested in getting air conditioning installed in a car that doesn't even have air conditioning that's an option as well. Typically that's going to cost in the neighbourhood of $4,000 or so however it is probably only something you would do if you're trying to rebuild some kind of classic car with some extra features tossed in to make it a more comfortable ride.
How Much Does It Cost to Put Freon in a Car's AC?
The most common repair that needs to be done to a car's air conditioner is to have the freon or coolant refilled. The refrigerant in an air conditioning unit is what allows the air conditioner to actually blow cold air. It changes its state from a gas to a liquid inside of the compressor of your air conditioner. The coolant then moves into the condenser where cool air circulates through to remove the heat that has been built up in the coolant when it changes state from gas to a liquid the condenser then moves the coolant over to an expansion valve where it returns from its liquid state back into a gas. This causes the cooling reaction that allows the air that is pulled into the air conditioner to blow out cool into the cabin of your vehicle. Little more complex and all that, but that's the general idea.
There are a number of reasons why you could need more refrigerant in your air conditioner whether you have a leak somewhere, or there was moisture that developed in the line at some point and so on.
If you need to get the coolant level replaced in your car it will likely cost somewhere between $150 and $300 to get the job done. This is definitely a job that you would be better off getting a mechanic to do than trying to handle it on your own. That's not to say you can't do it on your own, but it's very dangerous to handle refrigerants. In addition, there are a number of considerations, but you need to have in mind. For instance, if your car is older than 1995 it may run on a cooling system does not exist anymore and is no longer repairable. As well, if your car literally runs on freon and not another kind of coolant it's not even legal to use that anymore. You need to get to the air conditioning system replaced entirely into something that runs on another kind of coolant.
Why is Car AC Repair so Expensive?
Your air conditioner is made up of a lot of different parts. The main parts are the compressor, the evaporator, and the condenser. However, within the whole system you're also dealing with a number of valves, tubes, and hoses. As everything circulates through the system you have a lot of potential for something to go wrong. And when it does go wrong figuring out where it happened and what happened can be extremely difficult to pin down. That's why a technician is going to have to essentially go through every part of your air conditioner with a fine-tooth comb to diagnose the problem if it's not immediately apparent what happened.
Worse, if the problem was a leak of some kind because one of the parts in your AC wore out, you can get it fixed but you need to realize that if it wore out just for general wear and tear then every single other part has experienced the same wear and tear as well. That means every other part of your air conditioner is just as likely to fail in the near future as well. That creates kind of a domino effect of things breaking it requiring repairs which becomes more and more expensive. And because air conditioning is not essential to the function of your car, this can be one of the most frustrating repairs of all.
Signs and Symptoms of a Bad Car Air Conditioning Unit
There are a number of signs that you can be on the lookout for her to let you know that you're having a serious problem with your air conditioning and you may need to get it replaced or repaired sometime soon. If you are experiencing any of these, they are likely related to issues with your refrigerant levels or your compressor or some other part of your AC.
Remember, even though air conditioning isn't needed to run a car, it is very beneficial. It can also be a safety benefit when the weather gets bad enough. The temperature in a hot car can rise 20 degrees in about 10 minutes. This puts children, pets, the elderly, and people with already existing health conditions in potential danger.
Lack of Cold Air
This one may seem too obvious to mention, but it's the clearest indication you'll have that there's a problem with your air conditioner. If you turn on your AC and the air blows warm or even hot, then you know you definitely have a problem with something in your air conditioner. The most likely problem here is the compressor which is essentially like the engine of your air conditioner. What if it fails, your air conditioner is simply not able to blow cold air any longer?
Your air conditioner shouldn't make much noise at all as it’s operating beyond the sound of air blowing. However, if you're experiencing some kind of failure in your air conditioner you might notice some unusual sounds, in particular grinding noises are squealing sounds that come from the AC unit when you turn it on. This generally indicates something has slipped loose or is misaligned somewhere in the system. It also means that it's likely to fail completely sometime soon as well. Whatever is making the grinding or squealing is a stress reaction and will not be able to handle operating in that way much longer before it breaks down.
Compressor Clutch Won't Engage
In order for the compressor in your air conditioner to start working, something called the compressor clutch needs to engage. When the air conditioner is off, the clutch disengages so that the air conditioner doesn't function anymore. This is necessary to maintain how the AC works. If the clutch wasn't there it would either be on all the time or off all the time. However, if the clutch begins to seize up then your compressor won't come on at all in the air conditioning won't work. In rare cases the clutch may seize when your AC is on and that means you're not able to turn it off anymore. Either one of these would be a great inconvenience.
It's possible that various parts of your AC may wear down over time or become damaged in a way that causes the refrigerant inside it to start leaking out. If there is no seal in the compressor anymore then the coolant comes out and you'll not be able to properly run your air conditioning any longer. This could be a definite danger as depending on the kind of coolant in your vehicle it's potentially very toxic. The coolant will likely pool underneath your vehicle when it's parked, but there are some instances where it may actually leak into the cabin of your vehicle as well.
Can I Repair My Own AC System?
It's possible that you can replace some parts of your air conditioning unit on your own if you know for a fact which ones have broken down on you. For instance, replacing the compressor in your AC is an intermediate level repair job to be certain, but definitely one you can handle on your own if you're comfortable working under the hood of your car. Because of the labour cost associated with replacing a compressor which as we mentioned it can get up to $1,000 in some cases there's definitely a temptation to want to handle this on your own.
Buying a new AC compressor On a site like AutoZone May cost you between $200 and $350. You need to make sure you have the exact right compressor for the make and model of your vehicle however and it can take a bit of work to track down, especially if you have an older model car.
If the condenser is the source of the problem, you may be able to get one of those on AutoZone for between $100 and $200. An expansion valve might cost you between $20 and $70. As you can see, the various parts that you are likely to need to repair an air conditioner on their own are quite a bit less than the cost of repairing it when you factor in labour. However, you need to consider why labour costs are so high to begin with.
The process of repairing your car air conditioner is not always an easy one. Figuring out how to do this job if you haven't done it before can be somewhat taxing. There's no standard layout for where air conditioning units are located in a vehicle so it can be hard to figure out where yours is if you don't already know. AC compressors are often hard to reach under the hood of a car and you might have to remove a number of other parts to get to them. For instance, the compressor is hidden behind the alternator in a Volkswagen Golf, but not in every other kind of vehicle.
Doing repairs also means you're going to need to flush the coolant out of the system as well, and as we said that can be dangerous if you're using a substance like freon which is toxic and also it illegal to use these days. So, there are a number of things to consider if you're interested in trying for this repair job on your own. For that reason, many drivers are willing to spend the extra money to take their vehicle to a professional to get the AC repaired when something goes wrong with it. However, if you are comfortable with handling the number of repairs on your own, particularly ones that are more intermediate or advanced, but this is definitely something you could try.
The Bottom Line
As we said, you don't need air conditioning to drive your car but there's a reason almost every modern vehicle has air conditioning installed in it. It's not just a luxury and a convenience, it really makes your drive more comfortable and could save a lot of discomfort as well as ensuring nobody has to overheat on those days when the mercury is really rising. The cost of getting your AC repaired can be high, but for many people it's worth it.