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Everything You Need to Know about Automotive Air Conditioning Systems

Everything You Need to Know about Automotive Air Conditioning Systems

One of the best things about summer is going for a long drive on a hot day with the air conditioner on full blast. An air-conditioned car is a thing you run for after a long day at the beach or when you are taking ice cream home from the grocery store. It is a refuge after a hike or a workout on the soccer field.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


You don’t really appreciate your automotive air conditioning system until something goes wrong with it. A broken car air conditioner is expensive to fix. Your car will be worth much less to you or anyone you may try to sell it to if the AC is broken. A bad air conditioner may not be life-threatening to your car but it will decrease its value. 


Car air conditioners have been around for a long time and they have seen many improvements over the years. At the same time, they have become much more complex over the years. It can be helpful to know a bit about their history, signs of trouble with your air conditioner, and how to make sure your car’s cooling system lasts a long time. 


A Brief History of Car Air Conditioning Systems

The first car to hit the showroom floor with air conditioning was the 1940 Packard. The feature was so popular that by the end of the 1960s, around half of the cars manufactured had factory-installed AC. People who were not able to afford a car that was equipped with AC could by a unit that fit under the dashboard. Today, 99% of cars have air conditioning, and many of them have systems where a driver and a passenger have separate AC controls. 


In the 1970s car air conditioners began to raise environmental concerns and the ozone layer began to show signs of depletion. Car manufacturer switch from R12 to the less harmful R134a refrigerant by 1996. Although everyone loves AC, a car will not get the gas mileage it should when the air conditioning is in use.


How an Air Conditioning System Works

Every AC system runs on refrigerant. Unlike so many other components of an automobile, there is little difference between makes and models in the way car air conditioners work. They are generally composed of five parts. 


Compressor: a compressor is used to circulate the refrigerant in the AC under pressure. It is a belt-driven pump that attaches to the engine. In a car air conditioner,  the refrigerant is compressed into a fluid, it then flows through a tube to the condenser. There is a high pressure and a low-pressure side to your air conditioner. They are used for discharge and suction respectively. As it is a pump, it will have an intake side and a discharge side. The intake, or suction side, pulls in the refrigerant from the outlet of the evaporator. 

Condenser:  the condenser takes heat out of the refrigerant and moves it to the expansion valve. Its primary job is to radiate heat and you will find it in front of the radiator in most cars. Condensers require good airflow. The airflow of the condenser is helped by the engine cooling fans.

Expansion valve: this tube returns the refrigerant to its original gaseous state before it moves to the receiver/drier.

Receiver/drier or accumulator: This component eliminates moisture from the refrigerant and carries it to the evaporator. Accumulators are used when a system has an orifice tube to meter refrigerants into the evaporator. It is attached to the evaporator’s outlet. It houses excess liquid refrigerant. If liquid refrigerant gets into a compressor, it can do serious damage.

Compressors are designed to compress gases. They will not work to compress a liquid. An accumulator isolates the compressor from the liquid refrigerant. 

Accumulators, remove debris and condensation from the system. You should replace the accumulator fairly often. 

Moisture can easily destroy your A/C system. Moisture combines with refrigerant and forms a corrosive acid. 


Evaporator: The evaporator takes heat from the air passing through its core and carries it to the refrigerant. This causes cold air to flow beyond the evaporator.

There are a few signs that your air conditioner needs to be repaired or replaced. If you notice any of these things, you should take your car in to be looked at right away.

No air conditioning

If you turn on your AC and nothing comes out or warm air comes out there is a really good chance that something is wrong with the HVAC system. by doing something as simple as changing out the refrigerant. The cooling fans may be damaged or the vents may simply be clogged with leaves and other kinds of debris. 

Water stains

After running your air conditioning for a while, you will see water drain out from the bottom of your car. This is perfectly normal and a good sign. However, if you don't see that water draining and instead are greeted by water stains inside your vehicle you could have a problem. Sometimes, the drain on the bottom of your car becomes damaged or clogged, so that water backs up. Water may get into the cabin of the car. The water is likely to pool under the driver’s seat.

AC leaks

A leak may cause your AC to fail. If you experience low pressure in your AC unit, this can be a sign of a leak, as can the actual coolant draining around your vehicle. Most leaks are small and hard to locate. You can add dye to an air conditioner. All you have to do is look for the colorful liquid around the car to find the leaks.

Bad Smells

If foul odors come out of your car when you turn on your air conditioner, it could mean that you have mold growing inside the unit. Mold has been linked to asthma and other lung problems.

Strange Noises 

If strange noises emit from your car whenever you turn on the AC, it is possible that there is a problem with the unit. Debris blocking your vents can cause the AC to make noise. A part of the AC could also have been knocked loose. Whenever your car is making noises, it is always a good idea to take it into a shop to find out what is wrong.

Water stains

Every driver fears coming out to their parking space in the morning to find a puddle under their car. However, if all you see is water coming from the air conditioner, you can relax; water is supposed to come out of the AC. It is when you don’t see the water that you may have a problem. If the water doesn’t drain properly,  it may leave water stains inside your vehicle. Your drain might be clogged and that will cause water to back up, flowing into the cabin of the car. You will normally find this water underneath the driver’s seat.

Making your Air Conditioner Last

To make your air conditioner last longer, you should clean your vents regularly. Be sure to clean the grills that are under the windshield. You should also open the hood and check the condenser for any debris. 

You should run your AC on a regular basis, even if it is cold outside. Run it once a week for at least 10 minutes and turn it all the way up. This will assist in maintaining the gas pressure and keeping the compressor working properly. 

You should also clean the air filter regularly. You will find the filter behind the car’s glove compartment. All you have to do is remove the filter and shake out the debris. It is a good idea to wash it with water. It should always be completely dry before you put it back into the car it. If the filter is excessively dirty or cracked, you will want to replace it.

Getting an air conditioner repaired can cost anywhere from $1000 to $4000.  You can get a new system installed for the same price.

You can take your vehicle to the dealership or to an independent auto body shop for repairs. An independent shop is less expensive than a dealership and most people consider it to be the best all-around deal.

You can find a good mechanic on the AAA website and you can always ask the shop for references. You can also check out Angie’s List for any reviews of the shop. 

If time is of the essence, you can go to the dealership. The mechanic there will be certified in your make and model of the vehicle and they should have all the necessary parts on hand. They will charge you by the job and not by the hour, so you will not feel surprised when you get your bill.


Unless, you have a new car that is still covered by the warranty, or your air conditioner was destroyed in an accident and will be covered by insurance, you may want to think about selling the car. The AC might cost more to fix than the car is actually worth. If you decide to sell the old clunker you will have a few options for getting rid of it.

Sell Your Car Online

You can always try to get rid of your old car on an auto sales website. These sites charge you by the month to list your car. They will often make you take out an ad for more than one month. If you sell your car on such a site, you will be in competition with many other sellers.

When you do get an interested buyer, you will have to take time out of your day to show them the car. They may not buy the car and you will have no recourse but to show it to someone else. It may end up taking quite a while to get the vehicle off your property.

Selling your car online is dangerous. Con artists and other criminals often find their marks on these sites.

Use Your Car as a Trade-In

When you buy your new car the dealership is likely to offer you a trade-in allowance for your old car.  It is always a good idea to get an offer or two on the car before taking a trade-in offer. Dealerships will offer you less than your car is worth in most cases. They will rely on you to want to get everything over with quickly.

They may also offer you a good price for your car. If they do this, make sure to read your final offer very carefully. If you do not understand a charge, ask about it. Dishonest car salespeople will tack the amount of money they have given you for trade-in onto the final cost of the car. It is a good idea not to tell the salesman that you have a trade-in until after you get a final offer for the new vehicle.

Sell Your Car to Cash Cars Buyers

If you have a junk or used car to get rid of Cash Cars Buyers can give you up to $500 for it. Our process is very easy. All you have to do is fill out our simple form and wait for our call.


We will ask for your name, number, and email address. We will also ask for the make, model, and VIN number of your car. We will call you back with an offer as soon as we get your form. If you accept our offer, we will make an appointment with you.


Our team member will arrive on time, pay you in cash, and tow the old ride away free of charge. Nothing could be more simple.

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