Is your air conditioner working? Believe it or not, your vehicle’s air conditioning unit is one of the most durable systems in your car. Mechanically produced cold air has made it easier to commute and to travel around with our family and friends during the warm spring days and hot summer months. In climates where the temperatures are always scorching, the AC is a godsend.
We often take the air conditioning in our cars for granted. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the ac compressor goes bad and you’re stuck rolling down the windows in the middle of July when you start to be aware of what’s going on under the hood. When the air conditioning stops working due to a bad ac compressor it can make for an unpleasant experience. However, knowing the signs of a bad ac compressor can help you spot the symptoms so that you don’t end up being stuck in a hot car this summer.
The air conditioning system is made up of three main parts. It is equipped with a compressor, condenser, and evaporator. In order for the system to run smoothly each part needs to be functioning properly.
What Is The AC Compressor and How Exactly Does It Work?
While the air conditioning is made up of several components the AC compressor is considered the heart of the entire system. Yes, the compressor is the power unit that pressurizes the refrigerant pumping it into the condenser and transforming it from gas to a liquid. The AC compressor is operated by an engine accessory belt. When this belt comes worn or starts to slip the compressor isn’t able to operate properly which decreases the performance of the AC.
The average AC compressor is a twelve piston six-bore swansh plate unit that's mounted off the axis to the driveshaft. The pistons are oscillated by the swansh plate.
The AC compressor also works in combination with the engine. The engine propels the AC compressor by aiding in compressing the refrigerant so that it can absorb the heated air within the cabin of the vehicle. The accumulator filters moisture from the refrigerant and transfers it to the evaporator in the vehicle which is usually located right under the dash. The refrigerant cools the air that passes by the evaporator. In turn, the cooler and drier air is sent right out the vents into the interior of the vehicle.
What many people don’t know is that the ac compressor does more than just cool off your vehicle on those humid summer days. It regulates the temperature in your vehicle, dehumidifies the air, and also helps reduce the fogging on the windows.
Top Signs of A Bad AC Compressor
When the air conditioner unit in your car stops working the problem typically lies in the AC compressor. Here the top symptoms of a bad ac compressor.
Bad Air Compressor Blows Warm Air
Perhaps one of the first signs of a failing ac compressor is that the air conditioner doesn’t blow out ice cold air like it used to. If you have the temperature turned all the way down and the air coming out of the vents isn’t cooling off the interior of the car, don't worry it's not your imagination. This is a sign that there is a problem with your vehicle’s air conditioning system. There could be a refrigerant leak or you can have a bad ac compressor that’s failing to apply pressure to the refrigerant.
Compressor Clutch Problems
When you have a problem with the clutch in your car’s ac compressor the air conditioning system won’t be able to adequately cool off the cabin. The clutch is connected to the engine through a belt and pulley system. The clutch allows the ac compressor to be switched off when the air conditioner is not in use which ultimately decreases wear on the ac compressor and helps improve fuel economy.
If the belt or pulley system connected to the compressor is damaged it reduces the performance of the air conditioner. If the clutch fails to engage it may be due to a blown fuse or an open wire. If there isn’t sufficient charge the clutch in the ac compressor will overheat. In some modern vehicles, the clutch is regulated by the car’s computer so you may need to have the clutch electronically reset. In some instances, the clutch can be simply repaired but most technicians will recommend that you replace the entire ac compressor.
Persistent Noises From Under The Hood
Do you keep hearing noises under the hood whenever you turn the A/C on in your car? Whenever your car starts making weird noises it's never a good sign. The AC compressor has a very big job. It’s responsible for continuously circulating and compressing air conditioning refrigerants.
The ac compressor is comprised of components that are subject to wear such as the bearings. The bearings are sealed to the ac compressor however when they start to wear they become damaged and can even seize up causing a messy lubricant leak. When this happens you’ll hear a high-pitched squeal or the harsh sound of metal on metal grinding coming from under the hood or your front dashboard.
When the bearing fails the drive belt won’t be able to spin the ac compressor and this can produce a distinct squeaking sound. Once you start hearing noises from under the hood you should have your car inspected by a professional.
Find Out If You Have Bad AC Compressor
A visual inspection is a great way to diagnose a faulty AC compressor. You don’t have to be a mechanic to notice the signs of a bad ac compressor. Here are a few additional ways you can tell if you have a problem with the compressor in your car’s air conditioning system:
First, you should try turning on the AC in your car and see if the temperature fluctuates while you are running the vehicle. If the air isn’t blowing as cold but you’re still getting some relief then you may simply need to recharge the air conditioning system.
Pop the hood and locate the ac compressor. The ac compressor is located in the front of the engine near the belt-driven accessories. Once you spot the compressor you look for visual signs of physical damage. Rust, oil leaks, and paint damage are all signs that the ac compressor is worn. The ac compressor relies on oil to properly lubricate all of its components. A lack of oil can cause the component to overheat and leads to premature failure. In addition, the increased friction will lead to erratic temperatures.
Check the pulley belt assembly which is located right beside the AC compressor. Is the belt cracked or split? Splitting belts will damage the ac compressor and you’ll eventually need to replace the unit.
You should also inspect the ac compressor clutch which can be found right at the front of the ac compressor. You’ll need to run the engine to see if the clutch is properly rotating. There should be minimal resistance from the clutch as it turns. A bad clutch means a bad ac compressor.
Turn the AC on while the engine is running to see if the AC clutch is engaging. Set the A/C to the highest setting. Listen for distinct noises. A bad ac compressor will fail to engage leading to skipping and screeching noises created by the friction of the belt.
Search for signs of a refrigerant leak. The air conditioning system is sealed so there shouldn’t be any leaks in the system. You can use an electronic AC refrigerant leak detector which can be purchased at your local auto parts store. This device can detect the smallest leaks by using acoustic signals. You can also use a special UV light that detects traces of refrigerant leaks.
The Average Cost of A Bad AC Compressor Repair or Replacement
Once you’ve determined that your vehicle does indeed have a bad AC compressor you’ll need to find out what your options are when it comes to repairing it or replacing the unit with a new one. Depending on the condition of the AC compressor you may be able to have the unit rebuilt. If there are just a couple of malfunctioning parts a technician may be able to replace those components. For instance, if your car has a worn clutch on the ac compressor, that is a simple repair job. The average cost of a bad ac compressor clutch is about $500-$600 depending on the make and model of the vehicle.
However, in most cases, the technician will recommend that you replace the entire ac compressor unit. You can expect to pay up to $889 for an ac compressor replacement. Deciding whether to have a bad ac compressor repaired or replaced can be a daunting task. If you’re working with a small budget you might be considering having the ac compressor in your car repaired. Yet, purchasing a new ac compressor ensures that your car’s air conditioning system is always in good condition. AC compressor replacement is a cost-effective solution.
Bad AC Compressor – Common Questions
As previously discussed the AC compressor is driven by the engine through the pulley belt. If the pulley belt is damaged the engine can stall if the ac compressor gets stuck. In rare situations, the serpentine belt might break. However, a bad ac compressor doesn’t cause permanent damage to the engine.
Q: Can I drive with a bad ac compressor?
It’s perfectly safe to drive a car with a faulty air compressor although it may be an uncomfortable experience. When the ac compressor fails you won’t have any cold air coming through the vents when you turn the AC on in your car. This doesn’t affect your vehicle’s overall mechanical performance.
Q: What causes the ac compressor to stop working?
Oftentimes the ac compressor stops working when there isn't enough refrigerant in your car’s air conditioning system. Refilling the refrigerant may help your ac work better but depending on how worn the component you’ll need to replace it.
Dirt, dust, grime, and other harmful particles tend to build in the Ac compressor from being in the engine bay. After a while, the rotating parts of the ac compressor become less efficient and start to wear prematurely.
Q: Can a bad relay cause the ac compressor to stop working?
A bad air conditioning relay can affect the functioning of the ac compressor. There are pressure sensors in your vehicle’s A/C that prevent the relay from successfully energizing when the refrigerant is low. There could also be a fault in your vehicle’s computer system which prevents the engine control module from grounding the air conditioner relay.
Q: How to avoid ac compressor failure?
The best way to prevent ac compressor failure is by properly maintaining your vehicle’s air conditioning system. Regularly check for refrigerant leaks and always make sure there is enough freon in your vehicle if you frequently turn on the A/C. You should have your air conditioning system thoroughly inspected at least once a year by a skilled technician.
Q: Can an ac compressor burn out?
If you get a burning odor from your ac whenever you turn it on chances are the wires connected to the ac compressor are burnt or overheated. Damaged or corroded wiring will cause the ac compressor to stop working.
If you’re dealing with expensive air conditioning repairs you might be hesitant to invest the money into your vehicle if you have an old and junky car. Spending $800 to replace a bad ac compressor may be a poor financial decision if your car is already on its last leg. Here at Cash Car Buyers, we take problem cars off of your hands. We purchase all kinds of vehicles in any condition. Contact us today to find out exactly how much money we can offer you for your old car.