Common problems with air conditioning in cars

The air conditioning or A/C system is designed to alter the ambient temperature inside a vehicle in order to maintain a specific temperature. The first car to ever feature a true A/C system was a 1940s Packard, and ever since then, cars started offering more and more sophisticated A/C systems.

The first A/C systems only gave you the ability to choose cold or warm air, but modern-day A/C systems enable you to precisely dial up your preferred temperature. Moreover, they also enable you to do this in up to seven different zones which means that all seven passengers have the ability to choose the fan speed and the air temperature.

The A/C system comprises an air compressor, a condenser, a receiver/dryer, a thermal expansion valve, and an evaporator. The most common A/C issues are refrigerant leaks, a defective cooling fan, a defective condenser, issues with the air compressor, or an electrical issue of some sort.

To properly solve these, you can either try and repair them, or completely replace the malfunctioning part. Either way, you need you’re A/C working as it is incredibly difficult to drive a car experiencing issues with the A/C.

Refrigerant leaks

Refrigerant leaks are a really common issue with modern-day A/C systems, so much so that it happens a few times during a car’s lifetime. Refrigerant is used to cool down the air and thus cool down your cabin. Refrigerant leaks usually form during the winter while the system is not in use all that often.

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If the refrigerant does not flow constantly through the system, the seals tend to dry up and the hoses are prone to cracking. If you sense that your A/C is unable to cool down the cabin, it usually means that you have a refrigerant leak somewhere in the system. Therefore, you need to perform a leak test which will lead you directly to your culprit.

Defective cooling fan

Defective cooling fans are also a common issue with modern-day A/C systems. The fan stops functioning mostly due to debris accumulating on the unit itself. The issue can also be caused by a blown fuse, various electrical systems, or simply because the fan itself is damaged. This means that the fan will not be able to channel the air into the car’s cabin.

If you notice that you lost all cooling abilities, chances are that the fan is defective. A knowledgeable mechanic can easily test out the system and check the wires to see what is causing the issue. Either way, this is not a difficult fix, but you might have to replace the entire fan if necessary.

Defective air condenser

The condenser/radiator is also a vital component of the entire air conditioning system because it condenses the high-pressure refrigerant vapors and turns them into liquid. If the air condenser fails, you will not be able to fully utilize the car’s air conditioning system.

Issues such as these typically happen due to debris building up inside the system or due to short cycling. An experienced mechanic should be able to identify the issue and solve it in no time. Either way, be sure to take your car to a workshop and let the mechanic run a thorough A/C system test as issues such as these are often accompanied by leaks.

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Air compressor issues

The compressor or the compressor clutch may malfunction which leads to severe are complete loss of cooling. Most air compressor/air compressor clutch issues can be identified because they are usually accompanied by high-pitched noises. An easy way to tell is to just turn on the A/C and listen for the compressor.

Issues such as these are typically caused by contaminated oil which will have to be flushed and completely replaced. Also, be sure to run a thorough A/C diagnostic test as air compressor issues are also accompanied by other issues.

Electrical issues

A car’s air conditioning system is complex, but not overly so. However, a bunch of electronic wizardries are being used to control and manage the A/C system and these are also connected to the car’s fuse box. Many electrical issues could plague the A/C system such as loose connections, blown fuses, broken sensors, or even corrosion on the wires.

Either way, take your car to someone with decent experience and they should be able to identify the issue in no time.

FAQ Section

 Do you need an A/C system in a car?

Yes, you do. An A/C system is one of those systems most of us take for granted when we have it, but miss dearly when it is gone. Most people always keep the A/C system running which means it constantly flows refrigerant and cools down/heats the cabin. You may be able to live without an A/C system during spring or autumn, but winter and summer periods are especially rough.

It makes no sense to buy a car without an A/C anymore, both because it ruins your overall comfort levels and because it is extremely difficult to later sell the car. Most cars come with basic air conditions single-zone units, but upgrading to multi-zone digital units is always a good idea, both for resale value and your overall comfort.

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Do you need multi-zone A/C?

It’s redundant to argue the necessity of A/C in general, but it does make more sense to argue the necessity of multi-zone A/C, especially in compact cars. Multi-zone A/C enables most/all passengers to control the air temperature/fan speed specifically for their seats.

The reality is that this is not exactly necessary as you are able to cool down/heat the entire cabin with only the front vents. However, multi-zone A/C helps the car’s resale value, it usually looks better, and increases your overall comfort levels.

What is the difference between manual air-con and automatic air-con?

An automatic air conditioning system is able to independently monitor and maintain a car’s ambient temperature without doing anything. A manual A/C  requires you to control everything manually which means that it can’t monitor nor maintain a specific temperature.

You can just leave the automatic A/C on auto, and the unit will do the rest which feels a lot more comfortable as opposed to always pushing buttons with a manual unit.

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Marko Mikulic

Why do you love writing about cars? I love writing about cars as cars are a huge personal interest of mine. I was raised in a car enthusiast community and ever since I was young, I always wanted to do car-related work.

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