Automotive Advisers: Stay cool on the road with a seasonal A/C system check
Riding around with the windows down here in Shawnee can be nice, but not so much when hot temperatures rise—as they tend to do this time of year.
Regardless of how long you’re in your car, a working A/C system is critical to you and your passengers’ comfort during the long, hot summer. Although we’ve had a long cool, even cold spring, now the weather in Shawnee is reaching the tipping point to turn on the A/C. Now’s a great time to make sure your system is working before Mother Nature really dials up the thermostat.
If your system is blowing cold, perfect.
However, if it’s blowing lukewarm air and isn’t cooling down—or if there’s no air circulation at all—that means it’s time to head to your local repair shop for an inspection.
Fortunately, the beauty of your car’s A/C system (besides the fact that it keeps you from melting) is that it’s easy to know when it isn’t working.
But figuring out what’s causing the problem is more difficult. There are, of course, some usual suspects that your trusted technician is likely to investigate:
- Clogged condenser
- Unresponsive pressure switches
- Kaput compressor
- Loose, cracked or broken drive belt
- Malfunctioning control knobs
- General wear and tear of hoses, lines or seals
- Issues with expansion valves, evaporators and blend doors
- Wrong refrigerant levels, refrigerant leaks and cross-contamination of refrigerants
All told, your A/C system is more involved than you might think.
For example, not only does it chill the air in your car, the system reduces moisture content and humidity, which also contributes to your car’s cool factor during the hotter/ muggier months.
The cooling process starts in the compressor with a refrigerant like Freon.
The compressor’s job is to pressurize the refrigerant, which pushes it through a condenser, where it cools, liquifies and then moves through a receiver dryer.
While it’s in the dryer, a filter absorbs small amounts of moisture that could potentially cause contamination. From there, the liquefied refrigerant passes through an expansion valve, where it expands and flows into an evaporator, at which point it boils and absorbs heat. This process chills the walls of the evaporator, and the vehicle’s blower motor pushes the cool air from the evaporator through your dashboard vents. The refrigerant then returns to the compressor for another cycle, leaving you and your passengers feeling refreshed and comfortable.
If your vehicle is blowing warm air when you turn on the A/C, it’s likely there’s a small leak in the system and more refrigerant is needed.
In these cases, your technician will likely recommend a “recharge” (or refill). While there are DIY kits, it can be easy to overcharge the system—and if you do happen to overcharge the system, the cost to repair the damage will be a lot more than what you would have invested by taking it to your repair shop in the first place.
Also, for some vehicles 2015 and newer, the EPA is requiring the use of a new refrigerant, R1234yf, which is very expensive due to limited quantities and suppliers. So, be prepared for some sticker shock.
Meanwhile, vehicles 2013 and older will continue the use of R-134a refrigerants like Freon.
Other times, it may be necessary to do what’s called an “evac and recharge” to ferret out the source of a leak. This means the technician will remove the remaining refrigerant, add dye, recharge the system and then add new refrigerant.
If the technician can identify the leak source, then you will receive an estimate for what it will take to repair the A/C. Sometimes the leak is as small as a pinhole and may require further inspection using ultraviolet light when the system begins blowing warm again.
If the system is not blowing air at all, then the technician will need to test and diagnois what part is failing. It could be the blend door, control knobs, pressure switches, etc.
There will be a fee for the technician to determine the root cause of the issue.
Meanwhile, rolling down the windows is a short-term fix—but here in Shawnee, that short-term fix may only last a few minutes as sweat starts building and your cool starts slipping away.
With the guarantee that the long, hot summer will come around again next year and the year after that, it’s worth taking your vehicle to your trusted repair shop for a long-term solution that allows you to keep you and your ride cool.
-Scott and Tammie Green are the owners of Christian Brothers Automotive, 22240 Midland Drive