The beginning of summer is always an exciting time of year. There’s the promise of vacation, of longer days, of fun in the sun. No more coats, jackets, boots, or three layers of socks. You can see it now: lounging by a pool and getting a tan, or wading into the ocean on a deserted beach. There’s no question: summer’s got to be one of the best times of year.
That is, until you get into your car, switch on the air conditioning, and warm air comes out. Now, summer feels like it could quickly turn into the bane of your existence. Showing up sweaty and sticky to work isn’t exactly your idea of a good time. And that summer vacation isn’t going to be all that fun if it’s taken in a vehicle without air conditioning.
That said, try not to despair just yet. There are a couple of steps you can take to diagnose the problem before you ever take it into a mechanic. This will ensure that you don’t overpay for an unnecessary repair. Before you know it, you’ll be cruising in temperature controlled style.
Compressor or refrigerant?
There are two major causes of a failed A/C system: a defective compressor, or a lack of viable refrigerant. Let’s take a quick look at each.
Refrigerant is low
Turn on your A/C, then pop your hood. Using your car’s user manual, locate your A/C compressor. The compressor should be running when your A/C is on, the same way that your car engine runs after you start your car. If the compressor appears to be running, but your air conditioning system is putting out warm air, you may just have a refrigerant issue. In this case, you might simply need what’s called a “recharge.” These are relatively inexpensive, and can be performed in a short amount of time by a mechanic.
Compressor is broken
If your system is putting out warm air, the compressor may be running, but the clutch may be broken. The compressor clutch operates much like the clutch on an engine in a manual car: it allows your air conditioning system to engage properly. In this case, it can be hard to tell whether the issue is refrigerant or the clutch. A knowledgeable mechanic can spot the difference easily.
On the other hand, if no airflow is happening and your compressor isn’t running, you’ll likely need a new one. This is a more complicated and costly repair, and one that you’ll want to schedule out in advance.
Armed with the above knowledge, you can take your car into the shop confidently for repair. And if you’re particularly savvy, you can even try to recharge your car’s A/C yourself. Either way, you can look forward to a functioning A/C in your car for the hot months to come.