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Car Air Conditioning Problems - Diagnosis and Repair

Car-Air-Conditioning-Problems-Diagnosis-and-Repair

When your car’s air conditioning stops working, it can be exceptionally frustrating. Often there are signs that there's an issue with the A/C system and that a repair might be necessary. Problems with the air conditioning unit often develop over time, which is why it's important to schedule regular visits that include an A/C performance check.

Some issues, when left unchecked, can cause damage in other areas. So finding out about them and fixing them early can mean a less expensive repair. If it’s already too late, and your car is in need of a pricey repair, check to see what your car is worth before writing that big check.


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Cars today have warning lights on the dashboard to alert you to issues with anything from your tire pressure to your engine. But, most cars don't have any specific warning for the air conditioning. Your car may give you small signs that there's a problem - a foul smell when you turn on the air conditioning or the car blowing warm air instead of cool. In most cases, whatever symptoms you're seeing in your A/C can be caused by more than one problem.

A/C Issues: Common Problems and Causes

If you're not especially knowledgeable about cars, you may not know what parts are incorporated in your A/C system. This can make diagnosing issues fairly difficult, nigh on impossible without expert help. A lot of car owners get nervous that they're paying too much for repairs simply because they don't really understand the system.

Here we'll break down some of the common symptoms. Most of these problems can be caused by a number of small and larger issues and, in some cases, it may be more than one thing. That's why it's important to check the entire system anytime there's a problem. You may get lucky and only need to replace a faulty hose. But you might replace that hose and find that the problem persists if you haven't run a complete check to find any other issues.

Common car air conditioning problems and causes:

Common car air conditioning problems and causes
  • The air isn't blowing out as strong as before. Sometimes your air is blowing out and it's cool, but it's simply not blowing out as strong as it did. You might crank up the A/C to the highest setting and still only feel as if you have it on low or medium. This can be caused by a few issues. It may be something as simple as a loose hose or seal that needs to be replaced. It might be something a bit more invasive, like a faulty fan. This can also be caused by a buildup of mildew in the system.

  • The A/C isn't consistent. Sometimes you can have a problem that comes and goes. These can be the most frustrating because a mechanic will often tell you there's no problem. The mechanic needs to experience the issue when he/she checks the car. They need to recreate the issue in order to diagnose and fix it. If your A/C sometimes runs fine and then sometimes won't, there might be a few different causes. This might be something as simple as a blown fuse or a leak in one of the seals. It might be something more serious, like an issue with your compressor or the compressor clutch. There may also be a clog somewhere in the system.

  • The A/C is blowing warm air. This might seem to happen all at once or it may happen gradually. The air flow is as strong but the air isn't as cool. This is often caused by a leak, but it can also be caused by clogs or damaged parts, such as the condenser, blower, or compressor. A leak by itself is often easy to fix and not very expensive. If left un-repaired for a long time, though, it can compromise the system and cause further damage.

  • Foul Smell. If your air conditioner is emitting a bad smell, it often means that there's mold or mildew built up within the system. It may also mean that the filter needs to be changed.

Can I Fix This Myself?

There are some things that a novice can fix themselves, though it's not recommended that you try to repair the car A/C without knowledge of car repair. If you don't have any idea what the issue is, it's best to get a competent mechanic to diagnose and repair the issue.

That being said, there are some issues that you can competently repair and maintain yourself. For example, recharging your car's A/C can be accomplished easily and with minimal cost. You should still make sure that the rest of the system is running optimally, though. Sometimes your car just needs a recharge, but sometimes it's losing refrigerant because there's a leak which should be repaired. If you're exceptionally handy, you might also be able to check and change a blown fuse or change the air filter for the cabin.

How Much Will Repairs Cost?

How Much Will Repairs CostThe cost of repairs will depend largely on the issue. One of the most common issues with the A/C is a leak. Luckily, it's also one of the cheapest things to repair - costing anywhere from $50 - $200. You might also take your car in to have the air conditioning recharged, which shouldn't be very expensive either. Depending on the garage, it might be anywhere from $50 to $150.

When you take your car in, you're paying for parts and labor. The cost will depend on the garage and the length of time the repair takes. Larger problems, such as a compressor replacement, might cost as much as $1,000. The costs are also dependent on the type of car. Replacing the entire system can be pricey - anywhere from $1,500 - $4,000, depending on the make and model. If you're looking at extensive repairs, make sure you comparison shop and check referrals to ensure you have the best mechanic and price.

Car A/C Maintenance and Upkeep

The best way to keep your A/C system healthy is by having the whole system checked when you have your oil changed and car maintenance done. Some issues will cause further damage if they're not taken care of quickly. That's not to say that the compressor can't go or you won't need to ever repair your A/C. But the better maintained you keep it, the better your chances to avoid costly repairs.

Just because your A/C breaks doesn’t mean you have to fix it. Big ticket repairs may mean it’s time to sell your car and invest in one with a working air conditioning system. Click the button below to get a no-obligation, guaranteed offer from CarBrain. We’re happy to buy cars with bad A/Cs.

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