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A broken air conditioning compressor can make for a very hot, unpleasant vehicle ride. But is that a permanent problem, or easily fixable? More importantly, how much would it cost to fix this particular problem in your car? 

Your AC compressor is what pumps refrigerant through your car’s AC system, allowing it to blow chilled air. In the winter, refrigeration may not be a concern. However in the summer, or if you live in a hotter or more humid climate, AC can feel like a non-negotiable requirement for a functioning vehicle. 

Sometimes a lack of cold air can simply be caused by low refrigerant levels. This is an easy problem with an easy solution — add more coolant. But if the actual AC compressor is broken, no amount of coolant will fix the problem, and you may be facing much more costly repair bills. If that’s the case, CarBrain can help. 

Signs Your Air Compressor Is Broken

how to tell if car ac compressor is bad

There are several warning signs that can indicate that your car’s AC compressor is broken. If you’re experiencing either of the following, it’s time to take a closer look:

  • Your AC no longer blows cold air. This is the most obvious symptom, and often the first thing people notice when the AC compressor blows. Warm air could be caused by low refrigeration, which is an easy fix. However, given that AC systems are supposed to be a closed loop, low freon may be the early symptom of a bigger, recurring problem. If your car is losing freon repeatedly, that indicates that there’s a leak somewhere in the AC system. 

  • You hear odd sounds coming from under the hood when your AC is on. Sometimes, it can be a squeaky sound, a clunking sound, a gurgling sound or a rattling sound. All of these could be minor problems — perhaps a small part has been misplaced, a tube has been blocked, or a slipped belt. Some A/C problems are minor repairs (although a mechanic should still take care of the problem for you — they’re delicate machines). However, if the sound is coming from the compressor, you have a more costly problem. 

If you hear odd noises and notice a decrease in cold air, that points to a problem with the AC system. However, to try to rule out or pinpoint specific causes, it’s a good idea to pop open the hood and look for the following signs: 

  • The AC compressor is visibly corroded. Leaks in freon, oil and other sources of moisture will cause corrosion with time, and this can be a major problem for the integrity of the compressor. The location of your compressor depends on your vehicle’s engine layout, and your owner’s manual or a YouTube video may help you identify the right part. It should be visible without removing any other parts. 

  • The compressor clutch is not engaging. Turn your car on, switch the AC controls to max, then look under the hood and locate the AC compressor. The pulley and clutch at one end of the compressor should both be spinning. If the pulley is spinning but the clutch is not, then the compressor clutch is not engaging at all. This is a bad sign. 

If you’ve identified that the symptoms point to a problem with the AC compressor, it’s definitely time to get your car in to a mechanic. Your mechanic can do a more thorough job of pinpointing exactly what the problem is.

Options For Fixing A Car’s Broken AC Compressor

cost of replacing ac compressor in car

In general, trying to fix a broken AC compressor is not a good idea. This is a delicate part of your car, and dismantling it to repair pieces inside can lead to further problems down the road. 

The combined risk of further damaging the compressor along with the extensive labor required to try to delicately take it apart, locate and fix the problem, and then reassemble it can add up to a costly fix, with no guarantee of success, and a high probability of breaking again down the road. 

As a result, most mechanics will steer you towards replacing the part entirely. Unfortunately, that’s not a particularly cheap solution either. 

Cost Of Replacing Your Car’s AC Compressor

The cost of replacing a vehicle AC compressor can add up quickly. To start, the part itself will run you between $300 and $800, depending on your car’s make and model and the quality of the part sourced. 

Next comes the cost of labor — most charges charge anywhere between $100 and $300 per labor hour required to fix your vehicle. 

Finally, part of replacing the compressor includes flushing and refilling the AC system, which means a few additional materials totaling about $200 to $300. 

In total, you are looking at anywhere from $700 to close to $2,000 to replace the AC compressor depending on what mechanic you go to, what quality of part they use and how much they charge for their labor. 

You can try to shop around, but you risk running into unscrupulous businesses that use sub-par parts or do an inadequate job of installing, flushing and making sure that the job was completed correctly. 

Is It Worth Fixing Your Car’s AC Compressor?

sell car with bad ac compressor

Is it worthwhile to fix and replace the AC compressor to the tune of over $1,000? That depends on how much you value having AC in your vehicle, and what exactly is wrong with the compressor. For some individuals, anything that moves faster than they do and gets them from A to B is adequate, and little problems like a non-functioning AC system are meaningless.

For other individuals, however, a car that’s uncomfortable to drive in hot weather is an immediate waste of time to keep. Additionally, if the clutch or pulley is part of the problem, then the serpentine belt is at risk. 

If the serpentine belt breaks or falls loose, you’re stranded — your car can’t go anywhere. If the clutch or pulley is involved, then not replacing the AC compressor is a major risk. In that case you have to decide if you’re willing to keep driving a vehicle that doesn’t cool down and which could stop running at any point on the road. 

Sometimes, selling your vehicle makes more sense than trying to pour more money into it. If that’s the situation you’re in, CarBrain can help. We buy cars in any condition, with any problem. You can get an offer in 90 seconds, and our offers are guaranteed for seven days with free towing included.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Should I fix or sell my car if the AC compressor breaks?

The best option for you depends on your budget and the value of the vehicle. If your car is relatively now, maybe 0 to 5 years old, it probably makes sense to make the repairs and maintain its value. However, if it’s a little older — say, between 7 and 15 years old — and this is the second or third time you’ve had a costly problem with your vehicle, then continuing to pour more money into a costly problem may not make sense. In that case, it makes more sense to sell the car.

Is there a cheaper way to fix my car’s AC compressor?

If the problem is as simple as a leak somewhere in the system, you can theoretically patch the problem with a coolant flush and refill, and maybe a patch on the relevant tube if it can be located. This will last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, and will cost you approximately $200-$300 to complete each time. However, the problem will reoccur until you replace the part entirely.

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