Air-Conditioning Compressor: What You Need to Know

img 1252353393 1462037349033 jpg photo by Evan Sears

Want cold air in the summer or clear windows in the winter? Then you’ll want a functioning air-conditioning compressor. It is the power unit of the air-conditioning system that puts the refrigerant under high pressure before it pumps it into the condenser, where it changes from a gas to a liquid.
Feeling warm? Don’t make assumptions. Not all air-conditioning problems are because the system is low on refrigerant. Some are caused by issues with system parts, such as the compressor.

How do I know it’s time to replace my air-conditioning compressor?
An air-conditioning compressor, usually driven by a serpentine accessory belt, sometimes squeals or squeaks before it breaks, but it also can stop working without any audible warning signs. In addition, a compressor can leak refrigerant, which will mean less cool air or none at all. A qualified mechanic is the best source for diagnosing if a compressor isn’t working as air-conditioning problems also can be caused by refrigerant leaks elsewhere in the system, by a slipping accessory belt or by corrosion in the air-conditioning evaporator. If there is a leak, adding refrigerant won’t solve the problem.

How often should I expect to replace my air-conditioning compressor?
Air-conditioning compressors often last the life of a vehicle, but they can fail because bearings wear out, seals leak and long-term corrosion takes its toll, plus other factors. If a compressor does need to be replaced, it should be a one-and-done fix, not something that occurs every 50,000 miles. Frequent compressor failure is probably caused by a misaligned accessory drive belt, a faulty pulley or another issue creating undue stress.

Do I have to replace my air-conditioning compressor?
If you’re lucky, the air-conditioning compressor should last the life of your car. However, if it shows any of the symptoms detailed above you may need to replace it. Air-conditioning systems are sealed circuits, and any loss of cooling ability calls for an inspection of the entire system.

How much should I pay?
The cost of repairs can depend on where you are as much as it does on what you need fixed. To get an estimate for your repair, go to our estimator, plug in your car’s year, make and model information, add your ZIP code, and choose the repair you need. We’ll give you a range for what your repairs should cost in your area.

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