Twenty years ago, having an air conditioning system in your car was considered a luxury. Nowadays, it is a basic feature that we often take for granted.
You want the air conditioner to work efficiently and effectively every time you use it. If any part of the air conditioning system fails, the air conditioner will not work well, if at all.
An essential part of this process to cool and dry the air is the air conditioning condenser. With a bad air conditioning condenser, you won’t be very happy in the middle of summer. Here’s how this part works and what signs you should look for to diagnose a bad air conditioning condenser.
How does an air conditioning condenser work?
Air conditioners in cars and homes, operate based on heat exchange and pressure gradients. In the automobile, a substance called refrigerant is converted from liquid to gas and vice versa in an almost closed system of which the air conditioning condenser is a very important part.
Pressure gradients are required for this to work properly, so any leaks in the system will eventually cause a failure.
The air conditioning compressor, which is driven by the car’s crankshaft, compresses the gaseous refrigerant. This is the point in the cycle where the A/C system switches from low pressure to high pressure.
This high-pressure refrigerant then flows into the air conditioning condenser, which is like a small radiator at the front of the car where heat is extracted from the refrigerant transferring it to the outside air that passes through it. This condenses the gas back into a liquid. So, the air conditioning condenser is the key to removing heat from the system.
This refrigerant liquid passes to the receiver-drier/dryer where excess moisture and any residue of the liquid is removed.
The refrigerant then moves to the expansion valve or orifice tube, which are small openings to allow only a little liquid to pass through at a time. This relieves the pressure on the substance, returning us to the low-pressure side of the system.
The next stop for this very cool, low-pressure fluid is the evaporator, which is located under the passenger’s chest in most cases. The refrigerant passes through the evaporator and an air conditioning fan moves the cabin air. The coolant absorbs heat (as a result of the liquid boiling and turning into a gas) from the air, which cools the air before it passes through the dashboard into the cabin.
The heated gaseous refrigerant returns to the A/C compressor to repeat this process.
See also: 8 Reasons Why Your A/C Compressor’s Clutch Won’t Engage
5 Defective air conditioning condenser
While some of these problems indicate a problem with something in the A/C system, those related to heat buildup generally point to the A/C condenser, since its primary job is to remove heat from the system.
#1 – Hot air from air winds
This is probably the first thing you will notice if your air conditioning condenser is failing. When you expect cold air and receive a blast of warm air, you should inspect the air conditioning condenser for blockages or defects that are causing airflow restrictions.
If the flow of gas and liquid here is interrupted, the entire system cannot operate at its maximum efficiency.
Related: 8 Common Reasons Why Air Conditioners Are Not Getting Cold Air
#2 – Smell
When the vehicle cannot release heat, the air conditioning system will increase, then the temperature of all parts will increase until the components start to burn and emit a smell when the air conditioner is on.
This is a serious problem and you will probably have to replace several parts of the system as they may be so melted that they no longer work.
#3 – Overheating and inactivity
For the same reasons, a vehicle that does not circulate refrigerant properly through the air conditioning condenser will not remove heat well, causing it to build up in the system.
Normally, the air conditioning condenser is cooled by the air flow it receives when the vehicle moves again, but if a faulty condenser absorbs too much heat, this normal behavior is not enough.
#4 – Visible coupling leaks
Because the A/C condenser contains high-pressure refrigerant, it is more prone to leaks if there are vulnerabilities in the part.
Leaks due to faulty seals are part of normal condenser aging, but the entire part must be replaced before all of the refrigerant leaks from the system.
#5 – Dashboard warning lights
Some newer vehicles are equipped with a warning system that detects a problem with the air conditioning system and emits a warning light on the dashboard. Check your owner’s manual to see if this is something you should be aware of.
Causes of a bad air conditioning condenser
The main cause of air conditioning condenser failure is simple wear of the section’s joints and tubes due to aging. Unfortunately, since only the seals cannot be replaced, the entire condenser must be replaced.
Another cause of a bad condenser is debris inside that blocks the flow of refrigerant or travels through the refrigerant and causes damage when it comes into contact with air conditioning system components.
This debris often comes from a broken air conditioning compressor that releases metal fragments into the system. If this is the problem, the A/C compressor and A/C condenser will need to be replaced.
If moisture enters the system through leaks at the joints, ice crystals can form and cause blockages and mechanical damage similar to that caused to metal parts.
Air Conditioning Condenser Replacement Cost
The cost to replace an air conditioning condenser varies depending on the type of vehicle and whether other parts of the air conditioning system also need to be repaired or replaced. On most vehicles, it should cost between $400 and $900 to replace the condenser, including about $200 to $400 for labor and the rest for parts.
It is not recommended that a home mechanic attempt to replace the air conditioning condenser as it can be dangerous due to the high-pressure properties of the system and the need for specific tools.
For example, refrigerant released when the system is opened must be contained with specialized recovery equipment, as it is illegal to vent it into the atmosphere.
It is a good idea to clean the A/C condenser periodically to extend the life of the unit. You can do it yourself by following some easy online video tutorials or taking it to a mechanic for repair, either option will always be cheaper than replacing the capacitor entirely if it is still working fine.
Other parts of the air conditioning system, such as the air vents, cabin air filter, and air conditioning condenser fan, should also be cleaned regularly for maximum efficiency.