When summer hits and your automotive air conditioning system is not cooling like it should, if at all, you just might think about trading it in for a new model. But wait a minute, there are methods to repair a malfunctioning air conditioning system that will cost a whole lot less than that down payment. In many cases, the sole reason why an automotive air conditioning system is blowing warm air boils down to a loss of refrigerant. Let’s consider some interesting facts about how to solve this problem below.
How Does an A/C System Work?
An automotive A/C system works by circulating a refrigerant under high pressure using a compressor. The compressor passes the refrigerant gas through a heat exchanger called a condenser. The condenser is typically mounted in front of another heat exchanger that is used to cool the antifreeze and water coolant mixture in your engine. Once the gas cools down in the condenser, it condenses and liquifies. Then, it is passed through a spray nozzle called an expansion valve or orifice tube at high pressure.
When the liquid refrigerant is atomized, it experiences a rapid drop in temperature much like a hairspray can or another aerosol can that you use indoors on a hot day. This helps to cool down a metal box in the dashboard called an evaporator. The evaporator is also a type of heat exchanger that absorbs the heat from the air circulating in the interior ventilation ductwork. The warmed gas is then cycled back into the condenser where airflow and the radiator fan will cool it down into a liquid to start the cycle again.
An A/C system works by using a compressor to circulate a refrigerant. The older vehicles used to use refrigerants called R-12 and R-22 that have been discontinued because they were found to deplete ozone molecules in the atmosphere. If you have an R-12 or R-22 system, it is possible to retrofit R-134a refrigerant ports and a new compressor into the system. R-134a is the new refrigerant that is used in the place of R-12 and R-22 in all vehicles today. All modern vehicles will be filled with R-134a from the factory.
Common Problems with A/C Systems
If you have a late-model A/C system that does not have a lot of wear and tear on the compressor and other components, you most likely have a leak somewhere. It is easy for an A/C system to develop leaks because the rubber seals at every union will harden and deteriorate with age. The high-pressure hoses will also develop micropores in the rubber coating that seals them airtight as time goes by. This is from the heat of the engine and the components of the vulcanized rubber decomposing.
You may be able to tell if your high-pressure A/C hoses have micropores in them by looking for a white chalky substance on the outside of these thick black hoses. You can identify them by the yellow or white lettering that may say R-134a or other indicia of an A/C system. You can also look at unions and other places for any white residue that may indicate a leak. However, if your system is old enough, you may want to have all the seals replaced for safe measure before you have it recharged. The seals are inexpensive and usually not very difficult to access.
How Are Leaks Detected and Fixed?
Aside from the white residue, a professional repair shop, like your local Chicagoland Jiffy Lube, can hook your A/C system up to special equipment and perform an A/C evacuation and recharge. Your A/C system has special service ports that are marked high and low pressure (H and L). They may also have blue or red caps on them indicating which one is high-pressure and which is low. The smaller port is typically the high-pressure port. The wider port is low pressure.
A/C technicians have to be certified because the EPA does not want any of this gas escaping into the atmosphere even though it is far safer than R-12 or R-22. You never know what some study might turn up in the future. Prevention and ensuring that a system will hold a charge are vital to keeping the environment healthy and the interior of your vehicle cool. You should ask them to check your A/C refrigerant levels whenever you come in for engine service.
When the A/C service technicians check for leaks, they will first put the machine on the ports to see what the refrigerant pressure levels might be. Overfilling the system is just as dangerous and running it without enough. In any case, most late-model vehicles have a pressure sensor that will immobilize the compressor if the levels are not within normal ranges. This is how a leak can shut down a system entirely once it reaches a critical level.
Every vehicle has specifications regarding how many pounds of refrigerant it should take to be filled properly. The average system requires about three pounds of refrigerant to operate properly. Of course, there are different additives to the refrigerant such as oil to lubricate it and protect against corrosion.
Once the technician knows that the system has lost refrigerant, he can evacuate the system and store your refrigerant in the tank of the machine. He can then service the system without worrying about any refrigerant escaping into the atmosphere. He can also add a UV dye to run through the system. A UV dye will illuminate under a blacklight and make it easy to pinpoint where the leaks are located.
The A/C technician can also add different additives to help restore the softness of the seals. This will help the system last longer between charges. And that is how an A/C evacuation and recharge solves your warm A/C system problems. The process doesn’t take long and can be done while you have any engine service performed such as an oil change.
You should run your A/C even during the winter by activating the defroster to keep the oil circulating. This will protect the system against internal oxidation and reduce the need for repairs. A defroster uses the air conditioner to condition and dehumidify the air. If your windows are fogging up in the winter and the defroster does little to help, this is another sign that your A/C system may not be operating properly. Using these tips, you are sure to hang onto that frosty cool air for a long time.
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