Be grateful that you live in the age when just about any car comes with standard air conditioning. Things weren’t always this way. As late as the 1980s, you could spring for an economy car and make do with nothing but a hand-operated window.

Even in this era of AC freedom, though, things can go wrong. Your air conditioning can break, and when that happens, it’s a rude awakening if you live somewhere warm. So how can you right the demons of your air conditioning system? Keep reading, and we’ll share a few tricks to get you back in the comfort of cold AC.


Know the Basics of Your Air Conditioning System

While AC provides seemingly miraculous benefits, there’s not a whole lot to your car’s air conditioning system. It is made up of a compressor, evaporator, metal coils, some fluid and a few vents. Obviously, this is an oversimplified view, but when diagnosing a broken AC system, these are the components you need to consider.

Air is pulled into the system from the cabin and potentially the atmosphere. The air is drawn across a cooling unit with vanes that contain super-chilled R134 refrigerant. The R134 expands as a result of absorbing heat from the air, and is then sent through an evaporator and compressor, where it becomes condensed and cool.

Diagnosing a Problem


Since the system is relatively straightforward, you don’t have a lot of options as far as what might cause it to stop working. The best way to form hypotheses is to look at how the system failed.

A refrigerant leak will result in a system that still blows cool air, but it won’t be as cold as it should be. Use a black light to check for leaks on your garage floor, and be sure to clean up spilled refrigerant because it can be deadly to animals. You may be able to stop the leak, repair a damaged coolant hose and refill the system yourself.

Compressor Failure

If the system has stopped working entirely, it’s almost certain that you’ve got a compressor failure or an electrical problem. Dark sludge that mechanics endearingly refer to as black death can form on the internals of a compressor and cause it to quit.

If this happens, you’re probably looking at installing a new compressor, a job best left to professionals. You can avoid this situation by taking your car in for an AC service at regular intervals.


Other Things That Can Break

Switches and fans do occasionally give up the ghost, and you can use a multimeter to test electrical connections and see if a short is the cause of your AC system issues. Less common breaks include the fan compressor or air conditioning system clutch, which will require the attention of a mechanic unless you’re well-versed in the ways.

AC fixes might seem like a hassle, but what good are you doing by putting them off? Better to make the situation right and get back to your commute without the added burn of the sun.