When summer heat starts ramping up, it's important to make sure your car's air conditioning is up to the challenge of keeping you and your family cool. A vehicle's air conditioning needs maintenance over time to keep it working efficiently and effectively. Here are some questions you can ask that will help you assess whether your air conditioning is ready for summer.
Is your air conditioning's air pressure normal?
You should check first of all that your air conditioning is blowing normally. Feel to be sure air is flowing freely from each vent and that it changes in intensity as you adjust the settings.
If little or no air is coming out, your air conditioning may have suffered a major component failure. A car's air conditioning consists of five main parts:
- The compressor that senses temperature changes and pressurizes the refrigerant
- The condenser that reduces the temperature of the hot air coming from the refrigerant
- The receiver/dryer (or accumulator, depending on your car) that separates gas from liquid, filters debris and removes moisture from the air
- Thermal expansion valve (or orifice tube) that connects the condenser and evaporator and slows down the refrigerant, allowing it to lose temperature
- The evaporator that is right behind the dashboard and uses refrigerant to cool the air as it blows into your car's interior
When one of these parts fails, the entire system fails. However, a simple leak could also be to blame for your low air pressure. Today's cars have sensors that prevent the air conditioning unit from engaging if the pressure is low, and that can happen when there's a refrigerant leak.
Is your cabin air filter clean?
A dirty air filter could be one reason for inefficient air conditioning. Consumer Reports explains, "A dirty filter prevents optimal airflow. In newer cars, these filters are relatively easy to check on; if you see a lot of dirt accumulated on it, it's time to change it."
If you're not up to a little auto DIY, your local automotive service technicians can take a look for you and replace the air filter if necessary.
Is the air blowing out of your vents staying only slightly cooler than the air outside?
It may seem counterintuitive that a car's air conditioning can blow air if the air isn't getting cold. However, "even though the blower is part of your vehicle’s air conditioning system, it isn’t what makes the air cold," explains Jensen Tire & Auto.
If you notice the air is blowing but stays warm or only cool, Jensen Tire & Auto suggests, "You should have your vehicle’s air conditioning system performance tested and repaired as soon as possible."
Possible causes of warm air blowing from your air conditioning could include a dirty or clogged condenser or a lack of freon (refrigerant).
Does the air from your air conditioning vents smell bad?
Sometimes, your air conditioning can blow a musty or mildewy scent. This is especially common if you always run your air conditioning system on the recirculate setting. The moist scent is likely caused by mildew or mold growing on the condenser or the evaporator core, both of which are enclosed and perpetually moist. The scent will only get worse as the summer goes on if you don't do something about it.
Curing and preventing this odor is fairly simple. First, change your settings so you aren't recirculating your cabin air — your backseat passengers will thank you, as well. Second, turn off your air conditioning a few minutes before you turn off the car. This gives the engine a chance to heat up your air conditioning system and burn off odor-causing bacteria.
Does your vehicle's air conditioning need recharged?
Some vehicles can go their entire working lives without needing their air conditioning units "recharged." The air conditioning is a closed system which reuses the same refrigerant over and over to cool the air. If your air conditioning is no longer cooling the air effectively, it could be because of a leak. Refrigerant should not lose its potency over time.
A certified automotive technician can perform a check on your air conditioning to determine what's causing the problem.