Springtime is The Best Time for Air Conditioning Maintenance

After a long and frankly brutal winter, the sun is finally shining once again. The birds are chirping, the snakes are slithering out of their dens from a long winter’s slumber and all of nature’s creatures celebrate the coming of spring in some manner. We humans like to hop into our cars, crank some tunes and blast down the highway, with the A/C going full-tilt because after all, we like the weather outside to be warm, not our cars. Only this time, your A/C switch does nothing. No cool breeze, not even a whiff, just a steady stream of hell-fire coming from the vents. You could have avoided  all of that had you simply followed a few guidelines and performed a little air conditioning maintenance on your vehicle.

There are several reasons for your A/C to go down, and each one is preventable. The A/C system works by compressing a refrigerant gas, and through controlled release of the pressure, generates frost on the coils inside the airbox under the dash. This is a similar process as using an aerosol can, the quick release of pressure cause the can to get cold. In the A/C system, the released gas is inside a sealed system, so that the process is continuous. The main components are the gas, the compression system (compressor), and the seals. There are other components, such as hard lines, flex lines and valves, but managing the three main components will take care of the others in most cases.

Compressor

When the compressor goes out, you have to replace the drier and the condenser (the coils in front of the radiator), otherwise you could have trash in the system and your warranty for the compressor is voided. This is a very expensive job, so you can avoid this hassle with an annual A/C maintenance service. This service will add some oil to the system to make sure the compressor’s moving parts are properly lubricated.

Proper AC maintenance is critical for surviving the summer swelter.

Refrigerant

Over time, the cooling gas can seep through the seals and hoses, especially newer cars with R134A gas. The molecules in R134A are smaller than the older R12 gas, which is why an R134A conversion requires changing out the hoses to R134A-compliant pieces. Adding gas to an A/C system is easy with a do-it-yourself kit from NAPA. Just make sure you buy a kit with a gauge that shows low pressure (yellow), good pressure (green), and high pressure (red). You can even buy a kit that comes with the correct PAG oil for the compressor.

R-134A is readily available at any NAPA Auto Parts store, but the older R12 must be installed by a certified shop.

Seals and Hoses

The seals are internal, but you need oil and conditioner in the gas to ensure the seals stay together. Over time, especially long periods of non-use, such as winter months or long-term storage, the seals can dry up, letting the gas leak out. The hoses crack and split with age as well, so an annual inspection is important. It is better to find out early in the year that you need to replace a hose than on a long July road trip in triple digit weather. That kind of repair can ruin your vacation and suck your wallet dry.

The seals are internal, but you need oil and conditioner in the gas to ensure the seals stay together. Over time, especially long periods of non-use, such as winter months or long-term storage, the seals can dry up, letting the gas leak out. The hoses crack and split with age as well, so an annual inspection is important. It is better to find out early in the year that you need to replace a hose than on a long July road trip in triple digit weather. That kind of repair can ruin your vacation and suck your wallet dry.

A good install tool should have a gauge so you know how much pressure is in the system.

A good install tool should have a gauge so you know how much pressure is in the system.

 

The green level is the safe and fully functional range for the AC. Red is bad, so is low. Putting more refrigerant in the system can actually reduce the cooling factor.

The green level is the safe and fully functional range for the A/C. Red is bad, so is low. Putting more refrigerant in the system can actually reduce the cooling factor.

 

There are two service ports in an AC system. The larger one is the high-pressure side, the smaller is the low-pressure. Always add refrigerant to the low-pressure port.

There are two service ports in an A/C system. The larger one is the high-pressure side, the smaller is the low-pressure. Always add refrigerant to the low-pressure port.

R12 ports are smaller than R134A ports, so you need an adapter like this for converted R12 systems.

R12 ports are smaller than R134A ports, so you need an adapter like this for converted R12 systems.

The drier is where all that water comes from when the A/C is running. If the compressor goes out, this and the condenser coils have to be replaced. Avoid that with proper maintenance.

The drier is where all that water comes from when the A/C is running. If the compressor goes out, this and the condenser coils have to be replaced. Avoid that with proper maintenance.

Beyond just the annual service, you can do a few things at home to make sure your system stays in tip-top shape. Every month, regardless of the temperature, run the A/C to 10-15 minutes. This will keep the oils circulating through the system, maintaining those seals and the interior of the hoses. Check the cabin air filter (usually located on the passenger side under dash area, consult your owner’s manual), and replace when necessary. This helps filter out microbes, allergens and smells from the outside air, but over time it clogs up with water and dirt, which eventually turns into mildew and that gym-sock smell. While you are there, fire up the A/C and spray some A/C deodorizer into the intake of the system. This will kill any bacteria growing your airbox and vents, eliminating the hazard and smell.

An annual service for your A/C system costs vary by the shop, but it is money well spent, as any A/C system repair will cost you far more.

Check out all the Air Conditioning System parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on air conditioning maintenance, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

about author

Jefferson Bryant

A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.

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