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Automotive AC Repairs Can Be A DIYers Worst Nightmare

Air conditioning panel.

Automotive AC repairs often require more than just buying a can of refrigerant and refilling an empty system. In fact, air conditioning systems can be among the most complex of projects waiting for you in your car or truck, which is why even experienced DIYers often turn to expert help rather than tackle the job themselves. What makes AC repair such a challenge? Let’s take a quick look at some of the problems posed by automotive air conditioning.

The Basics

Air conditioning works on a fairly simple principle: by using an evaporator to pull ambient temperature air across a set of coils filled with a refrigerant, that chemically changes from a liquid into a gas as it absorbs heat. The gas is then passed through a compressor that pressurizes the chemical, adding further heat, and then finally through a condenser, which returns the chemical back to a liquid state, radiating heat away from it as part of the process. The sequence is then repeated, gradually drawing the warmth and humidity out of your vehicle’s cabin and replacing it with cool air through the vents.

Keep It Sealed

AC ventIn practice, maintaining the process that’s described above requires the teamwork of a precise set of components, each of which has to be working at 100 percent in order to effectively and efficiently keep you cool. This is where automotive AC repairs start to reveal the intricacies that can make it so difficult.

For starters, the entire air conditioning system must remain sealed at all times. Each and every component, hose, and hardline needs to be protected from exposure to the atmosphere. Not only can a leak create a loss of refrigerant, which will impact performance, but it can lead to moisture being introduced into the system. Moisture and other contaminants can easily corrode and damage a car’s air conditioning system from the inside out, sometimes invisibly so, to the point where it is no longer repairable.

This means that all automotive AC repairs have to be accomplished within the context of keeping the system sealed at all times. If it’s unsealed, the refrigerant must be captured and stored, and not allowed to vent into the atmosphere, adding an extra layer of complexity to the entire operation.

Challenging Diagnosis

Hunting down something as simple as a refrigerant leak isn’t easy, either. A tiny leak in the evaporator, for example, can be almost impossible to spot without using specialized dyes injected into the system that then show up as colorful spots where the leak is located. This type of diagnosis is typically beyond the skill set of even experienced do-it-yourself repair types.

Compressor problems are another hard issue to identify, yet a common air conditioning issue. Internal failure of the compressor can spread small metal chips through the vehicle’s system, which must be completely cleaned out prior to replacing that component. If not, then those chips can find their way inside the new compressor. It doesn’t take many metal flakes to destroy a fresh component, and flushing an entire AC system is again not a task non-professionals are equipped to handle. Then there is the issue of refilling the system with the exact amount of lubricant and refrigerant:

With so many specialized tools and components associated with automotive AC repair, it’s often a better idea to leave this type of work in the hands of experienced mechanics who deal with these problems on a daily basis.

Check out all the air conditioning system parts available on NAPAonline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA Auto Care locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on automotive AC repairs, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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