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How to Check Your Car A/C for Leaks Like a NAPA Expert

Refilling the A/C for an automobile.

The professionals at your neighborhood NAPA AUTO PARTS store are known for being upfront and straightforward with our customers. So, we are going to get straight to the point too—finding the leak in an automotive air conditioning system is a time-consuming, complex process that requires technical tools and ability. Still, it is important to know how to spot the signs of common A/C leaks in cars, so that the repair can be addressed before further damage or a real emergency occurs.

In many parts of the country, the best drivetime is summertime. You have the music and the A/C cranked to full blast as you take the long way home. But once you pull in and step out, you notice a puddle of liquid under your car. A little leaking water is a normal function of a vehicle’s A/C, especially in humid weather conditions. In fact, your air conditioning system is designed to pull moisture out of the air it is cooling and then drain that water.

Your vehicle’s air conditioning system is comprised of three main components: the compressor in the engine compartment, the evaporator in the climate control system air box and the condenser in front of the radiator. The compressor circulates refrigerant gas through the condenser and evaporator, which are connected by A/C hoses and tubes. The climate control fan blows air over the evaporator, and any heat in the air is absorbed by the refrigerant. Cold air comes out the other side of the evaporator and through the vents into your car.

Pulling air in and releasing a small amount of water out is not an issue. But if the A/C is expelling an excessive amount of liquid, then you have a problem. The first check you want to perform for a leaking A/C is the ol’ sniff test: Dip a clean rag in the puddle under your vehicle. If the moisture on the rag is colored or has an odor, then it most likely isn’t water. It could be either leaking refrigerant (which turns from a gas into a liquid when it is compressed) or the oil used to lubricate the components.

It is critical to spot a leak in the air conditioning system of your sedan, pickup truck, minivan, high-end SUV or compact crossover before it becomes a serious and costly issue. Start by visually inspecting the pressurized lines and fittings of your A/C system. If your car is leaking freon (a typical refrigerant compound), you must catch it before the system runs dry and begins to fill with moist air that will corrode your expensive A/C components. If a thorough attempt at A/C leak detection shows no signs of a split hose or a leaky valve, but your coolant is low, add more coolant to prevent overheating.

Leave It to The Best A/C Leak Detectors in the Automotive Business

Finding leaks in a vehicle’s A/C system is one of the most complex DIY mechanics’ projects that exist. Automotive air conditioning and heating problems often require in-depth diagnostics, extensive disassembly and costly specialized tools. Trust our professionals to take the precise measurements and give an accurate car A/C diagnosis at one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare Centers.

One reason A/C parts replacement is so tricky is that the entire air conditioning system must remain sealed at all times. If the seal is broken, the freon must be captured and stored (not vented into the open air), which adds an extra layer of complexity to the entire operation. Keep in mind, leaking refrigerant is difficult to identify because it is an odorless, colorless gas. That’s precisely why a tiny leak in the evaporator can be nearly impossible to spot!

Your local repair shop should use a freon leak detector that incorporates a test probe. This device electronically sniffs out the presence of freon on the outside of your vehicle’s A/C components to quickly locate a leak. Or, the expert mechanics might inject a fluorescent tracing dye into your system to detect the leak. The leak then becomes visible when illuminated by an ultraviolet light (or when using specialized yellow-tinted glasses).

Even without a leak, any closed air conditioning system loses its refrigerant charge over time. If the refrigerant is low, invest in an AC Recharge kit. Each kit comes with refrigerant, gauge and instructions to help you put in the right amount. However, if your system is leaking, you have to find and seal the leak. Purchase an A/C UV Dye & Oil Injector Kit to take on the challenge!

From air conditioning service and repair kits to A/C condensers and fans to A/C compressors and clutches, NAPA AUTO PARTS has a wide and complex selection of automotive A/C replacement parts. Order what you need from, and get Free One Day Shipping on 160K+ products!

Photo courtesy of pxhere.



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More than 90 years ago, the National Automotive Parts Association ("NAPA") was created to meet America’s growing need for an effective auto parts distribution system. Today, 91% of do-it-yourself customers recognize the NAPA brand name. We have over 6,000 NAPA Auto Parts Stores nationwide serving all 50 states with a unique inventory control system that helps you find the exact part that you need.

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