The AC compressor is what mechanics, especially car HVAC technicians, consider as the heart of the car’s HVAC system. Just like the human heart, the compressor is responsible for pumping and pressurizing the refrigerant so that it gets compressed to produce hot or cold air.
The compressed air will then go over the other parts of the HVAC system, which will eventually go out from the AC to the inside of the vehicle.
Being the “heart” of the HVAC system, the AC compressor can be an expensive repair that is fairly easy to be avoided when it is given the attention it deserves.
So what exactly do you do when this problem arises? How do AC compressors work in the first place and how much does an AC compressor clutch replacement cost?
Cost to Replace Car AC Compressor
Generally, the price of an AC compressor ranges from as low as $90 to $1,650 for the parts alone and can possibly be more depending on the materials and the car make and model of the vehicle.
For example, the price of an AC compressor would cost $1,590 for a 2010 Hybrid Toyota Camry. On the other hand, if you own the counterpart 2010 Hybrid Honda Accord, the price would go for as low as $190 to as high as $560.
For a 2015 Nissan Altima, you’d pay around $450 to $650 to get a new AC compressor. And for a 2015 Honda Civic EX, you would shell out around $275 to $320, depending on the fit the specific car’s engine requires.
Age is another price factor for every car repair. Age determines how grave a specific damage can be, along with the availability of the part or component required for the repair and replacement.
Furthermore, repairs for older cars don’t necessarily mean it will be more expensive, but owners will face the challenge of looking for high-quality or OEM parts for their specific vehicles.
Each car has a specific fit for the AC compressor. When it comes to the fitting and replacement, and depending on the nature of the problem with the car’s AC, you would most likely need to look for a car HVAC technician.
The overall compressor repair cost is around $350 to over $3,000, considering the same factors above plus the additional labor costs depending on location and the choice of whether to go to an auto service shops or dealerships to have the job done.
Repairing a Failing AC Compressor
One of the components responsible for the AC compressor’s function is the serpentine belt. The serpentine belt makes sure that the compressor works along with the other parts of the engine. So if the serpentine belt fails or breaks, the AC expense wouldn’t be your only problem.
To better understand why the AC compressor fails, here are some of the most common and preventable causes you need to know:
- Dirty coils
Dirt, grime, and oil buildup is the most common reason why the AC compressor would start to fail, as much as most parts of the car. When the coil becomes dirty, the compressor fails to expel heat from the system causing disruption to the cycle.
When this happens, the compressor will constantly be running on high temperature causing the whole component to break down.
To make sure that the coils and the compressor is kept clean, it is best to have a regular checkup or inspection for your car’s engine.
If you notice that the coils are dirty, there are a few ways you can do to clean it. Just remember that every method of cleaning comes with different cautions, so make sure to be careful when doing the cleaning by yourself.
- Clogged lines
Being the heart of the HVAC system, all lines where the refrigerants flow should be clear and clean to ensure the smooth operation of the compressor.
When the suction or refrigerant lines get clogged, the AC from the car’s passenger compartment will not release cool air as effectively and will increase the pressure and temperature which will cause the compressor to overheat, similar to the result of dirty coils.
- Contaminations in the system
Just like when refrigerant lines get clogged or when coils and the clutch get dirty, the compressor itself can be contaminated with dust, grimes, and rusts that can damage and interfere with its functionality and operation. When the compressor gets dirty, similar results mentioned above may occur as well.
This problem can be easy to address with proper maintenance and regular engine checkups through visual inspection, especially if you are living in a polluted area. These contaminants include air, moisture, snow, debris, and even bird and other animal droppings.
- Inconsistent amount of refrigerant
Having too much refrigerant can be bad. Having too low can be just as damaging.
One of the reasons why refrigerant levels go low is due to leaks through holes on the lines and the tubes. When this happens, the system will work harder to pump through the unit. If this is left unattended, it can result in the compressor breaking down. You can do occasional freon recharge for around $200.
Putting too much refrigerant, on the other hand, can put the compressor in strain just as much as having low amounts. The compressor will work harder in making sure that the refrigerant is delivered through the system, making it more susceptible to breaking down as a result.
- Electrical problems
A low or high voltage or an electrical failure can also damage the AC compressor since it regulates acids passing through the system. Once acids build up in the compressor system, it will cause a great deal of damage that can be very hard to fix or unworthy of even fixing at all.
As intimidating and scary it may seem, electrical issues can be easily detected and addressed. As long as you take your car regularly to the mechanic for inspections and preventive maintenance including checking of wires and fuses, your engine should work well as it should be.
- Inadequate amount of lubricants
To take the comparison between the AC compressor and the human heart a little more into context, consider the oil as the blood flowing through the body of the whole HVAC system. If the compressor runs with a low amount of oil lubricants, the system will not run as it should and it will eventually lead to the compressor failing and breaking down.
Symptoms of Failing AC Compressor
More often than not, older cars will exhibit more problems compared to recent and newly manufactured ones.
However, age isn’t always the biggest factor in the condition of a vehicle. Other factors such as usage, factory defects on rare occasions, and sometimes negligence can affect the way the car works.
As the heart of the HVAC system, the AC compressor is usually reliable and has a long life span of about 10 – 15 years, which is as long as any vehicle typically lasts. So, any problems that may arise on the AC compressor can probably be due to underlying conditions.
Otherwise, as previously stated, if the AC compressor itself is the cause of the problem, repairs or replacements can be very expensive and sometimes impossible to fix.
One clear sign of a failing AC compressor would be a failing or busted AC. However, that’s not the only symptom that says you have a failing compressor. It is vital to know the underlying problems of the compressor before spending a fortune for a replacement that you might not even need.
To get a better idea of what could be the problem of your AC compressor system, here are the common signs and symptoms you need to look for when doing a physical check:
- AC Not Releasing Cool Air
One indication of a bad or failing AC compressor is when the AC is not cool enough or if the AC releases hot air rather than cold. When this happens, the first thing you need to do is to do a visual inspection of the car AC compressor yourself to see if there is indeed a problem with the compressor.
- Coolant Leaks
The HVAC system and the compressor are tightly sealed and should not leak any fluids. If you see any fluids leaking from the engine, it could be a sign that the tubes are loose or the clutch is not engaged or fitted very well. When this happens, you should immediately check with your trusted mechanic for a checkup.
- Noisy Engine
A noisy engine can mean a lot of things and one of them could be a problem related to the compressor. Once you determine that the noise comes from the AC compressor, this could mean that it is working too hard due to lack of lubrication, clogged lines, electrical problems or the serpentine belt is failing which causes the compressor to fail as well.
- Clutch is Not Moving
The AC compressor clutch is an electromagnetic device that is responsible for the compressor’s operation. Whenever the AC is turned on in the cabin, the clutch is engaged by the pulley, which makes the whole system run. The clutch can fail due to overheating of the windings and wear and tear.
DIY AC Compressor Replacement
An AC compressor replacement is a major car repair that requires you to dish out a significant amount of money and effort. If you’re a little short on the budget, fortunately, there are steps you can follow to replace your bad AC compressor yourself.
First off, you need to have the tools required and the safety equipment like safety glasses and gloves before you start doing the replacement. Also, always check the warranty of the compressor you bought and be sure to follow the steps extremely careful.
- Locate the AC compressor
The AC compressor is usually located in front of the car’s engine. It is usually connected with the car’s engine belt or the serpentine belt. Take note, however, that all cars have a specific location for each engine part.
- Remove the belts
The compressor is being held in place by bolts and the engine or the serpentine belt. First, loosen the belt by releasing the pressure on the belt tensioner using a serpentine belt tool. Next, remove the belts from the pulleys by carefully sliding the belt away. For this part, you might want to go to an auto shop to get the refrigerants evacuated safely from the compressor.
- Remove the bolts
Carefully loosen the bolts and be sure to hold the compressor to keep it from falling down. Remove the bolts that hold the refrigerant lines and check for signs of wear and tear, rusts, and dust buildups.
- Disconnect the electrical wires
When the bolts and the belts have been loosened and removed, the electrical wirings should easily be removed by pulling them out.
- Disconnect the pressure hoses
Loosen and remove the connecting pressure hoses with the use of a ratchet or wrench and make sure to plug the connectors to prevent any system contamination.
- Remove the remaining bolts and the compressor
Once all the wires and belt has been removed and loosened up, you can now carefully detach the compressor from the engine with a little yank. Take note that the compressor is often heavy so you should expect to put in a little bit of force when removing it.
- Prepare to install the new compressor
Before anything else, put the new compressor and the old one side-by-side to compare its size and appearance. Remove the dust caps and check if the new compressor contains the recommended oil specifically fitted for your engine.
- Replace the o-rings
Remove the old pressure line o-rings by using a small screwdriver. Replace them with the ones that came with your new compressor.
- Positioning and mounting the new compressor
Align the new compressor to the mounting holes of the engine and hold it in position by inserting and tightening all the bolts to keep it in place.
- Reinstalling the lines and bolts
Once the compressor is in place, you can now put back the refrigerant lines and electrical lines in place. Make sure to install back the lines following the sequence when removing them.
- Installing the serpentine belt
After everything has been tightly sealed and installed, it’s now time to push or pull the tensioner to allow the belt to be installed back to the pulleys. Once the belt is put back into place, you can release the tensioner and your tools holding it.