An air conditioner failure will not prevent a vehicle from hitting the road. But this equipment, which has become the standard even on entry-level cars, is valuable in hot weather.
Like many components on modern cars, air conditioning systems have been minimized in size to reduce weight. This means that the amount of refrigerant they contain has also been greatly reduced. The slightest leak can cause damage to parts that are expensive to replace. “Preventive maintenance has never been more important,” says George Inacio, general manager of CPS Products of Canada. “All air conditioning systems will leak a little bit, but it’s important to check for leaks and make sure the system has the proper level of refrigerant in it.”
Maintenance guides, like Mitchell’s, will indicate how much refrigerant needs to be in the system to avoid more serious problems, such as compressor overheating, since refrigerant allows for better lubricant circulation.
Two technologies are proposed by CPS to detect leaks. For best results, Mr. Inacio recommends combining them. The first consists of a luminescent dye injected into the system that will allow leaks to be seen under a UV lamp. The other is more recent and consists of an electronic detector whose sensor is placed at the end of a flexible tube.
“Leaks often come from a faulty valve, damaged tubing or the joint between a piece of metal and a rubber line,” says Inacio. Finding the leak, he says, takes a lot of work because the technician has to find the leak in a very tight space.
Once the system is sealed, it must be connected to a specialized machine that will recover the refrigerant, recycle it and replace it. This type of equipment is highly automated,” says Inacio. All the technician has to do is follow the steps for diagnosis and maintenance. The machine contains a refrigerant tank and can be topped up if necessary.”
According to this expert, the air conditioner can deteriorate quickly as early as the third year after the purchase of a new vehicle. An annual inspection, which takes less than an hour, is a service to be rendered to the vehicle owner. “People rarely pay attention to the condition of their air conditioner before it breaks down,” says Inacio. Strangely enough, one of the symptoms of a problem will be that the air coming out of the ventilation system will be colder than ever, indicating a refrigerant problem.”
What the workshop wants to avoid is that its customer is forced to replace expensive parts, sometimes after the original warranty has expired, due to a lack of preventive maintenance.
The important parts
The technical team at Spectra Premium, which manufactures several replacement parts for the automotive industry, including those for air conditioning systems, shared a wealth of information with us.
This more detailed look at air conditioning system parts helps us understand the areas that require special attention when a part needs to be changed.
These specialists identify four strategic parts for the proper operation of the air conditioner: the condenser, the compressor, the evaporator and the accumulator. Failure of one or more of these parts can reduce the efficiency of the entire system or render it inoperable.
Reduced cooling, coolant leakage or deposits, or reduced coolant level may be symptoms of problems with the condenser. A condenser that is not at peak capacity can increase compressor stress and cause it to fail. And it is a much more expensive part to replace.
It is located at the front of the vehicle and may be damaged at the slightest impact. Leaks that may be caused by the collision may not appear until later.
Because it is a front end part of the vehicle, condensers are often hit in collisions or even by road debris. Even if the initial impact does not damage the part, smaller leaks from the cooling system may occur later, warranting replacement of the condenser.
It is strongly recommended to replace the parallel flow condenser when replacing the compressor. The air conditioning control system will not operate if the condenser fails or leaks.
Normally, the air conditioning system compressor should last as long as the vehicle. Its failure is often related to a lack of maintenance. When servicing the compressor, make sure it is properly lubricated with the proper oil. The refrigerant level should not be too low or too high, which could otherwise damage the compressor or evaporator. Spectra Premium advisors advise that the accumulator should be replaced when replacing the compressor.
This part is prone to suffer from refrigerant contamination and acidity that corrodes the aluminum bundle. In case of accumulator failure, excessive moisture and acidity will reach the evaporator. And the corrosion may cause leakage. If the accumulator needs to be replaced, please consider changing the accumulator at the same time.
Finally, a rattling sound in the air conditioning system, a refrigerant leak or odours caused by mould are symptoms of a defective accumulator. This problem is often caused by the presence of moisture in the air conditioning system. The best strategy to avoid this failure is to replace the filter every time the vehicle is serviced.