So what can we do to promote the health of our car air conditioners before something goes wrong? Although car manufacturers are continually improving car temperature control, there are a few things we can do.
To find out, we asked Kelley Blue Book in-house service and maintenance expert Gary Hardesty, an ASE Certified Master Technician. His tips can help us stay cool all year round, especially in summer.
This article will cover common car air conditioning problems, plus key tips and information on maintaining your air conditioner.
If you are traveling up a steep incline and your car is full of people and equipment, keep an eye on the engine temperature Stress on your engine could cause the A/C coolant to overheat. If this happens, Hardesty says to turn the heat on full for a few minutes to lessen the load on the car’s cooling system.
Our expert says that a common cause of mold getting into the air conditioning system is from water, dirt, snow or moisture ingress at the base of the windshield. It turns out that this is the optimal location for your car’s air conditioning intake. Unfortunately, it’s also the worst place for moisture and debris to collect and enter the air conditioner, creating mold. Hardesty suggests cleaning regularly with a vacuum to remove any water, dirt, or leaves that collect there.
Strange odors and their origins can be dangerous signals. Other odors may come from your car’s previous owner who smoked or allowed pet odors to build up. In these cases, Hardesty says a few orange peels placed on the floor of your car for a few days will help. Other options are to spray an odor neutralizer like Ozium in the vents or change the air conditioner filter (skip to tip #6 for more details).
But there are a few odors to be aware of that could suggest a bigger problem:
A musty odor could mean mold entered and remained undrained in the evaporator inside your cooling system. One way to deal with this: You can run your heater on high for a while to dry out the evaporator/heating core.
A sweet smell could mean an antifreeze leak. A professional mechanic can perform a leak test to confirm the problem and present service options.
When you smell gas coming from your air conditioning unit, it could indicate a gas leak, which is dangerous. However, it could also mean that the gas cap is not secure or is faulty. Either way, resolve the issue quickly.
Did you know that mechanics refers to your the owner’s manual before working on your car? Since your manual is probably right there in your glove box, be sure to read the part about your car’s air conditioner so you can learn a few things. For example, should you use green or red antifreeze in your vehicle? Who do you check with if there are recalls on your vehicle year/make/model? Get all the facts before you see a mechanic.
Always read your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s suggestions, but many professionals recommend that you check your vehicle’s air conditioning annually. Your system is exposed to engine heat, quick stops, road debris, and fender bangs, so things can often go wrong. The benefits of staying on top of air conditioning maintenance can include increased gas mileage, a greener vehicle, and increased comfort from air conditioning in your car.
Did you know that your car has a A/C filter, usually behind the glove box, is it something you can potentially change yourself? If your car’s odometer reads between 15,000 and 30,000 miles, it may be time to replace the filter. The benefits of changing your filter include stronger airflow, fewer unpleasant odors, and less dust buildup on interior surfaces.
Experts, including Hardesty, recommend opening your car windows a few moments before turning on the air conditioning. As they recommend, start driving before turning on the air conditioner to increase the longevity of the air conditioner in your car. Basically, avoid being idle for a long period with the air conditioner running so that the air conditioning system works less.
It can be confusing to choose between these two modes. One is for recirculation and the other brings fresh air into the car. Experience teaches us that fresh air is not fresh when traveling behind a diesel truck or in a smoggy area of the city. But remember that the air inside can also become stale when you only use the recirculation button. Use the fresh air vent for exactly that: to bring fresh air into the cab.
According to our expert, your car’s defrost mode does more than just remove frost from the windows. Prevents mold and removes moisture inside the air conditioning unit. Doing this once a week for 5-10 minutes can help prevent mildew or other unpleasant odors in your car.
Most experts agree that choosing the lowest setting for your air conditioner is more efficient for the car’s cooling system and save fuel. Why? Hardesty says that most cooling systems only cool the cabin 30 degrees and then stop. If it gets to that point, then it sets the temperature higher, it also activates the heater. This double effort puts stress on the system and uses more fuel. Instead, set the A/C fan to minimum and rotate the vents away from you.
So remember, like many other systems in your car, the air conditioner weakens with wear. Common and costly problems include:
For heating and air conditioning in your car, service and repair can range from $300 to $2,000 depending on what needs work, so it’s something to watch and maintain. You can also access our auto maintenance tool to get an estimate before making an appointment with your repair shop.
So no matter where you live, these tips can help you get the most comfort from your air conditioning system in the summer without excessive wear and tear.
Remember to always refer to your owner’s manual for more specific information about your vehicle’s systems and apply the best strategies to keep them running smoothly. Also, be on the lookout for signs that your vehicle’s air conditioner needs professional attention.
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