Air conditioner condenser, how it works, problems

May 14, 2016
A/C condenser
A/C condenser, Dodge Ram 1500 Click for larger picture

Air conditioner (A/C) condenser is an essential part of a car air conditioning system. Let's review how the vehicle A/C system works: The A/C system is a closed loop filled with refrigerant (typically R134) under pressure. The A/C compressor circulates the refrigerant through the system. The evaporator is a small heat exchanger installed inside the vehicle ventilation system. The cabin air flows through the evaporator fins. The condenser is a larger heat exchanger installed in front of the vehicle, typically, beside or right in front of the radiator. The ambient air is pushed through the condenser fins by an electric fan and by natural flow during driving. The system is based on a simple effect: the cabin heat is absorbed when the refrigerant vaporizes inside the evaporator. The heat is released outside when the refrigerant turns from a vapor into a liquid state inside the condenser. Through this continuous process, your cabin is kept cool even on a hot sunny day.

A/C condenser problems

Air conditioner condenser
A/C condenser

The A/C condenser is installed in front of the vehicle, so it often gets damaged in a frontal collision or by rocks or other objects on the road. Corrosion is another enemy of an A/C condenser, especially In the places where salt is used on roads in winter months. If a condenser is damaged, the refrigerant leaks out and the air conditioning system stops working. A damaged A/C condenser cannot be repaired and must be replaced. One of the signs of a leaking A/C condenser is an oily greenish residue around the impacted area. Sometimes a leak might be at the place of connection with one of the air conditioning system lines. Automotive repair shops use special equipment to find refrigerant leaks in an air conditioning system. Another issue with the A/C condensers is when the fins get clogged up with leaves and other debris. This reduces the air flow through the condenser fins and affects the efficiency of an air conditioning system.

A/C condenser replacement

Air conditioner condenser
A/C condenser

There are two types of replacement parts, the OEM (original) and A/M (aftermarket). An OEM A/C condenser can be ordered from a dealer but it's usually more expensive ($250-850). An aftermarket part is cheaper ($70-$320) and can be purchased online or from an auto parts supplier. The labor is more expensive, since in many cars, the front bumper and many other parts might need to be removed in order to get to the A/C condenser. Also the air conditioning system refrigerant must be recovered before and recharged after the A/C condenser is replaced. This is not something that can be done in your driveway. To perform this repair, automotive repair facilities use a special A/C service machine. For this reason, we strongly advise to have any air-conditioner repairs done at a dealer or a reputable auto repair shop.
To ensure good A/C system performance, It' a good idea to keep your A/C condenser clean and free of debris. If salt is used on the roads in winter months in your area, washing your car regularly will help keep the salt from accumulating on the condenser and causing corrosion.

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