There are many components in a car’s air-conditioning (AC) system; this article covers the condenser.
Simply put, the AC condenser converts high-temperature refrigerant, in gaseous form, to a low-temperature liquid. In most cases, AC condensers last at least 100,000 miles before seeing any issues.
What are the signs of a bad AC condenser?
- Warm air blows while AC is on
- Burning odor coming from vents
- Coolant leaking under the car
- Dashboard warning light appears
- Engine temperatures increase
- Odd sounds when AC is running
This guide further reviews these bad AC condenser symptoms. Moreover, we’ll also look at what the repair/replacement options are and what they cost.
Want to learn more about how a car’s AC system works? Check out our detailed guide.
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6 Symptoms Of A Bad AC Condenser
#1: Warm Air Blows While AC Is On
For a car’s AC system to blow cold air, refrigerant must pass through five key components.
In order, these include the compressor, condenser, receiver/dryer, expansion valve/orifice tube, and evaporator. If any of these parts isn’t working correctly, the system may blow warm air instead of cold.
#2: Burning Odor Coming From Vents
One of the more noticeable signs of a bad condenser is a burning odor coming from the vents when the AC is on.
The purpose of the condenser is to remove heat from passing coolant, but if it isn’t working right, temperatures can rise until parts emit a burning scent.
#3: Coolant Leaking Under The Car
A puddle of colorless liquid under your car is another symptom of a bad AC condenser. Refrigerant leaks commonly trace back to worn seals, but damage to the condenser can also cause leaks.
If coolant runs dry, continuing to use the AC can cause significant harm to the system.
#4: Dashboard Warning Light Appears
No dash indicator specifically warns of AC condenser failure. However, a check engine light may appear from the resulting rise in engine temperature or some other change in performance.
A check engine light will likely coincide with other bad AC condenser symptoms on this list.
#5: Engine Temperatures Increase
As coolant passes through the AC condenser, heat is removed and expelled outwards. If there’s a problem with the condenser, like a clogged tube, temperatures inside the engine bay will increase.
This can cause further damage to the AC system and potentially harm other engine components.
#6: Odd Sounds When AC Is Running
Finally, if you hear a loud shrieking, screeching, or squealing sound when the AC is on, there may be an issue with the condenser’s cooling fan.
Without a working cooling fan, the condenser will eventually overheat, and the AC system will fail to produce cold air.
Car AC Condenser Repair/Replacement Costs
If you suspect an issue with your AC condenser, the first step is to perform an inspection. Robin from YouTube’s Robin Under the Hood gives the best explanation for locating and inspecting a car’s AC condenser for blockages, leaks, and damage.
If you find a small leak, you may be able to patch it with a specialty automotive sealant like Red Angel’s AC Stop Leak. You can usually find these products at a local automotive supply shop for less than $50.
However, larger leaks, or leaking seals, are not easily fixed. In most cases, it’s better to replace the entire condenser than attempt a repair.
Looking at estimates from RepairPal, the average cost to replace an AC condenser runs between $618 and $725, not including taxes or fees. Labor makes up $192 to $242 of this figure, while parts cost from $426 to $483.
Other reputable sites confirm this range to be accurate. Although, some show that costs for replacing an AC condenser can reach $1,000 or more on some models.
While you can reduce expenses by replacing the condenser at home, most mechanics agree that AC system work is best left to knowledgeable professionals.
For one, the refrigerant must be drained before working on the AC system. Moreover, coolant must be stored in a special container and properly exposed.
Ignoring A Bad AC Condenser Can Cause Further Damage
What causes AC condenser failure?
One reason is a clogged tube, which can block the flow of refrigerant and starve the system. It’s also possible that corrosion eats through one of the tubes and causes a coolant leak. Regardless, regular wear and tear will eventually see the seals dry out.
The most important thing is to resolve AC system problems as soon as they appear to avoid further damage to the system.
If your condenser is working correctly, but the air conditioning is acting strange, there may be a problem elsewhere in the system. For more information about car AC system repairs, check out our in-depth guide.