Canada may be known for its blistering cold winters, but late spring and summer can send temperatures climbing. This dramatic rise in temperature makes our car air conditioners a necessity some days. Few things are more disappointing when you turn on the air conditioner and get nothing but a face full of hot air. You patiently await the bliss of that cool air to arrive, but it never does.

Unfortunately, your car's air conditioning needs repairs.

What can cause your air conditioning to blow hot air, and how much will fixing it cost? Many issues can lead to air conditioner failure, each with its own associated cost. We outline these details on some of the more common car air conditioner repair procedures.

Car Air Conditioner Repair: What Are the Common Problems?

While hundreds of different issues can cause your car’s air conditioning to fail, some are far more common than others. Let’s dive into these common air conditioning problems, their symptoms, and the average repair cost.

Refrigerant Leak

Your car's air conditioning system uses a refrigerant to cool the hot outside air before sending it into the cabin. Commonly and incorrectly called Freon — Freon is a popular refrigerant brand name — this refrigerant is what produces the big chill you feel through the air conditioning vents.

A properly functioning air conditioning system is fully sealed, keeping the refrigerant in place. These systems also do not consume the refrigerant in normal use -- the refrigerant recycles again and again as long as it remains in the system. So, this refrigerant level should remain relatively consistent unless there’s a leak.

These leaks often manifest at connection points where a seal or O-ring may have become weak. however, this isn't the only area where leaks can occur. Rust and physical damage to air conditioning hoses, lines, and other components (evaporator core, accumulator, compressor, etc.) can also cause leaks. As the refrigerant leaks from the system, you'll notice the air conditioning becomes less cool until it eventually blows nothing but hot air.

Repairing a car A/C system leak requires a trained technician to first find the leak. They generally do this by recharging the refrigerant and adding a dye into the system. The technician will then use a black light to find where the dye is escaping.

Once they find the general area of the leak, the car air conditioning repair technicians may switch to a refrigerant detector or “sniffer.” This tool detects the refrigerant as it escapes the system, to pinpoint the leak source.

For the initial diagnostics and leak test by a certified auto air conditioning repair technician, you can expect to pay $150 to $200, plus refrigerant costs, depending on how hard the leak is to find. The refrigerant cost will vary depending on the type your vehicle uses.

The actual leak repair depends on the component that’s leaking. A simple O-ring can cost just a few dollars plus labour, but a new air conditioning line or condenser can cost hundreds of dollars. All-in, you can expect to pay $150 to $1,000 or more for a leak repair.

Faulty Air Conditioning Condenser Fan

Many newer cars have two fans in the engine compartment, the radiator fan and condenser fan. However, some cars have only one fan that handles both jobs.

The condenser fan -- or the single combined fan -- cools the refrigerant after it exits the compressor and as it passes through the condenser. Cooling the refrigerant converts it from a high-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid before passing it through the rest of the system.

When this fan fails, the refrigerant cannot effectively convert to a liquid, preventing the air conditioning system from cooling the air before it enters the cabin. Common symptoms of a faulty condenser include lukewarm air conditioning temperatures, cooler temperatures when driving at higher speeds, and an overheating engine at idle.

A failed condenser fan requires an auto repair technician to first diagnose the problem. They will perform tests to determine if the issue is a faulty fan, fuse, relay, switch, or wiring. The last thing they want to do is just replace the fan only to learn it was just a failed relay or fuse. The diagnostic will generally cost $150 to $200. Replacing the fan itself would cost another $550 to $650, including parts and labour. Some newer vehicles have more advanced systems or require more labour, potentially pushing the price over $1,000.

If you’re lucky and learn it’s something as simple as a switch, relay, or fuse, you may get out the door for $300 or less, including the diagnostics. This is why paying that diagnostic fee is so important.

Faulty Air Conditioning Compressor

At the heart of the air conditioning system is the compressor. It takes the low-pressure gas that forms after the refrigerant has done its job of cooling the air before it enters the cabin and re-pressurizes it into a high-pressure gas before it enters the condenser.

The air conditioning compressor doesn't constantly run. It has an electrically controlled clutch system that cycles off and on to pressurize the refrigerant, as needed. If this clutch or other components inside the compressor fail, your air conditioning will only blow warm air.

Other than constant warm air, some common signs of a failing A/C compressor include loud grinding noises from the front of the engine and no tell-tale clicking sounds of the clutch cycling off and on.

Initially, the technician will perform a $150 to $200 diagnostic. During this diagnostic, the technician will check all the components related to the compressor, including the pressure switch and drive belt. Before condemning the compressor, they will also verify the issue is not a leaky system.

If you need a new compressor, the price will vary by vehicle, but you can typically expect to pay $150 to $300 in parts plus labour, which will generally be another $650 to $850. The shop may also charge additional fees for refrigerant and other recommended services, such as a new orifice tube and receiver drier. You may be able to decline these extra repairs, but the shop may not offer a warranty without them.

Sometimes, you may have only a bad pressure switch, fuse, or relay. In this case, you may pay less than the $300 to $500 range, depending on the faulty part and its labour.

Faulty Electronics

Today’s cars are essentially rolling computers with loads of electronics controlling various systems, and the air conditioning system is no exception. From the sensors under the hood to the relays and fuses to the climate control interface inside the vehicle, your vehicle has plenty of places for the electrical system to fail.

Electrical failures are a hairier issue because of all the diagnostic work that goes into finding the root issue. Sure, an auto repair shop can get lucky by simply changing what part it thinks has failed, but a diagnostic ensures the air conditioning service centre fixes the issue right the first time and finds any other underlying issues that potentially caused the part to fail. Without finding this root cause, you could end up right back at the repair centre sooner than expected with the same issue.

The typical initial A/C system electrical diagnostics will cost $150 to $200, which usually only covers about 1 to 1.5 hours of labour. After that, the car A/C repair shop will charge you by the hour until the technician finds the root of the problem. This may seem like a waste, but it's critical to ensure your issue is repaired correctly the first time.

The vehicle’s air conditioning repairs themselves will vary greatly. If it’s something as simple as a relay or fuse, you may only pay $100 plus the diagnostic fee. However, more serious issues, such as severe wiring failures or failing interior control panels, can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for repair services on top of the car care centre's diagnostics.

Forget About Car Air Conditioner Repair With a Quality Clutch Vehicle

When buying a pre-owned vehicle, there is always some mystery surrounding how well it was maintained or what components may be nearing failure. The air conditioning system is one part of a vehicle that’s hard to gauge, as the only barometer of its functionality you have is whether or not it’s blowing cold air today.

Unfortunately, you could find yourself looking to get car air conditioner repair just days after buying the vehicle. Skip that stress by visiting Clutch, Canada’s first online pre-owned automotive retailer. Our pre-owned vehicles are of the highest quality and undergo a 210-point inspection, including the A/C system.

Check out our vast inventory of quality pre-owned cars today, choose the one you love, and set up auto financing. We’ll prepare the vehicle and paperwork and then deliver it to you.