When late spring and summer roll around, the temperatures start climbing, and our car air conditioners become necessary on some days. When you turn on the air conditioner, you expect a blast of cold air to cool off the cabin, but sometimes these systems can fail, leading to hot air blowing from the vents.
What can cause your air conditioning to blow hot air and how much will it cost to fix? There’s a wide range of problems and potential costs, and we outline these details on some of the more common car air conditioner repair procedures.
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.
Within the air conditioning system of all cars is a refrigerant. 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.
The air conditioning system is fully sealed, and it does not consume the refrigerant in normal use. So, this refrigerant level should remain relatively consistent unless there’s a leak. Typically, these leaks will be near a connection point where a seal or O-ring may have become weak, but rust and physical damage to air conditioning hoses, lines, and other components (evaporator core, accumulator, compressor, etc.) can also cause leaks.
When you have a leak in a car A/C system, the technician must first find the leak. This is generally done by injecting a dye into the system, pressurizing it, and using a black light to find where the dye is escaping. Many car air conditioning repair technicians also use a refrigerant detector or “sniffer,” which detects the refrigerant as it escapes the system, to locate leaks.
For the initial diagnostics and leak test by a certified auto air conditioning repair technician, you can expect to pay $150 to $200, depending on how hard the leak is to find.
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 $500, on average, for a leak repair.
In many newer vehicles, there will be two fans, the radiator fan and condenser fan, but some have only one fan that handles both jobs. This fan is responsible for cooling the refrigerant after it exits the compressor and as it passes through the condenser. This cooling converts the refrigerant from a high-temperature, high-pressure gas to a high-temperature, 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. Common symptoms of a faulty condenser include lukewarm air conditioning temperatures, cooler temperatures when driving at higher speeds, and an overheating engine at idle.
The auto repair technician will first have to diagnose the problem, determining if a faulty fan, fuse, relay, switch, or wiring is causing the fan not to work. The diagnostic will generally cost $150 to $200. Replacing the fan itself would cost another $550 to $650, including parts and labour.
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.
The air conditioning compressor is the heart of any automotive air conditioning system. It takes the cool, low-pressure gas that forms after the refrigerant has done its job of cooling the air before it entered the cabin and re-pressurizes it. This process turns the refrigerant into the hot, high-pressure gas that flows into the condenser.
The air conditioning compressor 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.
To start the repair, the technician must first perform a $150 to $200 diagnostic. This will let the tech know if the compressor is the issue or if something like a failing pressure switch, faulty drive belt, or leak in the system is causing the problems.
If you need a new compressor, you can expect to pay $300 to $500 for parts and labour. Once the compressor fails, other components may need to be replaced, such as an orifice tube and receiver/dryer, so there may be additional costs.
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.
Today’s cars are chock-full with electronics, 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, there are 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 of the 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 cause the part to fail.
The typical A/C system electrical diagnostics will start from $150 to $200, but that 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.
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 in addition to the diagnostic fee. However, more serious issues, such as severe wiring failures or failing interior control panels, can run $500 or more for the repair services on top of the car care centre's diagnostics.
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 it's 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.
On top of that, we also include a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty to cover any unforeseen issues. Plus, you get a 10-day or 750-km test-own period. If you don’t love your Clutch vehicle at this time, you can return it for a refund or exchange it.
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.