Keep Your Car Cool When It’s Hot Outside
By Tom Catuosco
Summer's almost here again. That means hot, humid weather. Thank god for air conditioning...especially in your car. Without air conditioning, driving your car would be like traveling in a rolling greenhouse. When your car’s AC stops working properly, driving can be a miserable experience. Here are 4 tips to keep your car’s AC working properly.
Use the AC at least once a week - You should run your car’s air conditioning system at least once a week throughout the year. Like many mechanical systems, your car’s AC doesn’t like to go extended periods of time without use. Running the AC at least once a week for 5 to 10 minutes ensures that the freon and lubricating oil travels through the system to keep seals and hoses from drying out. Even in the winter, your AC can be useful in removing humidity from the cabin, so you may as well use it and keep it happy.
Don’t run the AC if the freon is low - If you notice your air conditioning isn’t blowing as cold as it used to, don’t use it any more until checking out the problem. It could be low on freon.
Your car’s air conditioning uses a blend of chemicals to keep you cool. This refrigerant blend is often called “freon”. Freon can switch back and forth between a liquid and gaseous state. This ability to quickly change states allows freon to easily absorb and dissipate heat. If your car is older than 1995, it probably uses R12 refrigerant. After 1995, it will have the more environmentally friendly R134. Car air conditioning systems are filled, or “charged”, with a certain amount of freon. If a leak has developed in the system and allowed freon to escape, your freon charge will be lower than it should be. This could cause damage to your AC system, especially your compressor (a very expensive component).
If you suspect your car’s AC is low on freon, and your car uses R134, you can try recharging it yourself. R134 is inexpensively available at any auto parts store and can be bought in a small kit that includes a gauge to help charge your car with the correct amount of freon. However, if your car is indeed low on freon, there may be a leak somewhere in the system and you probably should have a professional check it out. Otherwise, your freon will eventually just get low again. If your car’s AC uses R12, you should have a professional check out the system. R12 requires a permit to handle and there are other regulations regarding its use that make it difficult for a do-it-yourselfer.
Clean the condenser - The condenser is an important component of your car’s AC system. As its name implies, the condenser “condenses” - in this case, it condenses the freon to change its state from a gas back to a liquid by drawing heat away from the freon to cool it back down. Your condenser looks like a small version of your car’s radiator and has a whole bunch of tiny metal fins on it to dissipate heat when air flows through it. It is usually located right in front of the radiator.
Over time, the condenser’s fins can become covered with dirt and other things like leaves, small stones, and animal hair. Dirty fins restrict the airflow through the condenser. If the fins get dirty enough, the condenser can’t effectively dissipate heat and your AC won’t be as cool as it should be. You can clean your condenser’s fins with a stream of water. There is also foamy cleaner in a can meant to clean condensers. Items like pebbles can be CAREFULLY pried out using a toothpick. “Carefully” is an important word, as the metal fins are extremely thin and can easily be bent or broken.
Clean the evaporator - The evaporator sort of does the opposite job of the condenser. It causes the freon to go from a liquid state into a gas. Like the condenser, it also has a bunch of thin metal fins which can become dirty and diminish its effectiveness. You can clean these fins with foaming evaporator cleaner. Your car’s AC evaporator is usually more difficult to access than the condenser. It’s often somewhere inside the car’s dashboard, making the job tricky if you’re not experienced working on cars. If you’re not confident enough to do it yourself, let a professional do the job.
Car air conditioning is great luxury. Many people would say it’s a necessity. Make sure to stay on top of your car’s AC maintenance to keep it working properly and prevent small problems from becoming big problems.