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How Can I Tell If My Car’s AC Compressor is Bad?

When a car’s air conditioning system stops working, the first culprit is often low refrigerant levels. However, failing AC compressors can just as easily leave you fighting the summer heat. So how can you tell if your car’s AC compressor is going bad? The mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire are here with insight. 

What is a Vehicle AC Compressor?

Before we dive into the signs of an AC compressor failure, let’s answer one of the most common questions we get from customers: What is an AC compressor? Your car’s compressor pumps refrigerant through your AC system to provide your vehicle with cool, comfortable air. Without the refrigerant circulation, your car will be unable to cool the air it distributes through your cabin—thus, leading to an AC system that produces warm air. 

Poor Air Conditioning Performance

Perhaps the most obvious sign of a compressor issue is poor air conditioning performance. If you notice your cabin feeling warmer than usual or your air conditioner is blowing warm air, you know that your system is experiencing some troubles. 

Vehicle AC Compressor Problems vs. Low AC Refrigerant 

Poor AC performance can often be traced back to either compressor failure or low AC refrigerant. Unfortunately, these vehicle components work hand-in-hand, making it hard to distinguish which is causing your AC troubles. So how can you tell if it is a compressor problem? There are a few subtle symptoms to look out for:

  • Refrigerant Levels: If your AC system has optimal refrigerant levels (not too much or too little), but your air conditioner still does not work properly, this is often the sign of AC compressor failure.
  • Inconsistent AC Performance: Refrigerant leaks will only continue to get worse as the problem continues. On the other hand, a failing AC compressor might work well one day and poorly the next. While it is not applicable for all AC troubles, this symptom is an easy way to distinguish between low refrigerant and compressor problems. 
  • Sudden AC Performance Drops: Refrigerant tends to leak gradually over time, while AC compressors can stop working on a dime. While even small refrigerant leaks can cause large AC problems, sudden drops tend to indicate compressor failure.

If you are still unsure of the source of your AC problems, it might be time to bring your vehicle to a mechanic for professional insight. 

Unusual Car AC Sounds

When your car’s air conditioning system makes unusual noises, this often indicates an AC compressor problem. Unlike refrigerant leaks, this is a sign of a mechanical shift somewhere in your car’s air conditioner. One of the most active parts within your vehicle AC system is the compressor—making it a likely culprit. 

Professional Insight

When all else fails, the easiest way to know whether or not you have a compressor problem is to take a look under the hood. However, vehicle AC systems are complicated and fragile, making them difficult to diagnose and repair on your own. As such, you may need to visit a mechanic to determine if your car’s AC compressor is failing. A professional will be able to diagnose your air conditioning troubles—whether they be from your compressor, refrigerant, or another component—and work with you to develop a repair plan.

Vehicle AC Repair Services | Chapel Hill Tire

When your car’s air conditioner stops working, you can bring it to the local mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire. Our vehicle air conditioning services will restore your AC functioning and leave you driving happy. We proudly serve drivers throughout the greater Triangle area with our 9 locations across Durham, Raleigh, Carrboro, Apex, and Chapel Hill. We invite you to make your appointment here online or give your nearest Chapel Hill Tire a call to get started today!

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