When Should You Worry About Your Car's AC Performance?

Posted on: 7 December 2022

There's nothing like a nice blast of ice-cold air after a brutal day of summer heat, but what if your car doesn't provide the chilly reprieve you expect? It's normal for air conditioning systems to take some time to reduce the temperature in your car. Still, most modern cars should be able to maintain a comfortable environment on hot, sunny days.

Of course, as with many automotive problems, it's sometimes hard to determine if a subtle change is an actual concern. If you're worried your car's air conditioning system may have an issue, keep an eye out for these three subtle signs of trouble.

1. Unusual Odors

Unusual odors can be a problem for automotive and home air conditioning systems. In almost all cases, strange smells indicate a problem with excessive moisture in the system. When starting the car on a humid day, a brief musty smell may be normal. However, persistent odors often indicate that your air conditioner isn't running for long enough to dehumidify the air fully.

There are many potential reasons this may happen, including a clogged cabin filter, refrigerant leaks, or issues with the evaporator coil. While a smelly air conditioner might seem like a minor inconvenience, it's often the first sign of a more serious problem. Having an experienced shop investigate the problem now may save you from more expensive trouble in the future.

2. Blasts of Warm Air

Automotive air conditioners use variable-speed compressors that can run at multiple speeds to maintain a comfortable temperature without always blasting frigid air in your face. As a result, they don't need to turn on and off as often as your home air conditioner. This design means you should generally feel a relatively consistent temperature from your car's vents.

If you feel a sudden blast of warm, humid air, that's typically a sign that your compressor may have shut down during a cycle. Since the blower keeps running, you'll get warm air since the refrigerant cannot continue to absorb heat without the compressor. This short cycling behavior is almost always due to an underlying issue with the system, so it's not something you should ignore for too long.

3. Refrigerant Top-Ups

If your system stops working, you may be low on refrigerant. However, automotive AC systems are closed loops, so you should never use up or wear out your refrigerant. Adding more refrigerant can get your system running again, but the problem will inevitably return. In most cases, the need to "top up" your refrigerant directly results from one or more leaks.

Losing refrigerant is bad for the environment, and it can cause severe damage to your system. Running your air conditioner with low refrigerant can stress the AC compressor or result in struggling, potentially leading to an expensive repair. If you need to top up your car's refrigerant, you should always have a qualified shop help you find and repair the underlying cause of refrigerant loss.

Contact a car AC repair service near you to learn more.