Everything that can go wrong with your A/C condenser

Why is my air conditioner not working?

Were you expecting crisp cold air from your air conditioning, only to find it’s blowing room temperature or even hot air? That’s a pretty good indicator there’s a problem within your car air conditioning system. This is also a common symptom of condenser failure.

There are several components to your car’s air conditioning, but today our job is to help you catch the culprit (in this case the condenser) and better understand the system.

Natrad offers a nationwide warranty on all car air conditioning condensers fitted to your car. If you’re in need of a replacement, Nip into Natrad today for specialist advice.

Everything that can go wrong with your A/C condenser

There are many components to an A/C system and we know it’s not easy to understand. These include the condenser, the compressor, evaporator, receiver drier and TX valve or orifice tube. So we’ve put together a simple guide for you to pinpoint condenser failure and avoid costly repairs.

Aircon system

First off, you’ll need to know about the system as a whole. The most important concept to understand is the circulation of refrigerant. Refrigerant is a substance which can convert from liquid to gas, or vice versa, depending on pressure and temperature conditions. This cycle is what allows you to receive cold air inside the car during those toasty summer months.

Throughout the system, refrigerant converts between these two states several times. This diagram will help you understand the direction of flow and each stage of the cycle.

AC explainer graph

(Image courtesy of Go Motorwise, Blidworth UK)

The condenser receives hot, high pressure refrigerant gas from the compressor. The gas flows through the condenser’s tubes in the same way coolant would flow through a radiator.

Ambient air outside the car passes through the condenser fins and cools the hot gas flowing through the tubes. The cooling makes the gas to turn to liquid, which is then directed to the receiver drier to remove any excess moisture. From there is circulates through the rest of the A/C system.

Condenser failure

Now that you understand the role the condenser plays, you might want to know why it can go wrong. It’s particularly important to pinpoint the clear cause of failure or inadequate cooling to avoid further damage within the system. A malfunctioning component could contaminate the system and cause other parts to to ‘bite the dust’ as well.

So what are some common causes of condenser failure?

  1. Damage or blockage
  2. Weld failure
  3. Holes in tubes
  4. Collision damage
  5. Leakage

Main causes

Damage or blockage is usually due to external debris. Since the condenser is usually placed at the front of the car, it can be impacted by something striking the front of your car. This can block or clog the fins and prevent effective airflow. Damage such as bent fins will likewise reduce heat transfer efficiency. Debris could be anything from dirt, grime, leaves, insects or even small pebbles and stones.

Weld failure or cracking is likely to result in leakage, which of course is a pretty obvious problem. Leakage means insufficient refrigerant so the heat transfer cycle will not function properly and you will not have effective cooling. A cracked condenser likely needs to be replaced, especially if the crack is in the tubes.

If your car is involved in a front-end collision, it is highly likely that the condenser may be damaged. If this is the case, Natrad can assess whether it’s fixable or whether you’re safer to replace. Running your A/C system with a broken condenser which has lost the refrigerant could cause harm to other components in the system.

Leakage can happen in a few difference ways. Most common is seal breakage or failure, typically found as a part of the high pressure side of the system. The refrigerant circulating around the system carries a special oil that lubricates moving parts and also the seals. If you don’t use the A/C for a long time, these seals can dry out and fail. It may also be due to tube deterioration or corrosion. Whatever the cause, fixing a leak is vital to keeping your system running smoothly.

How to tell if your A/C condenser is going bad

We’ve covered a lot of the causes, but how can you tell any of this is happening? Watch out for the following clues;

  • Visible damage or blockages to the condenser fins
  • Reduced cooling, such as warm air or weak airflow
  • Warning lights. Some cars have the ability to let you know if something has gone wrong in the system.
  • Engine overheating. Since the condenser is usually mounted in front of the radiator, a blocked condenser can restrict air flow to the radiator.
  • Failed A/C compressor. When the compressor fails, internal wear can create metal dust which circulates through the entire A/C system, contaminating the condenser and blocking the tubes.

If you’ve noticed any of these signs, then it’s time to act. Air conditioner repairs must be done a licensed refrigerant technician using the correct tools, so it’s best to not attempt any fixes yourself. Natrad technicians are highly trained in cooling and air conditioning systems and can advise what the best next step is for you.

Natrad offers highly-cost effective compressor kits for when you need to replace several parts in your A/C system. Find a Natrad store near you and find out what options are available for your car.