Air conditioning (AC) is something we don’t notice in our cars and trucks until it stops working. We’ve all been there: it’s the first warm day of spring and you walk out to your vehicle, ready to crank the AC as cold as it will go, and you’re greeted by a blast of hot air. “This is normal,” you tell yourself, “it usually takes a few minutes.” Five minutes later, it’s still blowing hot air. You demand an answer to what is momentarily the most important question in your life: “Why is this happening, and what do I have to do to fix it?”
Let’s take a look at a few of the answers.
Your vehicle’s AC system may be low on freon
The air conditioning systems in cars and trucks use a chemical called freon. This is essentially the blood of the cooling system that cools the air before it goes to your car or truck’s cabin. Without the proper amount of freon, your vehicle’s air conditioning may run, but the air it pushes will not be cold. Low freon is usually caused by a leak in your vehicle’s AC system.
You can refill your car or truck’s AC with a freon recharge kit. Refilling or topping off your vehicle’s freon will temporarily fix your air conditioning if you have a leak. However, it won’t fix the leak itself, and the new refrigerant will either spoil or leak out and leave you with the same problem. You can fix refrigerant leaks by adding AC System Stop Leak to your system through the refrigerant port. Leaks can be small and difficult to find, but filling your system with a special ultraviolet dye can expose them so you can tell where the refrigerant is leaking, and if the leak is treatable with an AC System Stop Leak.
Most refrigerant manufacturers offer a two-in-one refrigerant refill that contains Stop-Leak.
Your AC condenser may be blocked or broken
In order to cool your air, the freon itself has to be kept cool. The condenser is the part of your AC system where the cooling of the freon takes place, any problems with it will cause your AC to shoot warm air through your vents. Your vehicle’s condenser needs a continuous flow of two things in order to do its job: freon flowing through it and air flowing over it. Since the condenser is in the front of your engine compartment, it can easily become blocked by plastic bags, leaves, or other road debris. These things prevent air from flowing past the condenser and cooling your freon. If the freon is warm, it will not cool the air around the evaporator, and the blower will blow hot air into your cab. To fix this, examine your condenser, which is in front of your radiator. If you see any debris, remove it. This should restore the proper air flow through the condenser and your AC will be cold again.
Since it’s in the front of your vehicle, the condenser is exposed to impacts from collisions and hard road debris, such as sticks and rocks, that get kicked up in traffic. These impacts can dent or crack your condenser, which can stop the air from flowing over it properly or cause it to leak. Both of these cases would cause your AC to blow warm air. If your condenser is broken, you can replace it yourself fairly easily. It is only connected to the car’s frame by a few bolts and the hoses are easy to remove. Be sure to wear gloves and avoid skin contact with the refrigerant.
Your AC cooling fan may be broken or have a blown fuse
The cooling fan is what blows the air across your car or truck’s condenser to help it cool the freon. If your cooling fan is not working, your freon will stay warm and so will the air coming out of your vents. To check your cooling fan, have an assistant turn your car’s AC on full while the car is running. Watch the engine compartment to see if the fan starts. If it doesn’t, you could have one of several different problems.
First, cooling fans are also exposed to some of the same impacts condensers are. This can lead to cracks and broken fan blades. Inspect your cooling fan for any damage from impacts.
Second, you may have a blown fuse. If you don’t see any damage to your cooling fan, check your fuses. To do this, open up your vehicle’s fuse box and use the chart on the underside of the lid to figure out which fuse controls the cooling fan. Some fuses light up when they are blown, so if you see a light on the fuse, you need to replace it. You can also pull the fuse and inspect it. It should have two metal blades held together by a plastic body. The body should have a strip of metal through it, connecting the blades. if the metal strip is broken or if the plastic is too blackened to see the strip, the fuse is blown and needs to be replaced.
Third, your AC cooling fan may be worn out. Due to friction, AC cooling fans eventually fail. This is the hardest of the three cooling fan problems to detect. If you check the fuse and the outside of the fan and they are both intact, your fan is likely worn out and needs to be replaced.