Home Diagnosis and TroubleshootingClimate Control and Air Conditioning Bad AC Condenser Symptoms: Signs To Look Out For

Bad AC Condenser Symptoms: Signs To Look Out For

by Jordan Harris
Bad AC Condenser Symptoms

Almost every modern vehicle nowadays comes with an AC condenser. Moreover, it would be toasty to drive around in your car during a hot summer day. If you are a driver who cannot bear the heat in the car, then this is even more of a problem for you. Do you need to replace your AC condenser? Here are bad AC condenser symptoms that you should be aware of in our article.

The AC system in your vehicle consists of a bunch of different parts that are easily prone to failing, yes, that also includes the condenser. If the AC system of your vehicle is not functioning properly then the main issue could be with the condenser. You will be able to comfortably enjoy your ride no matter how hot it is outside, as long as your AC system, condenser included, is working properly.

This is why you need to know more about bad AC condenser symptoms so that you can diagnose the problem if you do come across one.

What Exactly Is An AC Condenser?

Let us first start by learning more about what exactly is an AC condenser. The AC condenser is generally found in the front of your vehicle. You will usually find an AC condenser closely placed to other heat exchangers in the bay of your engine, for example, the intercooler or even the radiator.

Generally, an electric fan is what supports the whole operation of an AC condenser. It is extremely important to ensure that your AC condenser is functioning just the way it should. This is because it can otherwise affect the functionality of your AC system as a whole.

Bad AC Condenser Symptoms

Mostly all of the newer vehicles come with an AC condenser and it is certainly one of the most important parts of the AC system. The AC condenser uses a process of condensation to convert a substance called refrigerant (which is at high pressure) to a liquid form (also at high pressure).

All this happens in a process of heat exchange. In this process, the heat of the refrigerant is expelled out and then exchanged with the air outside. Your AC system will not be able to produce cold air if your condenser is not working the way it should be (for more insight, check out our guide on how to make car AC colder).

However, something that you should be more worried about is that some other system components are exposed to extensive and accelerated wear due to a faulty AC condenser. If the condenser is faulty then the AC compressor in your vehicle will overheat.

Bad AC Condenser Symptoms

Now that we know what an AC condenser is and how big of a part it is for the AC system in your car, let’s take a look at the bad AC condenser symptoms that you should keep an eye out for.

1. Noticeable Leaks

A very obvious symptom of the AC condenser in your car not working properly is when you find some noticeable leaks. You will notice that there is some sort of residue from oil left on the condenser. As more time goes on, you will find leaks on your condenser. This could be due to the age, the installation being improper, or even from bent tubes.

If there is a heavy leak from your condenser, then depending on what caused the leak and where the leak is, all of the refrigerants that are on the high-pressure line will end up leaking out. This will cause a low Freon in your vehicle, which will disable the whole air conditioning system.

2. Burning Smell

When your vehicle is not able to release all the heat that is built up in the air conditioning system, it causes some of the parts in the engine to rise in pressure, so much so that it will end up burning. You might be able to get the smell of something burning coming out when you switch your air conditioner on.

3. Lukewarm Air Coming Out Of The Vent

The most common and likely the very first symptom that you might notice if your air conditioning condenser is not working properly is warm air coming out of the vent on your dashboard (with some pointers on how to make AC colder in car). You will notice that even when your AC is turned on to the minimum setting and you expect cold air to blow out but the air conditioner is not blowing out cold air.

That is when you know that you need to check your AC condenser. When this happens you need to start looking for things such as any type of blockage, leaks, or even missing fins, these things might affect the optimal performance of your system. The whole system will lack peak performance if the conversion process or the refrigerant flow is interrupted.

4. Check Engine Light

Most modern vehicles nowadays come with a warning system that can detect any problems with the vehicle’s air conditioning unit. When a problem is detected you will notice that there is a warning light on your dashboard. If you are unsure that your vehicle is equipped with a feature like this then you should take a look into the owner’s booklet that you got with your vehicle.

You will find a lot of things about your vehicle mentioned on that booklet and it should also entail information about the check engine light if your vehicle does have this feature. If it is there then it is helpful and something that you should always keep an eye out for.

5. Overheating When Idling

If you are thinking that a bad AC condenser is not able to overheat then you would be very wrong. It most definitely can. As we have already mentioned earlier, the AC condenser in a car is also referred to as a heat exchanger. This is because it is responsible for expelling the heat out of your entire system.

Your AC condenser will not be able to force the heat out of the air conditioning system if it has any clogs on the inside or if it is just deteriorating. Usually, the AC condenser fan is what’s responsible for cooling the condenser when the engine of your car is started. However, if your AC condenser is malfunctioning or just worn out, then you can be sure that your fans will not be able to provide the system with enough cooling.

How Do You Diagnose A Car AC Condenser

Now that we have taken look at the most common symptoms that you are most likely to experience if you have a bad AC condenser, we can now check on how to diagnose possible problems. You should keep in mind that periodically checking the AC condenser is a good thing for occasional AC system inspection, moreover, it is effective as well as easy.

You will see a lot of people mainly focusing on things such as leakage, system charge, or even compressor operation instead of looking at the condenser. Most people often fail to realize that the root of any problems with your air conditioning system is with the AC condenser.

The AC condenser is fragile. This is because not only is it made up of thin aluminum, it also works with highly pressurized refrigerants. Moreover, it is also open to a lot of wear and tear. This is why it does not take a lot for it to break or leak.

You don’t need a lot of tools to inspect this. All you need are your eyes so that you can run a visual inspection. Just look at the surface of the AC condenser and if you see any sort of issue that seems severe then replace it. This might just save you from having to repair the compressor or even the whole system. A simple and quick visual inspection really will not take you that long if you already have your vehicle in the garage.

You should keep in consideration that the only way to be able to tell if there are any bad AC condenser symptoms is when you have uninterrupted access to the AC condenser and the whole surface of it.

Bad AC Condenser Symptoms To Look for

Here are a few things that you should look out for when you are checking for bad AC condenser symptoms.

1. Corrosion

An important thing that you should keep an eye out for is corrosion. Look under the condenser where you will find fins and tubes to be exposed to humidity. The most common place for corrosion to start would be with the fins that are placed between the channels. Deteriorated fins will inevitably lead your vehicle to problems with the AC system even if they look properly tight enough.

2. Refrigerant Leaks

Another very commonly seen problem when your AC condenser goes bad is leakage. You should consider leaks to be a direct threat to the entire AC system of your car and they can also be spotted on the surface of the condenser.

3. Missing Fins

You probably would not have thought of this, but just a single row of missing fins can easily turn down the effectiveness of a condenser by a whole 5%. What this means is that the condenser starts to become ineffective which then increases the workload on other components in the system.

This is especially even worse on the compressor. The worst-case scenario here would be that the ineffective condenser overheats and puts the entire system on a seizure.

If the fins are not there at all, the whole condenser construction will end up becoming destabilized and start to loosen up. However, keep in mind that it might be a bit more normal for the AC condenser to have a few leaks around the engine area. This is because it is a place that gets quite shaky and it is also where the tubes are disconnected from the sidetracks.

4. Keep In Mind

You should remember that when there is a leak, it means that there is going to be a lack of refrigerant. What this means for the system is that it is exposed to some very unusual conditions. That too with limited lubricant as well as improper pressure.

A leakage might also be indicated if you find residues of oil in the condenser. This is because when the oil is traveling with the refrigerant, the refrigerant can escape through if there is a leak since it is gaseous. When this happens the oil also leaves its tracks. The cause of the leak could also be due to mechanical damages or corrosion.

Bad AC Condenser Symptoms

Given the number of causes that would allow this to happen, it can be quite hard to avoid. A critical leak can easily be caused by an improper installation, pressure cleaners, fender benders, rocks, or even insects can easily do damage to the fragile surface of the condenser (you can learn more in our guide on how to get rid of roaches in car and how to get roaches out of car).

Use a UV Lamp. With the help of a UV lamp, you are easily able to spot most of the condenser leaks. All you need to do is spark the dial and track the tubes. You could also use other types of tube detecting tools. If you do a visual inspection of the AC condenser, you will be able to spot some other sorts of problems apart from leaks as well. If you see that your condenser is leaking, has bent tubes, deteriorated or missing fins, or even if it has clogs inside of it.

This is why, when you are servicing your car you should always remember to run a visual inspection on the AC condenser. Doing this will allow you to prevent any sorts of severe damages or potential leaks.

How Do You Change An AC Condenser

If you notice any of the symptoms that we mentioned above, and after running a check it does prove to be a problem with the condenser, you would then want to replace the AC condenser. You have the option of either doing it by yourself, but if you are not confident in doing it then you can always take it for a replacement to an HVAC expert.

If you do decide to do the replacement by yourself and you are confident enough in your skills then here is how you can replace your AC condenser.

The Materials Required

Here is a list of materials that you would need to complete this replacement.

1. Discharging And Then Recovering The AC Refrigerant

You need to start this off by connecting your AC manifold toolset. Make sure that there are no leaks and all of the connections are properly fitted and tight. There are three lines on the manifold toolset, they are blue, red, and yellow.

You need to connect the recovery machine to the yellow line. Then go on to connect the high-pressure line to the red hose and then finally to the low-pressure line, connect the blue hose. You need to now check all the pressure by starting the engine.

Next, you should wait somewhere around 30 minutes so that the machine can recover the entire refrigerant. You should see the gauge reading zero once the process of recovery is completed.

2. Remove The Parts That Are Blocking Access To The AC Condenser

In this part, you need to start removing all of the parts that are blocking your access to the AC condenser. Things that might be included in this process are mounting brackets, headlights, condenser fan, radiators, grill, or even the front bumper. Once you have all of these components removed, that’s when you should remove the condenser.

3. Remove The AC Lines

You need to properly remove and disconnect all the AC lines before you start to remove the AC condenser. Make sure that you have proper protection on your eyes when you are disconnecting the AC lines. This is because the pressure from the refrigerant still might remain in the system. You need to also make sure to take the O rings off as well.

4. Remove The AC Condenser

What you need to do now is to remove the mounting bolts on the condenser. You will find the condenser being around the radiator in some of the vehicles. Once you have the bolts loosened and removed, take the condenser unit off gently to make sure that there are no more bolts left. This will also help to ensure that the condenser does not snag on any hoses or wirings.

5. Time To Install The New Condenser As Well As AC Lines

Before you start the installation of the new AC condenser, you need to first compare and then evaluate both of the condensers. You should make sure that both of the condensers are precisely matched up with the same location for fitting. This is even more important for a new AC condenser if you got that off of the aftermarket.

You need to check all of the dimensions and the mounts and if you find anything to be wrong with it, then do not mount it. But, if both of the condensers that you have checked out to be the same then use the installation brackets to install the newer one. All you need to do now is properly coat the O rings with some oil and then just install. Make sure that they are sealed properly. Reinstall all of the parts that you took out before.

6. Put The Air Conditioning System In A Vacuum

You need to use a manifold gauge set and a vacuum gauge or a recovering machine to place the entire system in a vacuum for around 30 to 45 minutes before you recharge the AC unit. You should also ensure that before you recharge the AC system, there are no leaks.

7. Recharge The AC unit

The first thing that you need to make sure of is that the refrigerant that you are using for your car is the right one. Most modern cars nowadays work with R134. You will be able to find out the refrigerant that is recommended for your vehicle in the owner’s booklet that you got with the vehicle or you should also find it under the hood, on a service tag. When the engine is idling at around 1500 RPM, that is when the charging is usually done.

8. Check Out The Performance Of The Air Conditioner

After you have done all of the repairs and run through all your diagnoses, you will need to check out the performance of the air conditioner to make sure that it is running smoothly and if your repair work was up to the task.

All you need to do is turn the air conditioner on and let it run for at least about 15 to 20 minutes. If everything went well with your repairs and you did the whole job correctly, then you should notice the AC condenser providing you with some excellent cooling performance.

Final Words

Driving in your car on a hot summer day can easily make you feel stuffy and get you all sweaty in no time. The hot summer weather being stuck inside a car, driving for hours is no fun. This is why an air conditioner is something that is an important component in a car.

Making sure that your air conditioner is working the right way and providing you with nice breezy cool air is important. This is why you should know how to diagnose a problem with the air conditioner in your car in case it does happen to not work the way it should be.

Looking through the symptoms of a bad AC condenser in your vehicle, diagnosing it, changing the entire AC system or even the condenser can look to be a difficult job, however, it can all be done with just a bit of help. We hope that this helped you in understanding the functions of an AC condenser and also know bad AC condenser symptoms so that you can fix your AC condenser if yours is showing any of the aforementioned signs.

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