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Air conditioning (AC)
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Sad Signs Your Car’s AC Compressor is on the Fritz

Having AC in your car is one of the most basic luxuries, but it can also be a safety feature in case of extreme heat. When your AC isn't working properly it can be caused by several issues, but there are a few signs you can see before your AC compressor goes out all together.

In the heat of the summer, AC isn’t just a luxury, it can be a safety feature all on its own. In extreme climates and harsh weather, AC can make a significant difference in temperature inside of your vehicle, and there can be signs that your vehicle’s most crucial AC mechanism, the compressor, is noticeable before it goes bad completely. Some of these signs may be easier to decipher than others, but if you want to catch your failing AC compressor as soon as possible, it’s important to pay attention to any potential problems as soon as they arise even if it isn’t part of regular maintenance.

Why is the AC cool, but not cold?

Manual air conditioning switches in a car
Air conditioning (AC) Switches | Michal Fludra, NurPhoto, Getty Images

The first and most obvious symptom of a failing AC system is also the easiest to ignore: your AC isn’t blowing as cold as it used to. For many vehicle owners, we can justify this sometimes by the ambient temperature or the temperature inside of the vehicle. Sometimes we don’t give much thought to how cold the AC blows until it is no longer blowing cold air at all, but rather warm or slightly cooled air. This could be caused by several failures in your car’s AC system, such as a leak in the AC lines, but it can also indicate that your AC compressor is on the fritz.

Your AC compressor is making more noise than usual under the hood

Under the hood, there are many moving parts, many of which produce sounds and noises that you may or may not recognize. Because of this, and the unfamiliarity of many car owners with the noises and their causes under the hood, it can be hard to decipher which noises are unusual and which ones are completely normal. According to JD Power, abnormal, high-pitched squeal coming from under the hood could be caused by several components of an AC compressor failing, including the serpentine belt and other easy to repair parts or more complicated parts that will require an entire replacement.

The compressor clutch begins to stick

The AC compressor is composed of several parts, one of which is the compressor clutch. This is the component that connects to the engine via a pulley and belt, which allows it to cycle the compressor on and off so it is not in use the entire time you are driving. This improves your vehicle’s fuel economy because it allows your engine to stop powering the compressor when it isn’t needed. This compressor clutch can, unfortunately, get stuck in either the on position, meaning the compressor is on for as long as the engine is on, causing excessive wear on the compressor or off, which means the compressor doesn’t work at all.

While you can’t always determine if your AC compressor is going to fail before it does, paying attention to some of the potential signs can mean getting the problem fixed before it’s completely ruined. This can mean saving time and money by having parts of the compressor replaced and repaired, rather than the entire unit, but other times it can just save you the hassle of suffering in a hot car with no AC for longer than you need to.