How Often Should I Recharge My Car’s Air Conditioning System?

With Spring and Summer right around the corner, it could be time to check on your car’s air conditioning system. Of course, turning on your car’s A/C while it’s still cold outside might seem odd, but it’s a good idea to make sure that it doesn’t need to be recharged before the warm weather hits. But does a car’s A/C system really need to be recharged, and if so, when?

Your car’s air conditioner operates on a closed system

Considering your car’s tires, brakes, and fluids need to be changed in regular intervals, for the most part, you would think that its air conditioning system follows the same type of schedule. However, that is not the case since it runs on a “closed” system.

A “closed” system means that your car’s A/C system recirculates the refrigerant — which is the coolant that makes the air that comes out of the vents cold – so if it needs to be recharged, then there could be a leak in the system. However, cars do tend to lose some refrigerant over time naturally, but it’s typically not enough to warrant a recharge every year.

As noted, “Unless your car’s A/C is in need of repair, there’s no need to “top off” the system.”

A photo of a car's air conditioner set to maximum cooling.
The air conditioner in a car is set to maximum cooling. | (Photo by Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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How do you know when your car’s A/C system needs a recharge?

In the case that your car’s A/C system does develop a leak, there are a few tell-tale signs that it could benefit from a recharge or is in need of repair:

  • The A/C is blowing warm air: The first, and easiest, way to tell if your car’s A/C system needs a recharge is if it’s blowing warm air out of the in-cabin vents. Since the system operates by circulating the pressurized refrigerant, a lower amount of refrigerant will affect its performance.
  • The A/C clutch is not engaging: When your car’s A/C system is in full working order, you’ll occasionally hear a slight “click” when the A/C clutch turns on. However, if you don’t hear the click (from outside the car), then it’s probably because the system isn’t working properly and the refrigerant levels are low.
  • Visible leaks: Another easy way to tell if your car needs its A/C system recharged or repaired is if you notice thin, greasy puddles on the ground underneath your car’s engine bay. If the refrigerant is leaking that much, then you’ll definitely need to get it serviced.

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How do I get my car’s A/C system recharged or repaired?

While you can definitely buy a can of the refrigerant at your local auto parts store and look up a handy YouTube video on how to recharge your car’s system, we recommend bringing it to an ASE certified mechanic instead.

Most auto repair shops will have the necessary tools and machines to properly and thoroughly check your car’s A/C system and recharge it if necessary. And if it ends up that the system needs to be repaired, then they will be able to take care of that as well. Air conditioning refrigerant is harmful to the environment, so having the proper equipment to add more or evacuate your car’s A/C system is necessary.

Air conditioning vents sit on the dashboard of a Bentley Bentayga SUV automobile.
Air conditioning vents sit on the dashboard of a Bentley Bentayga SUV automobile. | Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images