How to Stay Cool When Your Car’s Air Conditioning Is Broken

The dog days of summer are here with sweltering temperatures that require cars‘ air conditioners on full blast. Unfortunately, some people are all too familiar with a broken AC, making driving in extreme heat miserable. Maybe your car is too old to justify spending the money to fix your AC, or maybe you don’t have the cash to get the work done. Whatever the reason, driving with a broken AC is no fun.

Though nothing replaces cold air blowing on a hot summer day, several car air conditioning alternatives can help when your legs are sticking to your seat.

How to determine if your car’s air conditioning is broken

A close-up of a gray and silver air conditioning vent in a 2004 Range Rover Sport
2004 Range Rover Sport air conditioning vent | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Broken car AC can be an easy and relatively inexpensive fix, but sometimes it can end up costing thousands to repair. Many drivers choose to ignore the problems or look for car air conditioner alternatives to stay cool.

According to CarGurus, “A properly functioning AC system should be able to cool the air in your car at least 40 degrees.” If your car isn’t cooling down and you feel warm air coming through the vents, the air conditioning system might be on its last leg.

Other signs of broken car AC include squealing or knocking from under the hood when you turn the air conditioner on or off. Even if cold air is still blowing, this could indicate the compressor is not functioning properly.

When you start noticing problems with your car’s air conditioning system, seek the help of a certified service technician, and resist the temptation to use a DIY kit found on the shelves of auto parts stores. For around $100, the mechanic can check for leaks and recharge the refrigerant. If leaks are discovered, you might need a new compressor, with repairs costing upward of $1,000.

Car air conditioning alternatives

When money is tight and paying for costly repairs is not an option, sometimes driving without AC cannot be avoided. Keep in mind that AC systems can deteriorate over time without the proper refrigerant levels, so try to get the repairs done as soon as possible.

Until then, consider car air conditioner alternatives to make driving a bit more tolerable. An inexpensive window shade and seat covers can reduce the temperature inside your car. Portable air conditioners or 12-volt fans can also move the air around and lower the interior temp. Window tinting is another alternative that can reduce the sun’s blazing glare by up to 78 percent.

The Zebra recommends sitting on a towel if you have leather seats and keeping a cooler of ice water with you at all times. It also says, “The best offense is a good defense: Park in the shade, and drive during the day whenever possible.”

Precautions to take when driving in high temperatures

You can take several precautions to ensure your car functions properly in hot weather. Make sure your car’s battery is in good working order and prepped for high temperatures. Check your tire pressure frequently because hot asphalt takes a toll on your vehicle’s tires. Regularly monitor fluid levels and ensure the engine has coolant to prevent overheating. Also, make sure the cabin air filter is clean to eliminate unnecessary exposure to pollutants.

When driving in extreme heat with no AC, remember to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks at air-conditioned stores or rest stops for a reprieve from the high temperatures.

Also, avoid touching metal parts, like seat belt buckles, because they can get scalding-hot in high temps. And, most important, never leave children, pets, or the elderly unattended in a hot car. Dangerous conditions can escalate quickly during the heat of summer. Stay cool out there.

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