Heating and cooling inside your vehicle is so automatic, you probably don’t think much about it. Whether it’s warm or cold outside, you push a button or flip a lever, and your car is conditioned just the way you like it.
When something goes wrong with your car’s heating and air conditioning system, you’ll learn how important it is. A one hundred degree day in Colorado can leave you scrambling out of your car as quickly as possible. And when you can’t get the heat to turn on, you might not be going anywhere. A problem with your heating and cooling system can also impact ice and moisture buildup on your windows. If you can’t see, you can’t drive.
If you’re having a problem with your car’s heating and air conditioning system, what could be the problem?
What causes your car’s heater or air conditioner to stop working?
Many different things can cause the heater or air conditioner to stop working in your vehicle. Here are the most common situations.
If your air conditioner is blowing hot air, it could be a refrigerant leak
Refrigerant is a specially formulated fluid designed for transforming hot air into cold air. It does this by absorbing heat, releasing it, and leaving cool air in its place. It has a similar purpose as motor oil or radiator coolant, with refrigerant specifically designed for the cooling system.
You may have heard of refrigerant referred to as Freon. Freon, also known as R12, was the primary chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) used within the air conditioning system to keep cars cooled until it was banned by the EPA in the mid 1990s. Freon has a chemical that depletes the ozone layer and causes all kinds of environmental concerns. When the EPA discovered its problems, it banned continued use and created a timetable for phase-out.
Today, the auto industry continues to switch to CFC-free refrigerant, which is safer and eliminates CFCs from being released into the environment. The EPA has issued guidelines that state all vehicles by 2021 will no longer use R134a, a replacement of R12, which is also shown to have a potent greenhouse gas with global warming potential. New climate-friendly refrigerants continue to be developed and will be added to newer models of vehicles.
A refrigerant leak in your vehicle can be a serious problem, depending on the age of your car. Newer cars may already use upgraded refrigerants, which make repair a fairly easy process. However, if your car is older and uses one of the older refrigerants, it could mean a complete replacement of your car’s air conditioning system to bring it up to date.
If your air conditioner is blowing hot air, it could be a failed AC compressor
The AC compressor is the main component of your car’s air conditioning system. It forces refrigerant to flow through the entire system, giving you the cool air you demand.
On most of our modern day cars, the AC compressor is belt-driven. That means if your AC compressor isn’t working, it’s most likely a problem with the belt. Maybe the belt has slipped off the pulley. Or the belt has seized or failed entirely. In any case, your air conditioner will stop working entirely.
Because many modern day vehicles use one common serpentine belt to control a variety of your car’s accessories, you might notice other problems too if the belt breaks.
Age is also a factor. Like every part of your vehicle, the AC compressor will only last for so long. It wears out over time, and when it will no longer work, it’s time for replacement. When an AC compressor breaks, it can also send bits and particles of metal and other substances to other parts of your system. If you continue operating it without flushing the system out, you could wind up with bigger problems down the road.
If your air conditioner is blowing hot air, it could be a failed blower motor
This one is pretty easy to detect. Sitting behind the vents in your dashboard is a fan called the blower motor. If it has a problem, no air will flow through the vents. It could be either a failed blower motor or a problem with the electrical system, so it’s a good idea to have the system assessed by one of our technicians.
If your heater is blowing cold air, it could be low coolant
The same system that is responsible for keeping your engine cool is what operates your heating system. If your car is having problems with the cooling system, it will ultimately cause an issue with your heating system too.
Your car operates with coolant, or antifreeze, to absorb heat from the rapidly moving parts in your vehicle. If there is a leak in the system, it means there isn’t enough coolant to do its job. All it takes is topping off the coolant to fix the problem.
If your heater is blowing cold air, it could be a failed heater
Just like other parts of your vehicle, the heater core can rust, corrode, clog, and ultimately fail over time. If the heater goes bad, it will have to be replaced.
How to prevent issues with the car’s heating and air conditioning system
The good news is that with today’s newer cars, there is rarely a problem with the heating and cooling system unless there is a defect during the manufacturing process. If you have a newer car, you shouldn’t experience any problems with your heater or air conditioner until they reach 60,000 miles or more. The older the car is, the more miles you put on, the more risk you’ll have of experiencing a problem.
That’s why it’s equally important to know your car well. Don’t just drive your car and ignore the tiny details that make it unique. Instead, listen to the sounds it makes, watch the way your car handles, and pay attention to anything new that pops up as you drive. Don’t ignore warning signs; take action right away.
The best way to ensure your car’s heating and air conditioning system work properly for the life of your car is to ensure proper maintenance. That means taking your car regularly for check ups, to ensure everything is working the way it should. By having a trusted mechanic on your side, you’ll know your car will be there for you, working properly no matter how many miles you have to drive.
When was the last time you brought your vehicle in for maintenance?