If you want ice-cold air conditioning in your vehicle during the summer, it’s important that all of the system components work as intended. One part that can easily fail is the AC compressor, leading to an unexpectedly warm cabin. But, how much does an AC compressor replacement cost, and is it worth the expense?
In this guide, we share the basics of the AC compressor with you. We also look at its function and discuss some of the top symptoms that reveal there’s a problem. Aside from that, you can find reasons for the compressor failure, learn about proper maintenance and get answers to your top questions in our guide.
How Much Does a Car AC Compressor Replacement Cost?
On average, you may spend $750 to $1,250 to have the AC compressor replaced by a professional, depending on what type of car you drive. The labor could run $150 to $250, while the remainder of the bill is spent on purchasing the part, so you aren’t saving much by doing the replacement yourself.
When replacing the AC compressor, you also need to empty and recharge the AC system with refrigerant, which is recommended to be done by a properly certified professional. Therefore, the AC compressor replacement cost can vary greatly depending on who does the work.
What is a Car AC Compressor?
The AC compressor is considered one of the main components of the car’s air conditioning system. This part is required to move the refrigerant through the system. Normally, the AC compressor sits near the front of the motor, along with all of the belt-driven accessories.
It also compresses the low-pressure refrigerant, so the pressure increases appropriately. Without the AC compressor, the air blowing from the vents wouldn’t be cold.
Why is Replacing an AC Compressor on a Car so Expensive?
The compressor has a very important job of pressurizing the refrigerant in the AC system. For this reason, it’s made from high-quality parts to ensure integrity. Additionally, if you drive a bigger vehicle that requires more cooling, you can expect a more expensive compressor to be installed.
With this replacement, the majority of the cost is not spent on labor. It usually doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to put a new compressor in unless you drive a vehicle that it’s hard to locate. The majority of the AC compressor replacement cost is because of the part itself and the refrigerant cost.
Reasons for AC Compressor Failure
The air conditioning system is designed to be sealed, so refrigerant shouldn’t leak. However, if there’s a problem, such as a torn hose or defective seal, the refrigerant will start to leak from the system. These leaks lead to AC compressor failure because there isn’t enough lubrication in the system.
Additionally, without refrigerant, corrosion can start to occur. This corrosion is sure to damage the AC compressor, leading to failure. Before you move on with any fix, it’s important to find the leak and repair it. Otherwise, you could end up in the same boat after the compressor replacement.
2. Contaminant Buildup/Clog
With everything working as it should, the refrigerant flows smoothly in a closed loop around the air conditioning system. However, contamination buildup can lead to clogs in various components.
It’s not uncommon to deal with a clog in the filters, condenser or valves. When these clogs occur, pressure drops and the compressor can fail due to overheating conditions.
3. Old Age
Sometimes, car parts simply break. It’s one of the inevitable problems you will face as a car owner. If you drive an older vehicle that has been used heavily, you can expect parts of the air conditioning system to start wearing out.
The compressor is known for giving out after many miles of use, but it’s not the only part that can fail. Hoses, belts, the evaporator and the condenser, are all going to age and lead to trouble after a lifetime of use.
How Does the Car AC Compressor Work?
Today’s modern vehicle uses a drive belt or serpentine belt that’s responsible for running the AC compressor whenever the engine is on and the system is running. This AC compressor pressurizes refrigerant that’s passing through.
It takes in the refrigerant from the evaporator, where the pressure drops. Because the pressure is lower, it can now evaporate at a lower temperature. The compressor pressurizes the gas, so it gets warmed and can be pushed into the pipes. This is where it re-liquefies and emits the heat before it goes back to getting cooled.
How To Tell The AC Compressor Is Bad?
1. Not Blowing Cold Air
The entire purpose of the air conditioning system is to keep the cabin cool in warm weather. When the compressor begins to fail, it becomes more difficult for you to get the temperature where you want it. While this changeover can happen suddenly, many people notice that it’s more subtle over time.
At first, you may notice that the air isn’t getting as cold as it once was. After a little while, there will be no more cold air left to enjoy once the compressor fails completely. However, the same symptoms can occur simply from having low refrigerant levels or a leak, so a complete diagnosis is needed before replacing parts.
2. Strange Noises
The air conditioning compressor is one part that is known for making noises as it fails. This sound operates as a warning system, letting you know that something is wrong.
With the broken compressor, you will notice a whining sound that has a higher pitch. If you put your ear near the compressor, you will be able to pinpoint where it’s coming from, just remember to be careful that you don’t get too close.
It’s also possible that you can misdiagnose the sound of a failing drive belt for that of a compressor. Both parts can make similar whining sounds, so follow through on diagnosis to figure out what’s wrong.
LEARN MORE: Symptoms of a Bad AC Compressor
3. Broken Clutch
The compressor is made up of several parts, working together in harmony. In fact, this component contains a clutch that’s responsible for engaging and disengaging. Sadly, the clutch is one of the main parts that break on the compressor.
If the clutch seizes, the compressor can continue running even though you turn off the air conditioning on the climate control system. However, when the clutch breaks, the compressor can’t run at all. In some cases, you can simply replace the clutch, but it’s not usually worth the effort or cost.
For example, the average cost for AC compressor clutch replacement falls between $550 and $750. In some models, it can’t be performed at all. Once you spend all this money to simply replace the clutch, something else could go wrong with the compressor. For this reason, most mechanics recommend having the entire unit replaced when the clutch fails.
How to Avoid Expensive AC Compressor Replacement Costs
1. Run AC Often
One might think that to preserve the system, it’s best not to run it. However, the opposite is actually true.
If you want to keep the car’s air conditioning in its optimal condition, you should run it regularly. Try to run the AC at least weekly for a minimum of ten minutes at the coolest setting and highest fan speed. By doing this, you help to maintain an appropriate amount of pressure in the closed system and you ensure there’s enough lubrication. You also keep moisture levels down in the vehicle, thereby preventing mold and mildew from growing.
2. Use Defrost Mode
You may think it’s silly to run the air conditioning in the winter, but this is a great time to keep things flowing. The air conditioning removes humidity, so moisture is taken out of the cabin.
On top of that, the Defrost setting also runs the air conditioning. If you can run this for five to ten minutes each week, you will prevent mildew and mold from infiltrating the system.
3. Recharge Refrigerant
When the refrigerant gets low, it’s time to charge the system again. In most cases, this shouldn’t need to be done except every few years.
However, if there’s a leak in the system, you may find your car requiring more frequent charges. In this case, it’s best to get the problem resolved so the refrigerant stays where it belongs.
4. Get Regular Service
As with any part of the car, regular maintenance is imperative. You can’t expect the air conditioning system to continue running right if it’s never given any attention.
At the least, have the AC system checked over by a professional every other year. If you can perform the maintenance yourself, you might walk through the steps more frequently. It doesn’t cost any money to perform a visual inspection of the system on your own.
Can I Drive with an AC Compressor Problem?
You won’t notice any issues driving your car when the AC compressor fails. For the most part, you will simply be uncomfortable without air conditioning. Turn off the system when it’s not working to avoid bearing failure, which could damage the serpentine belt and lead to many more issues.
How Often Do AC Compressors Need to be Replaced?
As moisture and clogs build up in the system, the compressor is prone to failure. However, you shouldn’t be replacing the compressor often. On average, the AC compressor could last 60,000 to 100,000 miles or more, especially when you maintain the air conditioning system.
Is It Worth Replacing an AC Compressor on a Car?
It depends on how you feel about your comfort. If you want to be comfortable during your daily commute, you should go ahead and replace it. Additionally, driving with a broken compressor can lead to other issues over time that would inevitably cost you more to repair. We recommend having it fixed immediately to avoid problems.
Is Fixing an AC Compressor Expensive?
Replacing an AC compressor falls in the middle of most car repairs. It’s going to be more expensive than having the brake pads changed or getting a new engine air filter installed, but not nearly as much as a new engine or transmission would cost. Because the cost could go over $1,000, you may need to save up some money before having it replaced.
Your comfort is paramount when driving a vehicle, which is why you want the air conditioning system to always work as designed. Otherwise, you are going to have a long, hot commute during the summer months. By regularly maintaining the air conditioning system and having the compressor replaced when it breaks, you ensure that your comfort is never compromised.
Pay attention to the warning signs that something is wrong and be prepared to pay for a repair as soon as possible. If you don’t, you could face bigger problems that prove to be more costly later on.