We all want a cool car in the summer, especially on a long drive. Sometimes the air conditioning seems like it’s not working properly, and I get semi-cool air temperature. I wonder if my engine is too hot or if there is another problem.
The air conditioning (AC) performance is important because it keeps the vehicle’s interior temperature under control. If your AC pressure is persistently too high, it points to an underlying issue. When the pressure of the AC system is too high, this might indicate leakage or a diminishing amount of refrigerant, both of which require immediate attention.
When I turn the AC on and it’s warm, sometimes I turn up the fan, hoping things will get cooler faster. If the AC temperatures are abnormally warm, this could indicate an issue with the compressor that might need repair or replacement. We’ll discuss how AC pressure can determine the health of your AC system.
Importance of the AC Readings
Higher than normal temperature readings while testing your AC might also indicate other problems. High-temperature readings from your AC can indicate damage is occurring to your AC system. It needs to operate within a specific pressure range. High pressure might gradually lead to the failure of the compressor. If not corrected in time, the repairs can cost a fortune.
Problems with AC Pressure
High pressure inside the condenser fan can cause the aluminum to distort and evaporator coils to leak. The compressor’s repair and replacement cost is high (about $450 plus $700 labor – price fluctuates greatly depending on the car) as the dash might need to be removed for repair. Higher than normal air pressure is usually a consequence of two situations.
One, your AC system might face limited or no airflow through the condenser. This, in turn, might be a consequence of a bad condenser fan motor. If debris near the fan blocks the flow, you will face the same issue. Second, the other reason for a high-pressure reading can be an overcharged system.
Condenser Fan Problems
The condenser fan of the AC system works at different speeds and capacities. Hence, a malfunction might reduce its efficiency along with speed. This, in turn, leads to the inability of the fan to cool the system and pass air effectively. You can personally test the speed of the fan with easily available DIY equipment.
Problems with the AC System
Overcharging of the system is usually caused due to an excess of refrigerant in the system. It can also be because of excess oil in the system. To test for an overcharged system, you would need to measure the pressure of the system. Make it a point not to add more refrigerant to the AC system unless you know for sure it is low.
To avoid overcharging the system, first, check for leaks. Get a leak check kit or gas sniffer (Amazon Link) to find any underlying leakage. Do not allow any airline to be open, as this causes the air to enter the system, resulting in high-pressure readings.
When checking for leaks, make sure the look at the lines, hoses, and compressor. You may need to replace one of these parts or just an O-ring. Do a visual inspection and look for oil leaking from any of these areas, and you’ll know there’s a leak.
Most of the vehicles currently use the R134a refrigerant (Amazon Link) in the AC systems. Older model cars from the 90s or older might use R12. Either way, you can use R134a in your car, although you may need an adapter for older cars.
Overcharging the system and leaks are some common reasons for AC issues. However, other issues could be: loose wiring, slipping belt, low or old oil in the system, and the use of the wrong compressor lubricant can cause issues with your coolant system. You need to check both the AC low and high-pressure side readings for a specific diagnosis.
Check it Yourself With a Pressure Gauge (Amazon Link)
- When checking pressure using gauges and both the high and low-pressure side readings over 150 psi when the engine is off, you may have overcharged your system. You may need to release pressure from the system. Check your car manual for correct pressure.
- If your pressure is low or zero, you know you have little to no refrigerant in the system and need to check for possible leaks.
- If you turn your car on and turn the AC to high and check the AC pressure lines, the low-pressure side should read around 30 psi, and the high-pressure side should read around 250 psi. Check your car manual for specific guidelines. The pressure will cycle between the low and the high sides, so wait till the clutch engages to get the correct readings.
- If there’s pressure on both sides, but the readings are off, then it’s likely a part of the AC system isn’t functioning properly. The compressor, clutch, and expansion valve are common problems when readings are off.
- If you need to add refrigerant because you have low pressure when the engine is off. First, make sure the other parts of the AC system are operating correctly. Then get refrigerant and fill it up to the correct specifications indicated by your car manual. (Amazon Link)
- If you need to release pressure from the AC system, it’s a good idea to go to a mechanic. There would be legal (Environmental Protection Agency) and safety concerns if you were to do it yourself.
- There are other issues you can solve by yourself with more tools. So decide how involved you are willing to be and shop around.
System Blockage and Restrictions
If your condenser has blockage or restriction of airflow, the high-pressure side reading would be high, while the low side readings would drop over time. To rectify this problem, you should remove and blockage and clear any debris. After removing the debris, check the readings again. If the issue persists, it is highly likely that something in your system needs repairs.
It is very uncommon to get high low-side pressure readings with normal high-side readings. If you are experiencing this, this might be because your condenser is not cycling in the correct manner. The cycles are cutting in and out too rapidly, giving those high-low side readings. You might not be able to rectify this malfunction on your own.
The high-low side readings (with normal high side readings) are a result of thermostat switch malfunction. The thermostat might have the wrong range of temperature. To get normal readings, you would need to get the thermostat switch replaced by a local mechanic.
Avoid this common mistake while testing. Avoid adding excess refrigerant to the system. Adding excess refrigerant can cause problems with the AC temperature, the condenser, and other components.
I think the best solution is to thoroughly inspect your AC system before undertaking any repairs. This could save you time and money. In my opinion, it’s better to take your time in the beginning and understand all the steps before making a costly mistake.
If your AC system is not working properly, it’s time to do an inspection. You can diagnose many problems yourself by using a pressure gauge that shows the high and low-pressure line readings. In addition, you can check for leaks yourself by doing a visual inspection using a kit or an electronic sniffer.
But I advise that you contact an experienced mechanic for the best results when doing bigger repairs and releasing pressure from your AC system. Mechanics have all the right tools and experience to diagnose and repair your car’s AC system.
What should I do if the condenser fan doesn’t turn on?
With the engine on, turn the AC to high and open the hood. Wait 5 minutes or til the car reaches the normal operating temperature to see if the condenser/radiator fan turns on. If the fan doesn’t turn on, turn off the car and wait 30 minutes for things to cool down. Check to see if anything is blocking the fan from turning. Check electrical connections. If all seems fine, you may need to replace the fan, the temperature sensor, or something with circuity, like the fuse for the condenser fan.