Action Line: Regular auto AC care can delay need for major repairs
BY PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Monday, June 18, 2012
6/18/12 at 3:06 PM
It's getting hot!
An automobile air conditioner is just like a home air conditioner - it needs to be inspected and tuned up by a professional every spring, said Mike Willette, manager of K.C. Auto of Tulsa. "Automobiles start losing their air conditioners to serious problems about 10 years after manufacture. This is when it's time to spend the big money - $450 to $1,400 on total system replacement, depending on the car.
After the 10th year, car owners should expect some major repairs on auto air conditioners. When customers bring in nonfunctioning air conditioners with failed compressors, we install what is called a 'compressor kit,' " said Willette. "This includes the compressor, the metering device (orifice tube or expansion valve) and also replace the dryer. The dryer holds a desiccant chemical (that absorbs moisture from the air) and this can break down, causing chemical granules to escape the dryer and pollute the system."
But if it is serviced once a year, putting it under vacuum to remove moisture, charging it back up with refrigerant and adding a little oil to the lines to lubricate the compressor - you'll get so much more use out of it.
Air conditioning technician Wayne Gilbert with Bryant's Automotive Air, said annual tune-ups ($40 to $60) make auto ACs last longer. "We look for correct pressures, getting proper air flow in the system. Automotive air conditioning has the heater and the air conditioner in the same box under the dash, so we're looking for airflow, temperature, pressures and belts.
Most cars now are front-wheel drive and this puts more heat under the hood and makes everything more tightly packed.
"Auto AC relies on airflow across the condenser, which in cars, is out in front of the engine radiator. We check to make certain the fans, or the one large fan, are coming up to speed. Condensers should be checked for damage: people knock them loose hitting curbs, crush them driving over frozen rutted snow, etc. The Camaro is a `bottom breather' - the early ones didn't have a grill up front, the intake was underneath for the radiator and air conditioner. If the intake deflector was missing, the air would not enter the engine compartment, depriving the condenser of the volume of air needed to remove the heat," said Gilbert.
Chris Ham, service manager for Air Quip Inc., Tulsa, said, "We replace components, not entire systems. We've had cars in here from the 1960s that didn't have much wrong with them, except sitting out in the open forever and losing refrigerant. Mostly it's just replacing what's needed - but with older cars, there are better AC units now that blow colder than the older factory units and take up less space.
"We have a '69 Camaro in here that we're doing an update kit on but it's still not necessary to replace all original factory parts.
"Dryers can come apart and release sand-like desiccant into the system, but this can all be flushed out of the system. Any AC system can be rebuilt, and when we get into the really old cars we just see which is the best way to go, cost wise. If it's less expensive to put a newer, bigger system in there than to fix the old system, we leave that up to the owner. He might want to keep the car 'original' to maintain its collector's value or just to update it to make it more comfortable," said Ham.
Original Print Headline: Stay cool with auto AC tune-ups
Phil Mulkins 918-699-8888
Auto air conditioning technician and service manager Mike Willette logs refrigerant gas pressure readings as he tunes a 2009 Dodge air conditioner at K.C. Auto Inc. in Tulsa last month. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World