Car air conditioners are a crucial source of comfort inside your vehicle, especially in the Aussie heat. These AC systems rely heavily on the refrigerant gas that circulates and generates cold air. Over time, the gas dissipates and your auto aircon needs to be regassed.
You’ll know it’s time to add new refrigerant when it starts blowing out warm air, or if the aircon clutch doesn’t engage normally. When you look under the hood, you may notice that the compressor has iced over. In more serious cases, you may even spot a visible leak on the aircon system.
In this article, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about your car air conditioning system and the signs that it needs to be regassed.
How Does A Car Air Conditioner Work?
Your vehicle air conditioner works by circulating the refrigerant in a closed-loop system. This system consists of two sides: a low-pressure side (cold air) and a high-pressure side (hot air), each with several different components hard at work.
The Low-Pressure Side
When the refrigerant is at low pressure, it becomes very cold. That allows it to absorb the heat inside the cabin through the evaporator while also blowing cold temperature air into the interior.
The High-Pressure Side
After absorbing the heat and being pressurized, the refrigerant then becomes very hot. It flows towards the high-pressure side of the system under the hood where the heat is dumped outside of the vehicle by the condenser.
Similar Closed-Loop Systems
If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s because you may have seen the same type of system elsewhere. Your kitchen refrigerator and the air conditioning unit in your home also lower temperatures using a similar type of closed-loop system.
Signs Your Car Air Conditioner Needs Regassing
Here are four tell-tale signs that your car air conditioner needs to be regassed:
It takes your car air conditioning system a few minutes to cool down the vehicle. If the air coming out of the vents is still at room temperature after those few minutes, that’s a sign that it’s running low on refrigerant gas.
Aircon Clutch Doesn’t Engage
To begin cooling down your car, the aircon’s mechanical clutch must first engage. This is something that you can hear even while you’re inside the car. A clutch that won’t engage is a clear sign that it needs a refrigerant top-up.
Compressor Has Ice
Look under the hood at the aircon compressor. If it’s covered in ice, that’s an indication that there isn’t enough refrigerant. The ice forms on the compressor because moisture has filled up gaps in the closed-loop system where there shouldn’t be any.
A frozen compressor can also indicate that it might be clogged with dirt or debris.
Visible Leak On The Air Con System
Upon closer inspection in your engine bay, you might notice visible leaks along the air con system’s lines. Remember: this is a closed-loop system, so even the smallest leaks will cause levels to drop significantly.
How Long Should Car Aircon Gas Last?
The refrigerant inside a car aircon system lasts at least two years. On average, the system naturally loses 10%-15% of its refrigerant per year even without any leaks.
As a precautionary measure, you can ask your mechanic to service your air conditioner whenever you take your vehicle for its regular maintenance.
Australian drivers find themselves needing to regas more frequently, especially after the summer season. That’s because the Aussie summer is exceptionally hot and people naturally use their car air con much more often than usual.
How Much Does It Cost To Fill Gas In A Car AC?
You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $200 to regas your car air conditioning system at your local workshop. Besides the regas, the total cost is affected by any additional services and repairs the compressor might need.
Can You Regas Your Own Car Air Con?
No, you can’t service or repair your auto air conditioning system by yourself. The Australian government has made this illegal because it involves refrigerants that must only be handled by a qualified AC services technician. A skilled AC technician will be able to service and repair the system safely and respond quickly to any leaking.
By extension, it’s also illegal for Aussies to buy aircon gassing kits in stores or online.
Leaking refrigerants, like the R134a in most cars today, are very dangerous to the environment.
Other Potential Air Conditioner Issues
Whenever your auto AC produces warm air, it’s most likely that the refrigerant is running low. However, there are other possible issues you might need to repair as well, including:
Mould or Mildew Smells
Older ACs or those that are rarely used can experience a buildup of bacteria that can be bad for your health. You’ll know this is the case if you notice a strange smell coming from the AC vents in the interior.
Pay close attention to any strange odours coming from the vents. The smell of fuel, for example, could be a symptom of a fuel leak somewhere under the hood.
Both the high- and low-pressure sides of the AC system require blower functioning blower fans. You must fix any rattling or weak fans to ensure that the system can cool your car down effectively.