Car Air Conditioning Systems Explained

Summer has arrived here in Chicago, and with summer comes hot, sunny days that have most people reaching for their car’s air conditioning controls. Every year, though, a certain number of people in the Arlington Heights area switch on their car’s AC for the first time, only to find that they’re not able to cool down the interior of their car effectively.

At Wheeling Auto Center, we are pleased to provide expert car AC repair services, helping you stay comfortable in this summer’s heat. But, we also pride ourselves on educating our customers, so let’s take some time to talk about how your car’s air conditioning system works and everything that could keep it from working properly.

How Does Car AC Work?

Generally, most of our modern cooling systems—air conditioning, refrigerators, etc.—work using the same basic equipment, systems, and principles. A compressor, powered by a drive belt connected to your engine’s crankshaft, forces a refrigerant vapor to become a liquid, which also causes it to heat up significantly as it is compressed.

This compressed, pressurized liquid refrigerant is now much hotter than the outside air, even on a hot summer day, so it is piped into a small radiator (not the same as the larger radiator that helps keep your car’s engine from overheating). After exiting the small AC radiator, the compressed refrigerant is now closer to ambient air temperature, having lost a great deal of heat energy. Now, the liquid is forced to decompress and expand back into a vapor, which drops its temperature, just as it was raised under compression.

However, because a great deal of excess heat energy was transferred into the air by the small AC radiator, the revaporized refrigerant is now much, much colder than it was before compression—cold enough to chill air from your car’s interior and keep you cool.

Air Conditioning, Horsepower, & Fuel Economy

Your car’s AC system is dependent on using horsepower from your engine to drive the compressor, so using AC in your car will reduce your car’s performance and fuel economy a small amount. This effect is more noticeable in cars with smaller engines, but you should be able to hear and feel your car’s AC compressor turn on when you engage your air conditioning system. If your AC is running and you notice the compressor is turning on and off every so often, this is normal. Many modern car AC systems are designed to run intermittently to save fuel.

Why isn’t My Car’s AC Blowing Cold Air?

Because car AC systems are fairly complex and involve many components, there are many things that could cause them not to work correctly. If your car’s AC is blowing cool air rather than cold air, the cooling fans on the condenser or radiator could be malfunctioning, there could be debris clogging the condenser, the cabin air filter could be clogged, or the refrigerant level could be low.

Refrigerant leaks are the most common problems associated with car AC systems, and the source of the leak could be in any part of the system. If you suspect a leak, then rely on Wheeling Auto Center as your car AC repair specialists. We’ll find the source of your leak, repair it, and recharge your system with the right type and amount of refrigerant for maximum performance.

If you’re turning on your car’s AC system and you don’t hear or feel the compressor turn on, there could be an issue with the compressor clutch, a cycling switch, or a fuse, or there could be so little refrigerant in the system that it’s tripping a low-pressure-cutoff switch.

No matter what the specific problem with your car’s AC system, the friendly experts at Wheeling Auto Center are your source for car AC repair in the Arlington Heights, IL area. If you’re tired of sweating in your car this summer, just contact us or bring your car by our shop, and we’ll take care of everything!