How Does Car Air Conditioning Work?

The only time most of us give much thought to our car’s air conditioner is when it stops working. But knowing how your AC works can help you understand the problems it may encounter – and how to maintain it properly so that it will keep you cool through all our long desert summers.


How Air Conditioning Works

Automotive air conditioning is older than you might think. It first appeared in the 1940s and came standard on most cars by the ’70s. The only big change since then has been the refrigerant used: ozone-depleting Freon was swapped out for tetrafluoroethane (R134, for short) in 1996.

All air conditioners basically work the same way, whether you’re talking about the one in your car or your house.

Refrigerant is stored in a reservoir. When you turn on the air conditioner, a compressor connected to the engine’s crank shaft will begin to push the air into a compressor. This pressurizes the gas, causing it to absorb the heat around it, leaving cool air behind. This is what’s blown out by the fans while the refrigerant cycles back through the air conditioner, losing the heat it has accumulated before beginning the process again.

Why Did My Air Conditioner Stop Working?

When an AC stops working, there’s usually one of two reasons. The first and most common is that it’s running low on coolant. Keeping your AC topped off with coolant is crucial to maintaining the air conditioner’s ability; without that coolant, the fans will just blow around hot air.

If the coolant levels are okay, the problem most likely lies in the belt connecting the compressor to the crank shaft. Restoring your air conditioner could be as simple as replacing a belt.

Proper air conditioner maintenance involves keeping refrigerant levels topped off, watching for worn belts and checking for potential leaks in the system. Catching these early can prevent more severe damage from occurring and save you the trouble of replacing an AC.

If your AC isn’t doing its job, bring it by Quanz Auto Body. We’ll be happy to get it serviced and ready for the warm months ahead!