Don’t let A/C problems ruin a vacation

Published 6:29 am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Summer is right around the corner, which means sunshine, vacation and the cool breeze of a car’s air conditioner when traveling.

It also means a chance that same air conditioner might need servicing, transforming an otherwise exciting trip into a bunch of hot air and misery.

A vehicle’s air conditioner can suffer a variety of problems, ranging from a quick, inexpensive fix to costly solutions that take time.

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The first sign of a potential problem can simply be felt.

If the A/C feels more like a heater, it might be worth taking it to a mechanic and having the problem diagnosed.

Austin’s Complete Automotive Services charges $29.95 for an A/C inspection that will give a vehicle owner an idea as to why it isn’t working properly.

“Most of the time an air conditioner will last the life of a car,” says Ron Walk, owner, operator of CAS. “But there are exceptions. They are mechanical, and there are failures.”

On the minor side of A/C problems, a car may just be low on Freon, the refrigeration liquid that makes a car’s A/C produce cool air.

At North Star Body Shop on Highway 218 North, Freon costs less than $16 a pound on average, with a small truck taking 1 pound nine ounces for its air conditioner.

Another minor problem can be a plugged ventilation filter, an item that many vehicles have.

“Some people don’t even realize they have them,” says Scott Medgaarden, co-owner of Southwest Sales, Inc. and North Star Body Shop.

A ventilation filter prevents dust and other particles from getting to the air conditioner and heater.

Another minor issue can be a broken serpentine belt, which runs the A/C compressor, a main component of a vehicle’s air conditioning unit.

Major issues

Major A/C problems can start with a bad compressor.

“If you end up replacing a compressor, then you’re talking $300,” Medgaarden says.

But sometimes a bad compressor can be good news compared with a completely contaminated A/C system, which could mean three times that cost.

Sometimes metal shavings and other particles make their way into an A/C system, which means bad news for a car’s owner.

“You have to replace stuff then, and it could be up to $1,000,” Medgaarden says.

Hopefully, the problems don’t get to that point.

“It’s best to get it looked at before it fails.” Walk says.