The summer months are officially here and hot weather has already settled in through much of the country. That means that owners are clicking on their vehicles’ air conditioning systems for the first time this season. Air conditioning systems are specifically designed to be largely maintenance free, but small issues can grow into big problems without regular checks. That’s why the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), recommends having your vehicle’s systems examined twice a year to make certain everything is in top working order.
ASE has been certifying the nation’s automotive technicians since 1972. According to Tony Molla, the organization’s vice president of communications, most air conditioning systems can function properly for well over 100,000 miles without needing a serious overhaul. But that’s only true so long as a qualified service individual makes sure everything is running smoothly.
“It’s more like a health check to make sure [the air conditioning] is not just cooling, but that it’s cooling properly,” Molla said.
That means running a few quick checks. Molla is a certified ASE tech himself, and he says that an air conditioning exam starts by simply measuring the temperature of the air coming from the vehicle’s vents. Mechanics use specially calibrated thermometers designed just for this task and check the results against the operating parameters for your vehicle. Technicians also look for any leaks that may lead to the slow degradation of your system’s performance, and they check the condition of the belt that runs the air conditioning compressor.
If everything is operating properly and no visual problems are spotted, the climate control is given a clean bill of health. If the air temperature is too high even at the coldest setting, the technician will then move to the second stage of the checkup by examining the refrigerant pressure in the system. Molla says this is as simple as hooking up a special pressure gauge and reading the results with the compressor on and off. Typically, if an A/C system isn’t functioning at optimum capacity, the refrigerant levels are too low. If the pressure readings fall below the recommended levels for your vehicle, chances are there’s a leak somewhere in the system.
From there, it’s as simple as repairing the leak and filling the refrigerant to the proper pressure levels. But Molla says that routine system checks can prevent more than lackluster performance.
“For example, there’s a problem that happens in very humid areas of the country where mold will form inside the vents,” Molla says. “Normal maintenance will pick that problem up before it becomes a bigger issue.”
According to Molla, catching mold early is an easy fix that simply involves using a special spray in the ductwork. Left unchecked, however, the issue could require costly replacement.
Though your vehicle’s air conditioning system may not require frequent attention, routine maintenance is key to keeping the cabin comfortable and your bank account safe from big repair bills. A routine examination by your dealer’s certified service personnel will ensure that your vehicle’s air conditioning system stays in top shape for years to come.