One of the most common causes for a car AC to stop blowing cold air is a faulty AC compressor. Even though most AC compressors used on modern cars are durable and reliable, many different things can fail inside the compressor. Luckily, many of these components can also be replaced, eliminating the need to buy an expensive new AC compressor. To help you save money on your next compressor replacement, here’s everything you need to know about the average replacement cost of an AC compressor as well as the different options available to you.
The Replacement Cost of a New AC Compressor
An air conditioner compressor is an expensive piece of equipment and the price tag will vary greatly from car to car and other factors. On average, it’s safe to say that the cost of a new replacement AC compressor can range from around $300 to more than $1,000 depending on your vehicle. To get a better idea, here’s a quick description of some of the most important factors influencing the cost of a replacement compressor.
Your car’s make and model is one of the determining factors of the compressor’s cost. For example, an aftermarket AC compressor for a 2017 Toyota Yaris cost around $330 while the same component for a Mercedes-Benz E400 would cost over $540. Parts for older cars are often cheaper but it’s not always the case.
OEM vs Aftermarket
There’s frequently a significant price difference when comparing OEM and aftermarket parts. As a rule, aftermarket ones tend to be cheaper. For example, for the same Yaris used above, an OEM compressor ordered directly from the manufacturer would cost $592. That’s almost $300 more!
In addition to the cost of the new compressor, there are other components that you must also replace at the same time. A repair shop will charge you for labor to replace your AC compressor in addition to the parts. Depending on your car’s model, such a task can take several hours. A shop might charge you anywhere from $265 to $800 to replace your compressor depending on whether you choose to have it replaced by your dealer or an independent repair shop.
Reducing the Cost of AC Compressor Replacement
A great source of used parts many people overlook is junkyards. You might be able to find a good AC compressor at a junkyard for 70% less than the price of a new one. Parts interchange manuals for your car can even help you identify AC compressors from different years, makes, or models that will fit in your car.
Common AC Compressor Problems to Look Out For
Being able to quickly detect the signs of a failing AC compressor that needs will not only help you save money but will also prevent any further damages that would add up to the total cost of the repair. It’s also important to remember that not all AC compressor problems require the whole compressor to be replaced. Many components can be fixed or replaced and compressors can also be rebuilt by specialized shops.
AC Compressor Clutch Failure
The most common compressor-related failure is when the clutch either does not engage or disengage. The clutch prevents your AC compressor from being engaged all the time. When you turn the AC on, an electromagnetic coil pulls the clutch and engage the pulley. AC compressor clutches can also even seize from time to time, which might break your drive belt.
Signs of a Bad Clutch
A failing clutch might sometimes create a screeching sound when the AC is turned on but not always. If the coil’s circuit is open, the clutch will simply not engage at all. When it happens, the whole AC system will stop working.
Repair or Replace
It’s possible to buy a replacement AC clutch or a repair kit from your dealer or local auto parts store instead of replacing the compressor as a whole. If you decide to go that route, make sure to have your car’s repair manual in hand. Some clutches required a specific procedure to be replaced without damaging the compressor.
Your workshop manual will provide the specific instructions you need to rebuild or replace your AC compressor clutch. You can save hundreds of dollars fixing a bad compressor clutch on your own meaning that the repair manual will pay for itself.
What Causes Your AC Compressor to Fail?
The most common reason for an AC compressor to fail is the lack of lubricant. This happens when a lower than normal pressure is maintained into the system. When the AC system starts to leak, the pressure drops, which reduces the amount of oil that is in contact with critical parts. Such a condition will quickly cause the AC compressor to burn up and seize.
Too much pressure can also ruin an AC compressor but it’s a lot less likely. Some people mistakenly think that overpressurizing the AC system will make the AC blow colder. But when the compressor tries to start against too much pressure, it can destroy the clutch and the compressor.
Electrical Problems You Should Check
Regarding the electric side of the AC system, various problems may arise. For example, if the AC clutch is inoperative, the AC clutch fuse may have blown. Typically, a blown fuse indicates a problem with the electromagnetic coil. You can test your magnetic coil for a short or open-circuit using a resistance meter and compare the value with the specifications in your car’s repair manual.
There is also a relay supplying power to your AC clutch. If it fails, no power will get to the clutch and it will stop engaging. You can test the relay with a voltmeter.
Electrical problems can often make it seem like your AC compressor is failing. Troubleshooting an electrical problem can be time-consuming but it’s important to make sure that the problem with your system is not electrical before you start replacing parts.
High-Pressure and Low-Pressure Switches
Both the high and low-pressure lines on your AC system have pressure switches installed to prevent unsafe conditions. When the switches fail, you may notice your air conditioner switching on and off, not cooling, or not engaging at all. The pressure switches can be replaced easily, but you will need to evacuate the system before you can make the repair. Testing switches also often require the use of a professional OBD2 scan tool which might make it hard for DIYers who don’t have access to one. When in doubt, you’re better off having them tested by a trustworthy auto mechanic then.
AC Compressor Seal Leaks
A common fail point of compressors is the seals that prevent refrigerant from escaping. The oil in the refrigerant lubricates the seals. When there’s a leak, the lubricant will escape and may cause seals to fail.
The primary seal, and the most frequent one to leak, is located behind the AC compressor clutch. The seal requires a special tool to install that you can get at your local auto parts store or online.
Time alone can also cause the seals to dry out. Seals are made out of rubber and rubber tends to dry and crack under heat. If it’s your case, replacing the leaking seal alone is not always the best idea. If time is the culprit, other compressor seals are likely in the same condition. In that specific case, it’s probably better to just replace the compressor so all the seals are replaced at once.
Less Common Problems
There are less common issues that may affect your AC compressor. Problems like blocked suction tubes, contamination, and physical damage to the filter/ dryer or other components can result in compressor failures. Always inspect your AC system completely before undertaking a compressor replacement. You can save a lot of money by fixing faulty components instead of replacing your compressor.
Replacing Your Compressor
Every vehicle has a specific procedure to replace an AC compressor. On some vehicles, the removal of other components may be required to access or remove the compressor. In all cases, safely removing the old refrigerant requires the use of special tools, including a machine that pumps and recovers the refrigerant and scavenges the remaining oil and refrigerant from the system.
Repairing and replacing air conditioner components can be expensive and time-consuming. Most of the time, your car will work just fine without the air conditioner functioning, but you may have other related problems. For example, an inoperative AC system could make your defrost system a lot less efficient.
Electrical issues or other faulty components are often the cause of many AC problems. In those cases, replacing the compressor will not solve other problems.
It is also important to remember that the air conditioner filter and dryer must be replaced when the AC system is leaking and left at atmospheric pressure for some time. These components simply can’t be reused with a new system.
If you do not replace the filter and dryer, excessive moisture can be forced into the new or rebuilt compressor, causing corrosion and premature failure.
Replacing an AC compressor is often quite costly and requires some shopping around. Don’t hesitate to call different auto parts stores or auto repair shops to compare the price of a replacement compressor and labor rates. In all cases, the easiest way to save money is usually to buy an aftermarket compressor and do the work yourself. With a little bit of know-how, some basic tools, and the help of a good repair manual, everyone should be able to fix their AC system back to normal while keeping the AC compressor replacement cost as low as possible.