The AC in your car is a wonderful accessory to have, but when it goes bad, you may be worried about the potentially high cost of the repairs. It’s a fact. AC system components can sometimes cost a lot. Troubleshooting an AC system also takes time and that tends to beef up the total bill. Luckily, most of the work can be done by yourself. And even if you don’t have all the required equipment to perform the service or part replacement, identifying and finding the source of an AC problem before bringing it to an auto repair shop will sure help you save some money. To help you understand the cost of car AC repairs, we’ve created this quick guide outlining how much each component can cost as well as a couple of pointers to save some money while we’re at it.
How Much Do Car AC Repairs Cost?
The idea of tearing into your air conditioning system to make repairs might seem scary, so it’s important to know how much a repair might cost before you start. Different types of automotive shops out there can make service or repair your car’s AC system and not all are created equal. Shops specialized in AC service and hire specialists that know the intricate ins-and-outs of your particular car’s AC system. Other independent repair shops typically have at least one mechanic certified to service air conditioning systems in cars and trucks. While specialized shops may cost a little more, if your problem is a complicated one, you may still be better with them. However, most auto repair shops can at least service and perform basic troubleshooting.
You should expect a shop to charge a minimum of three hours for an AC system repair. More complicated repairs may take longer. Additionally, you will have to pay for the evacuation and recharging of the refrigerant. The end cost will vary depending on the car model and the part needing to be replaced, however, it’s not rare to see air conditioning system repairs cost more than $1,000.
Hourly Rates + Parts
Professional repairs get to be expensive for consumers because of the additional cost of parts and labor. And qualified technicians are not cheap. Additionally, most shops will charge you at least an hour to start diagnosing the problem. This can cost between $30-$85 or more and does not do anything to repair your air conditioning.
A simple recuperation, vacuum, and recharge will cost you around $160 at most auto repair shops. This does not include any testing for leaks, repairs or labor in a component as to be replaced.
Tools You Need to Work on Your car’s AC
It is illegal in the United States to open-air evacuate an AC system. You must pump the refrigerant out with a special tool that recovers it, stores it and refills it once the repairs are done.
These tools are not cheap. Professional AC machines run anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000. To that, you’ll also need to add the cost of the refrigerant and the tanks. It,s then quite easy to understand why repair shops charge a high price for A/C repairs. For a one-time repair, the cost of the tools needed might be too high for many DIY mechanics. Fortunately, there are solutions.
DIY Solutions for Recovering Your Refrigerant
One way you can remove the refrigerant from your AC system involves the use of a freezer and a vacuum pump. You can even convert an old propane tank into a storage tank for just a few dollars in parts. A dual-stage vacuum pump with the required gauge and regulator set will only cost you a little over $100. You can use the vacuum pump to clear the lines, then put the tank in the freezer and open the regulators. The colder temperature will cause the refrigerant to accumulate in the tank, safely evacuating your system.
Of course, if your AC has suffered a major leak, it will already be drained, and you don’t have to recover the refrigerant. The vacuum pump is still essential for clearing the system and refilling it.
A Note on Safety
You should always be very cautious when repairing your AC. The Environmental Protection Agency considers R12 refrigerant, commonly used before 1994, to be a hazardous chemical. R12 depletes the ozone. The most commonly used refrigerants today are R134a and R134. While both of these chemicals are less environmentally damaging than R12, they are still hazardous.
You should also always avoid breathing refrigerant. In low doses, it can make you sick. Excessive, continuous exposure can kill you. The pressurized refrigerant in your air conditioning system can also cause frostbite if you open the system while it is under pressure. Always wear protective goggles and rubber gloves when playing with an AC system. Trust me, you don’t want to get sprayed in the eyes with freon!
Determining the Cost of DIY AC Repairs
Beyond the cost of the tools you need to properly recover and refill your car AC system, you will also need to pay to replace the defective component. Some AC system parts are inexpensive and easy to repair while others can be more expensive.
The most expensive component of your AC system is the compressor. The compressor pumps the refrigerant through the system and creates pressure in the system. The compressor has several seals that can dry out and fail as the car age. When seals go bad, the refrigerant will leak and the system will stop working.
While buying replacement seals is possible, the cost and trouble of disassembling the AC compressor to replace the seal are usually not worth it. If you really have a lot of time on your hands and want to try that, make sure to have your car’s repair manual in hand. Compressors are quite complicated to disassemble so just in case.
If your compressor has an internal problem, it will need to be replaced. Unfortunately. new compressors often cost between $200 and $500. If you’re on a tight budget, you can try looking for local junkyards for a good, used compressor. You may very well find a good unit for less than $100.
Clutch failures are very common, particularly on older vehicles or cars with high mileage. The compressor clutch is usually not an expensive part, however. You can usually find a new clutch for around $70. Most of the time, you will not even have to drain and refill your AC refrigerant to replace a worn-out clutch.
The lines used in your air conditioning system are heavy-duty and will last a long time. Once they dry out and crack, rust out, get damaged, or start leaking, you will have to replace them. The good news is that most AC lines are available for cheap from aftermarket auto parts stores. You can expect to pay around $60 for the high-pressure line, which is the most common one to fail.
Different cars require different amounts of refrigerant. Small cars don’t require that much but trucks, luxury vehicles and longer minivan featuring rear AC will require more. The cost of the refrigerant is also constantly changing, just like the price of petrol. And that is also something that can be shopped around. When trying to find a repair shop to bring your car to, think about asking for the price of the refrigerant. Some shops may offer you a better price.
The cost of car AC repairs will obviously depend on what is wrong with it in the first place. Some simple repairs, like replacing a cracked line or a compressor clutch on a 2008 Honda Civic, for example, are not that expensive. For a task like that, you might be better off changing the part yourself, then paying a shop to refill your system.
Furthermore, most AC repairs are not that difficult when you use a service manual and follow the right troubleshooting procedures. Don’t be frightened by huge repair bills or intimidated by the special tools needed to repair your car’s AC. With a little bit of practice, you can easily do it yourself, save a lot of money, and know the job was done right the first time.