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Understanding Car Issues

When I began thinking more seriously about car issues, it occurred to me that there were a few things I needed to do if I wanted to make things easier for myself in the long run. For starters, I began taking my car in for regular auto service, which really helped out. It was really interesting to see how many different things had to be fixed every time I went in, but when my car didn't have as many problems, I could tell that it was really paying off. This website is all about understanding and preventing car problems by making better choices.



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Understanding Car Issues

How To Check Your Car's Air Conditioning System For Refrigerant Leaks

by Micheal Barrett

If your car's air conditioner slowly starts losing its ability to cool air, a refrigerant leak may be the culprit. Refrigerant leaks are particularly common in older cars since the rubber O-rings between connections degrade over time—this makes them prone to leaking. Damage to your car's condenser is another common source of refrigerant leaks. Once enough refrigerant has leaked out of your car's air conditioner, it will lose its ability to cool air entirely—it may even refuse to start up when it detects low refrigerant pressure in the system.

Vehicles made since 1994 use R-134a as the refrigerant in their air conditioning units. Unlike the older R-12 refrigerant (Freon), you don't need a license to purchase it, and it's fairly inexpensive. This allows you to easily recharge the refrigerant in your car's air conditioner.

Unfortunately, a car's air conditioner is a high-pressure system—even very small leaks can rapidly drain the car of its refrigerant due to the high pressure involved. When you have a leak, it's not uncommon to run out of refrigerant after a few days of driving. To avoid the expense of purchasing R-134a refrigerant and the hassle of continually recharging your car's air conditioner, you'll need to find the leak and repair it. Read on for how to do it.

Purchase an Ultraviolet Leak Detector Kit

Ultraviolet leak detectors are what professional auto repair technicians use to find leaks in a car's air conditioning system, and they're not very expensive.

In order to use it, you add an ultraviolet dye to your car's air conditioning system after you recharge it with refrigerant. After that, drive around for a few days with the air conditioner running to ensure that the dye is fully circulated throughout your air conditioning system.

Next, you'll need to inspect your car's air conditioning system for leaks. To make it easier, park your car in a dimly lit area, such as a garage.

Check the Condenser

Put on the orange safety goggles included with the kit (which makes the ultraviolet dye easier to see), open your hood, and shine the blacklight on your car's condenser. The condenser is located in front of your car's radiator, directly behind the grille. Its location makes it particularly vulnerable to being damaged by road debris—a small pebble that flies through your grille at highway speed can easily dent your condenser and cause it to leak.

Check for any signs of ultraviolet dye leaking from the condenser. Remember that a car's air conditioner is meant to be a closed system—any dye at all that you see with the blacklight means that you have a leak in that area. If your condenser has a leak, you'll need to replace it.

Check the Compressor and Hoses

Next, check your car's compressor and the two hoses connected to it. The hoses are connected with O-rings, which tend to deteriorate over time—it's a common source of refrigerant leaks in older cars. You also need to check the compressor itself for any signs of a leak.

Check the Evaporator

If you haven't seen a leak so far, you'll need to check the evaporator. The evaporator is behind your car's dash, and you can't access it easily—you would need to remove most of the dash in order to check it. Thankfully, you can still look for signs of an evaporator leak.

When refrigerant is in the evaporator, it's in vapor form. This means that the blower fan in your car sometimes blows leaking refrigerant into your cabin. Check the air conditioner vents in your car for any signs of ultraviolet dye. You should also check the carpet, as refrigerant may have settled there. If you notice any dye in this area, it's very likely that your evaporator is leaking.

Once you've found out that your car's air conditioning has a leak, what should you do? Unfortunately, DIY repairs on a car's air conditioning system can be difficult—sometimes they can even be dangerous due to the high-pressure refrigerant involved. Instead of trying to repair your car's air conditioning system yourself, take it to an automotive repair service. If you have already found the source of the leak by yourself, you've made their jobs easier and can save money on labor costs.