If you've ever browsed through an auto parts store of the automotive section of a big box retailer, you've probably noticed cans of AC refrigerant. These simple kits are relatively inexpensive and promise a quick and easy fix for an air conditioner that's leaving you sweating. The ubiquity of these cans might lead you to believe that topping up your car's refrigerant is a necessary maintenance task.
Unfortunately, adding more refrigerant to your system can often do more harm than good, even when your system isn't performing up to expectations.
The Dangers of Adding Refrigerant
An automotive air conditioning system is a closed-loop that contains two essential components: refrigerant and oil. The refrigerant is the magic that allows your system to function. This substance picks up heat in your cabin, transports it to a condenser near your radiator, and ultimately releases that heat into the environment. This process repeatedly occurs without using up any of the system's refrigerant.
Your refrigerant lines also carry oil. This oil helps to lubricate the compressor, which effectively acts like a mechanical pump. Like your car's engine, your compressor relies on a specific level of lubrication. Too much oil pressure can blow out seals or cause other issues, while too little oil will create excessive internal wear and ultimately kill the compressor.
Refrigerant pressure requires similar precision. Adding more refrigerant won't provide more cooling power. In fact, lower refrigerant pressures can often result in colder air near the evaporator coil, at least until the system freezes. Adding more refrigerant if you don't know what you're doing can push the system out of spec, reducing its efficiency and potentially damaging the compressor.
The Right Way to Address AC Issues
If you suspect that your car's AC system is suffering from low refrigerant pressure, you shouldn't attempt to top the system up on your own. Instead, take the vehicle to a qualified AC repair shop. Technicians have the proper tools and training to check your pressure levels, allowing them to determine if you're outside of manufacturer specifications.
Professional AC techs won't simply add more refrigerant when they find a problem. Instead, they'll often recharge your system using dye-infused refrigerant. Since air conditioners shouldn't lose refrigerant, even after many years, this dye will allow the tech to locate the source of the leak. They can then refill your system to an appropriate and exact refrigerant pressure.
Even if you're a confident do-it-yourselfer, it's best to leave air conditioning issues to the professionals. Allowing an expert to diagnose and repair your system will ensure a safe and long-term fix, ultimately saving you money by removing the need to add more refrigerant to your system in the future.
Contact an auto shop that provides car air conditioning services for more information.