Air conditioning has become standard equipment because there’s no longer an alternative way to cool off the passenger cabin. Cars used to come standard with under-dash vents you could open up to get airflow – and, of course, wing vent windows. This made a car without AC livable and even comfortable as well as less expensive, since you could go without the cost of the then-optional AC and the higher cost of feeding the car, since AC is a power accessory that results in more fuel being used as well as a heavier car, which will also burn more fuel.
As Inspector Clouseau used to say, not anymore.
AC is both unavoidable – and essential.
We’re utterly dependent on the now-standard AC to keep things cool. If the AC isn’t working – or not working well – the car becomes a mobile Turkish steam bath.
It can also be needlessly expensive to return it to proper operation. With AC, small things – like a small leak, the gradual loss of refrigerant and the lubricant inside the system – can lead to big things, such as a ruined compressor. Auto Heating and Air C... Best Price: $16.11 Buy New $15.24 (as of 10:35 EDT - Details)
And that can ruin your day.
But what can you do to avoid problems like that – and keep things cool? Several things. The first thing being – and it’s too late now – to regularly turn the AC on in the winter. This will circulate the lubricant within the system, which will help prevent leaks of refrigerant by keeping seals (O-rings and such) pliable. You do not have to freeze, either. You can run the AC without turning down the temperature. Adjust the temperature to as you like; just be sure the AC light is on. That means refrigerant – and lubricant – are circulating. Do this a couple of time a month during the winter months and your chances of losing refrigerant – and cooling when you need it – will be less.
As it warms up outside, pay attention to how it’s cooling inside. If you think it’s not cooling things down as well as it did last summer – and it’s still only spring – now is the time to have the system checked out by a qualified AC technician. Before you lose too much refrigerant – and lubricant.
Before you over-work the compressor and croak it.
Keep in mind, also, that refrigerant is expensive. Every pound you lose to leaks, the more you’ll pay to replace what was lost. The bill for replacement refrigerant will be exorbitant if you happen to have an older car with an AC system that uses R-12 refrigerant, banned supposedly because of its ozone-hole making abilities but actually because the patent was due to expire and thus the cost to make it was about to go down. Can’t have that – so we got a replacement refrigerant (R-134a) in cars made since roughly the mid-1990s . But – look out! – that refrigerant is being phased out, too – and for the same spurious (and actual) reasons.