It’s August,  the car is jammed with luggage and kids, and you’re finally on your way to the cottage.  Suddenly, you realize that your car’s air conditioning system is on the fritz, and your family vacation really begins to heat up.

Automotive air conditioning systems were first introduced in 1940 to address customer demands for relief from intolerable heat.  These schemes use refrigerant to cool the air and remove the heat from the car’s passenger compartment.  Air conditioning also cleans the air that enters the car, and removes extra moisture as it dehumidifies the air.  

There are three basic sections to any automotive air conditioner system:

1.  Compressor – Considered the heart of the air conditioning system, the compressor transfers and compresses refrigerant gas to keep the heat out of the vehicle.

2.  Condenser -eliminates heat from the refrigerant and cools down the high-pressure gasses.

3.  Evaporator – works as the heater core of the air conditioning system.  The evaporator eliminates the heat from inside the car. The refrigerant then condenses the air and converts it into water.

Open hood of a blue car

Cars manufactured in 1995 or later have been furnished with R-134A air conditioning system.  These ozone-friendly units do not contain CFCs, are  nonflammable and nontoxic.

Prior to 1995, automotive air conditioners came with R-12 refrigerant, most ordinarily, Freon.  During that time,  a car owner experiencing air conditioner troubles needed only to visit a local retailer to purchase a recharge kit.  With a basic knowledge and a can of Freon, the average driver could easily repair his or her own air conditioning system.   When experiments confirmed that R-12 systems were contributing to the damaged ozone layer, many countries, including the United States banned their manufacture.

Ordinary Problems

The most ordinary complaint about automotive air conditioners, particularly R-134 systems, is the odor that permeates from the A/C vents.  Car manufacturers and mechanics have concluded that accumulated fungus and bacteria  in the evaporator core likely cause the odor. Because the air conditioning system is loaded with moisture, it invites microbes.  The solution offered by car makers is to make the blower motor effective in drying out the evaporator after the A/C system is switched off.  General Motors introduced this breakthrough, named Electronic Evaporator Dryer.

This solution might offer support to some car owners, but not to all.  Mounting this system can cost hundreds of dollars.  As a result, many car owners have resorted to finding alternative steps of fighting the odor. Using antibacterial chemicals such as Lysol can be an efficient short-term solution.  Keeping a can of Lysol handy can go along way for your stinking air problem. Just spray the Lysol inside the car, and in the air intake once a week, for temporary respite from the problem.  Another way to help get rid of the odor is to shut off the A/C unit at least one mile before reaching your destination.  This will allow ample time for the evaporator to dry out, essentially doing away with the microbes and moisture  that cause odor. This can be the easiest and least expensive way in fighting the issue.

Taking Care Of Your A/C System

*   To keep functioning efficiently, your automotive air conditioner must be recharged from time to time, depending on how frequent  it is used.   Consult your owner’s manual or your mechanic for information about system recharges.

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*   Call your mechanic if you see water  dripping from the A/C system’s condenser, as this can affect the refrigerant.  Have the system fixed before refilling it.

*   Replacing the filter quarterly will also help to maintain the performance of your automotive air conditioning system.  This is where dust builds up when the A/C system is working.

*   Setting the gauge at one specific temperature will also help it function well.  If you frequently switch from one temperature to another, your system will have trouble adjusting accordingly.

Car air conditioners can be a driver’s best friend, whether you’re traveling from coast to coast or across town.  Keep your A/C unit well maintained, and keep your cool on the street.

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