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Keeping cool when your A/C blows hot

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Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:26 am, Wed May 16, 2012.

When my wife and I go out of town, I wake up early. I normally wake up around one in the afternoon, but for weekend out-of town trips, I get up around eleven. When I am forced by circumstance to wake up early, I am grumpy, clumsy and forgetful. I fumble around the house getting my toiletries into little bags and do my best not to wrinkle my clothes as I stuff them into an overnight bag.

I then decide which car to take. Cars are generally my department. Filling their tanks, keeping them clean and driving them is my responsibility – a task I don’t take lightly. Jordan and I were going to north beach in San Francisco so I had to choose the best car for the job. The SRT 4 was out because of its hard ride and the Genesis was out because of the sand we would be polluting it with. I decided to take the Civic. I commute in the little Honda daily. It is the ultimate commuter car. Besides it would be the cheapest car to run … by a huge margin.

We took the car to Palo Alto for the day and had a great time. We enjoyed reservations at a boutique hotel with lovely gardens and Koi ponds. Early the next day we headed for the beach. Sporting flip-flops I loaded up the car which was hot from the sun. The car had been baking in the unrelenting sunshine for a couple of hours and it was unbearably hot inside. I decided to open the car up and run the A/C while I waited for Jordan to check out of the hotel. The car cooled off and we headed into bay area traffic.

While we cruised to SF, I began to notice my beautiful wife and how she glows. Her lovely face turning red and glistening in the summer sun. I also noticed my shirt sticking to my body and the lukewarm air being pumped into the cabin. The A/C was apparently working poorly. It was a very warm day so rolling down the windows did not make that much of a difference. We finally made it to the beach and had a great day despite the faulty air conditioning. As we drove home and in the heat of the moment, Jordan reminded me … the cars were my responsibility.

Diagnosing a bad A/C system is something you can do in your driveway without special tools and on rare occasions remedy the problem. Repairing an air conditioning system can be dangerous. There are moving parts and the refrigerant is under pressure. If you are comfortable changing an air filter or checking the oil you may want to give it a shot.

First, pop your hood with the engine off and take inventory. At the front of the car between the engine and the radiator, there will be a large heat exchanger. The condenser looks similar to a radiator and will have its own fan bolted to it. There will also be two high pressure hoses connected to the top of it. They are smaller in diameter than that of the coolant hoses going to the radiator.

Next, find the front of the engine. The engine may not be facing forward. It may be turned ninety degrees facing either fender. The front of the engine is identifiable by the engine’s belt driven accessories. One of those belt driven accessories is the A/C compressor. The two high-pressure hoses can be traced from the condenser at the front of the car to the compressor at the front of the engine. Once you have found the compressor, take notice of the intricate pulley its belt is wrapped around. That pulley contains a magnetic clutch that spins the compressor only when the system is activated. Start the engine and take a look at the compressor pulley. The inside of the pulley spins, but the bulky clutch mechanism that turns the compressor should be still. Now look at the condenser fan … it should be off.

Turn the A/C system on and observe the fan and compressor pulley again. The entire pulley and clutch mechanism should be spinning and the belt should not be making any squealing noises. The condenser fan should be spinning. If both are working check the high pressure hoses for oily dirt indicating a compromised hose. If the compressor and the fan fail to turn on … check the fuse box under the hood and under the dash.

Some problems are easy to fix by changing a fuse or getting a recharge. If the compressor clutch has failed or the hoses have let go, repair bills can be several hundred dollars. A good way to keep your system working is to use it on a regular basis. Turning the system on circulates lubricants throughout the system prolonging its life.

If you’re AC system fails this summer … keep your cool and take a look. I would also recommend a trip or two to the bay area this summer. It helps to recharge your batteries and is beneficial for all your running parts, AC system included. Enjoy!

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