The Indian summer can be harsh and driving around without any cooling system is sure to get you all hot and bothered. Thankfully, almost all passenger cars come equipped with efficient AC systems that keep us cool and comfortable while we drive around in the sweltering heat. A car AC consists of complicated components that work together to provide the cabin with cool air through vents in the dashboard. But few of us know about car AC compressor vs condenser: What is the difference?

This article outlines the details to help you make sense of your car’s AC system.

What is car AC compressor?

The car AC has four essential units in order to reduce the temperature of ambient air in the cabin and keep you cool. The components include:

  • Compressor
  • Condenser
  • Evaporator
  • Expansion Valve

The parts are connected by airtight tubing that is filled with Freon or another suitable refrigerant. The refrigerant cycles between liquid and gaseous states, thereby absorbing heat from air flowing over it and reducing its temperature in order to cool the car interior.

The car AC compressor squeezes the refrigerant and pumps it into the condenser coils which cools down the gas and exchanges the heat through a radiator.

The refrigerant then moves into the expansion valve to reduce its pressure and cool down further, changing into a liquid at this point. The liquid refrigerant is sent to the evaporator, where air is blown across it. The air loses its heat and is sent to the car interior to cool the cabin. The refrigerant having absorbed the ambient heat turns into a gas and is pumped back into the compressor to start the cooling cycle again.

The job of the compressor is to pressurize the refrigerant, turning it from a gas into a liquid. The condenser’s role is to further cool down the refrigerant and exchange heat with the surroundings. This is the basic AC compressor working principle.

An AC filter is used to remove dust, dirt and fine particles in the circulating air before it enters the cabin via the AC vents.

Read here the Reasons Why Your Car Ac Is Blowing Hot Air

How does a car AC compressor work?

The car ac compressor function consists of a piston that moves up and down in a cylinder. As the compressor spins, it draws refrigerant into the cylinder and the piston compresses the gas, decreasing its volume and turning the gas into a liquid. This high-pressure fluid turns warm and is sent to the condenser coils.

The high-pressure refrigerant is able to absorb heat from the ambient air and cool it down (the cooled air is sent to the car interior). No matter how hot it gets outside, the compressor keeps the refrigerant at high pressure so that it can absorb heat.

Checkout here A Detailed Guide of How does Car Air Conditioning Work

What is the role of the condenser in an AC system?

The condenser consists of a coil system, radiating fins, an electric fan and tubing connecting it to the compressor and expansion valve.

The condenser is responsible for converting the refrigerant into a liquid and dissipating the heat to the surroundings. Condenser coils are thin tubing that is made up of metal fins, they work to exchange heat away from the Freon or refrigerant gas.

An electric fan blows air over the condenser coils so that it can release heat effectively. The vast surface area of the metal fins is sufficient to expose the refrigerant heat to the outside air and effectively cool it down.

Read here When To Get An Ac Recharge

Symptoms of a bad condenser or compressor

If you notice that your car AC is not cooling efficiently, is blowing warm air or you hear strange sounds from the engine bay when you turn the AC on, it could mean that your AC needs some attention.

Ensure that the condenser fan is working in order to cool down the refrigerant. If it is not turning, they could be an issue with the electrical supply, thermostat or leaks in the tubing.

Clean the condenser fins and keep dirt and debris away from the thin metal fins. You can use a good AC system flush to clear out the internals periodically.

Check for blown AC fuses if the system doesn’t switch on. Otherwise, it could mean a failed electrical system for the HVAC unit.

A low level of refrigerant may cause the compressor to work overtime in order to keep the pressure high. This will cause wear and tear on the compressor and the component may eventually fail in time. A worn-out compressor will also put unnecessary strain on your engine causing it to overheat and consume more fuel in order to work. The interior of the car will not be cooled effectively and you will not be able to tackle the summer weather while driving.

Have the AC system inspected by a certified technician in accordance with the maintenance schedule of your vehicle. Compressors and condensers are expensive parts that cannot be repaired easily, so preventive maintenance is the best solution.

Be familiar with your car’s AC compressor capacity and specifications so that you can use the cooling system effectively without overburdening the components.

Checkout here 12 Car Dashboard Symbols and Their Actual Meanings


If you are looking to beat the heat without burning a hole in your pocket, then keep an eye on your AC system and ensure it is working properly. Most cars have automatic climate control that adjusts the thermostat according to the ambient temperature and conditions. Some older vehicles need you to manually control the AC which is pretty straightforward and not cumbersome.

As always, keep cool and enjoy your drive stress-free with the knowledge of the AC system components and basic functioning.

Some other cool articles that you can check out include What Is Car Central Locking And How It Works and What Are Signs of Potential Brake Problems? or visit Carorbis blog for more info

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How does car AC compressor work?

Ans. The AC compressor is responsible for compressing low-pressure refrigerant gas into high-pressure liquid vapor. In its liquid form, the refrigerant is able to absorb surrounding heat and provide cooling.

Q2. How to repair car AC compressor?

Ans. AC compressors can be repaired; however, it is better to have the unit replaced with a new one as it is more time-effective and will provide better cooling.

Q3. My car AC compressor is not working but the fan is running?

Ans. If this situation occurs, try changing the temperature on the thermostat to a cooler setting. The cabin temperature may be cool enough already.

Q4. Is car AC compressor covered under insurance?

Ans. AC components are covered by insurance if they get damaged in an accident. Normal wear and tear and replacement of consumables are not covered by insurance.

Q5. What causes car AC compressor to turn on and off?

Ans. A car AC compressor turns off when the refrigerant gas pressure reaches a high point and turns on again when the pressure falls low.

Q6. How much to replace car AC compressor?

Ans. AC compressor and related components can cost up to Rs.10,000 for a replacement. Labour cost plus consumables amount to Rs.3000.

Q7. My car AC compressor turns on and off quickly?

Ans. This is due to the refrigerant being too low, causing low pressure and turning off the AC compressor. When the pressure rises, the compressor quickly turns on.

Q9. How can I tell if my car AC compressor is bad?

Ans. The cooling level will be low, you may hear strange noises from the AC compressor and there will be an excessive strain on the engine when the compressor turns on.

Q10. What causes car AC compressor failure?

Ans. Dirt on the condenser coil will cause it to work continuously to cool the air. This puts pressure on your compressor which may fail.

Q11. What is a car AC compressor bearing replacement?

Ans. Bearings allow the AC compressor to spin freely without friction. If they get worn out, the compressor will not work effectively.

Q12. What happens when a car AC compressor goes bad?

Ans. The initial symptoms of a bad AC compressor are the air vents not blowing cool air leading to high temperatures inside the cabin.

Q13. Why does AC smell in my car?

Ans. Water and moisture collects in the evaporator of the AC system creating a damp and musty odour that can be unpleasant.

Q14. Will car AC compressor work without gas?

Ans. The car AC compressor will not work without refrigerant gas, it will not turn on and cabin temperatures will not be cool.

Q15. Why does a car AC compressor stop working after some time?

Ans. The refrigerant needs to be replaced every 2 years or you could have failed switches, blown fuses or electrical problems.

Q16. What is the car AC compressor working principle?

Ans. The compressor turns refrigerant from a gas to a liquid, thereby absorbing heat and humidity from the circulating air and cooling it down.

Q17. What is a car AC compressor specification?

Ans. The compressor has a volume of around 140 cm cube @ 5,000 rpm. The condenser and evaporator have a capacity of around 5 kW in a small car.

Q18. What is the car ac compressor capacity?

Ans. Passenger cars have a capacity of around 1000 CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute) airflow at a pressure of 2 bar and voltage 12-24 volt.

Q19. How to check car AC compressor?

Ans. If you have warm air flowing into the cabin with the AC on, then you may have to check the compressor for failure.

Q20. How long car ac compressor last?

Ans. AC compressors usually last the lifetime of the car or at least 10 -15 years if the car is maintained in good condition.

Q21. How to tell if your car AC compressor is working?

Ans. You should have cool air in the cabin with the AC on and no odd sounds coming from the AC system.

Q22. Why is the car AC compressor on but not cooling?

Ans. The problem could be leaks in compressor gas, clogged filters, condenser fan issues, radiator faults or low refrigerant gas.

Q23. What are signs of car AC compressor going bad?

Ans. Hot air blowing from the vents, strange noises from the AC system, strain on the engine when the AC is on and leaks from the tubing.

Q24. How often should car AC compressor cycle?

Ans. Vehicle AC compressors should cycle every 10 to 15 minutes under normal conditions.

Q25. My car AC compressor works intermittently?

Ans. This is usually caused by an iced-over evaporator that prevents circulating air from cooling.

Q26. Why my car AC compressor keep burning the clutch?

Ans. The clutch overheats and melts the rubber friction surface. This is due to the compressor locking up at high rpms.

Q27. Car ac compressor failure symptoms?

Ans. Hot air from the vents, noises from the compressor and leaking AC tubes.

Q28. How to fix car AC compressor leak?

Ans. The refrigerant is removed and the AC system is inspected to check for leaks.

Q29. Why does my car AC compressor take long time to start?

Ans. Possible causes are a failing capacitor, compressor motor issues or wear and tear in its components.

Q30. How much does it cost to repair car AC compressor?

Ans. A basic AC service costs Rs.1500 while a repair can cost up to Rs.3000 if you factor in consumables.

Q31. Why is there a car ac compressor noise while accelerating?

Ans. It could be that the AC compressor is faulty or worn out from constant use.

Q32. Why does car AC compressor oil leak?

Ans. An under-lubricated seal around the AC compressor crankshaft can dry up, while refrigerant and oil will leak out.

Q33. How much does a car ac compressor weight?

Ans. The weight of a small car AC compressor is around 5-6 kg.

Q34.Why my car AC compressor turns off and on?

Ans. This is due to a low level of refrigerant gas causing the compressor to sense low pressure.

Q35. My car ac compressor working but no cold air?

Ans. There is most likely a leak in Freon (refrigerant gas) which just has to be refilled.

Q36. How much oil in car AC compressor?

Ans. AC compressors usually need around 120 ml of oil for proper compression.

Q37. What is car AC condenser?

Ans. It is a heat exchanger, cooling down the refrigerant to a liquid and transferring heat to a radiator.

Q38. How car AC condenser works?

Ans. The car AC condenser reduces the temperature of the refrigerant during the condensation process.

Q39. How to clean car AC condenser without removing bumper?

Ans. Use a special AC condenser cleaner spray and wipe clean after 30 minutes with a cloth.

Q40. How to test car AC condenser fan motor?

Ans. Use a multimeter over the terminals of the fan motor to see if you have power.

Q41. When to replace car AC condenser?

Ans. If you do not have cool air from your AC or notice leaks, it may be time to replace the condenser.

Q42. Where is car AC condenser located?

Ans. It is located at the front ahead of the radiator. It is sometimes called a mini-radiator.

Q43. How to know if car AC condenser is bad?

Ans. Loud noises from the condenser, reduced cooling capacity and visible leaks from the unit indicate it is bad.

Q44. How to repair hole in car ac condenser?

Ans. It is usually easier to replace the condenser because a hole will be difficult to repair and the efficiency of the AC will reduce.

Q45. How to fix AC and heat in car?

Ans. Try adjusting the thermostat to a cooler or hotter setting to get it working.

Q46. How to install AC condenser in a car?

Ans. The job will take 3-5 hours and is as easy as replacing a flat tyre.

Q47. Is air conditioning covered under car warranty?

Ans. Warranty covers the AC components from damage and malfunction, including electrical parts but not consumables like refrigerant.

Q48. What causes car ac condenser to leak?

Ans. Wear and tear, constant use and lack of servicing may cause a leak in the condenser.

Q49. How much does it cost to replace car AC condenser?

Ans. AC condensers may cost from Rs.2000 – Rs.5000 depending on the model and size of the unit.

Q50. How to unclog car AC condenser?

Ans. Brush off excess dirt and use a spray coil cleaner to penetrate the condenser parts until clean.

Q51. Can a bad condenser cause overheating?

Ans. If the condenser coils are dirty, the AC runs longer and causes it to overheat.

Q52. Does ac condenser fan always run?

Ans. No, the AC condenser fan switches on only when it needs to cool the refrigerant gas every 10 minutes.

Q53. How to flush car AC condenser?

Ans. A standard AC system flush can be used to clean the internals of the components.

Q54. What does it mean when your ac compressor turns on and off?

Ans. It means that refrigerant levels are low and there is a low pressure within the AC system. The compressor tends to turn on and off frequently in this case.

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