5 Reasons Why Car Air Conditioner Not Blowing Cold Air When Idling
It’s bloody hot in the summer, and it’s bloody frustrating when you turn on the AC and wait to be rescued by a draft of cool air but instead get nothing. Car air conditioner not blowing cold air when idling is a pretty common issue related to your vehicle’s AC unit. There are many reasons why you might find the AC only works when driving but doesn’t blow cold air during idle. Read on to learn the most common reasons as well as how to fix the problem in each case.
Car AC Basics
Before diving into the possible culprit that can cause car air conditioner not blowing cold air when idling, you should grasp the basics of how your car’s air conditioning unit works. This will make troubleshooting and fixing the problem more self-explanatory.
The air conditioning system in your car requires a refrigerant for operation and consists of the compressor, condenser, evaporator, orifice tube, and an accumulator. The compressor compresses the refrigerant into a liquid. As the gas gets compressed, it heats up, and the high pressure forces the refrigerant to travel through the system to the condenser.
The condenser features a section of coils that the cool air from outside passes over, thus transferring the heat from the compressed gas to the air.
The refrigerant then goes through the dryer to get rid of contaminants. Once purified, the compressed refrigerant passes through the expansion valve, where it is stripped of its pressure. After traveling through the evaporator, the refrigerant is now super clean, dry and cold.
To create the gusts of cold air blowing out of your car’s AC, air is sent through this newly cold refrigerant in the compressor tank to cool down and then blown out through the blowers.
Car AC not Blowing Cold Air When Idle: The Reasons
The problem occurs at most cars at some point in their lifetime. Poor maintenance of the air conditioning unit is the main culprit for car air conditioner not blowing cold air when idling. Checking the system from time to time is crucial to keep it in a good condition. Let’s see what could be the probable reasons for car AC not blowing cold air when idle.
1. A Faulty condenser fan
The cooling fan in the condenser is the first thing that you should look into while finding out the reasons for car air conditioner not blowing cold air when idling. If the fan is damaged or cannot run with its full force, it cannot cool down the heat coming from the Freon (refrigerant) through the condenser.
When the car runs at a high speed, the condenser does not require the fan for cooling the Freon because of sufficient air passing through it. But, when the car is not moving, the fan is the only tool for making the Freon cold.
You should check if the fan’s connections are loose or it does not properly sit in its slot, or if there’s any damage that would impede its operation.
2. Low Freon level
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The Freon gets used up with the running of the air conditioning. When its level goes lower than the acceptable level, you will face the issue of car air conditioner not blowing cold air when idling. The compressor can pump the Freon more easily when the car is running at a high speed on the highway but it struggles when the car sits idle. You can do the refill yourself if you know the procedure.
Another sign of low Freon level is if you don’t hear the clutch engaging the moment you turn your vehicle’s AC on. The clutch allows the compressor to pressurize the freon and works by reading freon levels. If it doesn’t activate, the reason would be there’s not enough freon.
One possible reason for low Freon level is a leak in the AC condenser. The condenser seals and tubes are prone to normal wear and tear; they can crack or break. Another possibility is damages from physical impact by road debris or rocks, as the condenser is located near the front of a car. A leak in the condenser can lead to a low refrigerant charge and thus poor AC performance, since the system relies on the refrigerant for operations.
You normally won’t be able to notice condenser leaks by eyes. If you look very, very closely, all you’re likely to see is a faint outline of refrigerant oil. Sometimes, for older cars, a trace dye that is bright green in colour is added to the A/C system for easily detecting condenser leaks (your vehicle operates on many fluids, each has a distinct colour, so don’t mistake them).
If the condenser is leaking excessively, you’ll need to replace the entire condenser as it’s not possible to replace cracked or broken seals or tubes. In this case, you’ll likely need a professional to find and repair the leak and restore the refrigerant to the correct level.
Leaks most commonly occur in worn O-rings, seals and hoses of the air conditioning system, followed by leaks in a pinhole of the condenser and evaporator, and leaks in the compressor shaft seal.
To detect leaks, add refrigerant to restore it to the correct level, then turn the AC on. The most simple but effective method is to spray soapy water to suspected areas and watch for bubbles.
If a leak occurs in the O-rings, seals or hoses, simply have them replaced will solve the problem. However, if the issue lies with a leaking condenser or evaporator or the compressor shaft seal, repair is expensive and more troublesome, which should be performed by a professional.
3. Clogged Condenser
If any foreign object or debris gets into the condenser and obstructs the fins, the cooling process won’t work properly, especially when the car is idle.
Condensers are subject to clogs over time due to the buildup of residue in the refrigerant, which eventually turns into a sticky paste that hinders the heat transfer that can take place from the hot refrigerant to the cool ambient air that gets blown over the condenser coil.
The second cause for a condenser malfunctioning is a blockage caused by debris. This is typically due to a worn compressor that is breaking apart and dispersing metallic internal parts throughout the entire system. This means that if you’re dealing with a blockage, you might need to replace not just the condenser, but also the failing compressor, the tubes, and the receiver/dryer or accumulator, since metallic debris has contaminated the whole system.
A blocked condenser might also cause a problem called short-cycling, which makes the A/C unit cycle on and off rapidly and ineffectively instead of optimal operation. This abnormal cycling will cause more wear and tear on all components, thus you might have to replace many parts at the same time or replace the whole A/C unit prematurely.
In this case, you just need to clean the dirty parts to resolve the problem of car AC not blowing cold air when idle:
- A dirty or clogged condenser: If your condenser is clogged with dirt or anything that’s interfering with the unit, simply give it a thorough cleaning to restore the unit’s optimal performance.
- Dirty coil: The coil is the part that the cool ambient air gets blown over, so over time, it is also prone to collecting dust and other contaminants in the air. You just have to clean off debris from the coil to restore the condenser’s capability.
4. Faulty or Worn Condenser Parts
The condenser itself consists of multiple parts: the coil, the motor, the fins, the condenser relay switch, the run capacitor, plus tubes and seals. If these parts become dirty or become worn with old age, your condenser might lose its function. Sometimes you can clean or replace the faulty part itself, sometimes you’ll need to replace the whole condenser or the entire A/C unit. When to repair and when to replace your faulty condenser will be discussed further below.
If you’re lucky, you can just replace certain faulty components as follows:
- Faulty Motor: A faulty motor needs to be replaced. But note that you must check your owner’s manual for the correct replacement motor to avoid causing even more damage to your air conditioning unit.
- Bad condenser relay switch: easy replacement
- Bad run capacitor: easy replacement
Sometimes, you’re less lucky. If you’re dealing with the following problems, you’ll need to replace the entire condenser itself, or worse, the entire air conditioning unit:
- Condenser blockages: As mentioned above, a blockage caused by metallic debris from a failing compressor is a major issue and most of the time, you may have to replace more than the condenser itself or worse, replace the whole air conditioning unit.
- Damaged coil: A damaged coil is very hard, expensive and time consuming to repair, unless your coil is still under warranty. Otherwise, people usually replace the entire air conditioning unit, which is quicker and cheaper.
Condenser replacement cost
You might wonder how much replacement costs for an AC condenser. The average cost for an AC compressor replacement is between $400 and $900 depending on the particular car. About half of this would be labor costs and the remaining is the price of the parts.
5. Overheated engine
Another common reason for car air conditioner not blowing cold air when idling is an overheated engine. Most cars have two cooling fans, one for the condenser and the other for the radiator. The compressor of the AC system moves heat from the radiator to the condenser. When the car is already overheated and the fans in the radiator and condenser are not working properly for some reason, the system can’t cool down the heat with the maximum efficiency.