An AC recharge is something that a lot of car owners disregard. It isn’t part of any scheduled maintenance, and it can be hard to tell when your car’s AC is on the downswing.
Still, a lot of cars require an AC recharge now and then. You can complete the process in your home, though it can be difficult for those without automotive experience.
If your AC is starting to blow cool air, it could be a sign of some problems. The simplest to fix, however, is an AC recharge. Ahead, we’ll get into the signs that your car needs an AC recharge, as well as a DIY guide that will help you through the process.
Signs You Need an AC Recharge
If you’ve heard about one of your friends or family members needing an AC recharge, you might be wondering if you need one as well. After all, AC repair isn’t something that’s on the tip of your maintenance to-do list. You may have never charged your AC, and are worrying if it will still keep you cool when summer rolls around.
If the above statement describes your situation, we’re here to put your mind at ease. You probably don’t need an AC recharge. Not every car needs one, and no set time will determine when your AC refrigeration is getting dull.
With car parts like tires, windshield wipers, and headlights it’s easy to give a general idea of when you should replace them. Each has an average lifespan that depends on the driver, and giving advice is almost always time dependent.
AC recharge is different. Some may have to recharge their AC every other year while other have to do it every five years. Someone else might never have to do it for the whole life of their car.
You might be wondering how you can tell when you need to recharge your AC. There are a few signs you can read that will give you an indication.
AC Stops Cooling Effectively
The first and most obvious sign that your AC needs a recharge is the loss of cooling power. If your AC used to make you need to wear a sweater in your car – even on the hottest days – but now barely keeps you cool, it’s time for a recharge.
When you turn on the AC, the freon AC or other refrigerant starts to circulate. If the refrigerant starts to get low, the air won’t feel as cool as it once did. Eventually, your AC system will stop blowing cool air altogether.
Liquid dripping from the bottom of your car is never a good sign, and it’s no different if your car is leaking refrigerant.
It’s common for condensation to form on the AC unit in the summer, leading to moisture dripping and pooling off of the bottom of your car. This is not a cause for alarm, but if it isn’t just water, you should bring your car to the mechanic or check yourself.
This moisture could be a number of things, including a sign that you need an AC recharge. If the refrigerant leaks from your car, it will eventually deplete to the point that your car AC no longer works.
Refrigerant leaks usually go hand-in-hand with sub-par AC, so look out for both of these signs. If your AC stops blowing cool air at the same time you notice pools underneath your car, you’re almost certainly due for an AC recharge.
You Don’t Hear the AC Clutch
Your AC might not be cooling as well as it once did, but it can sometimes be difficult to notice. If you just came off of a cold winter, you might not remember how cool your AC was the year before.
One of the ways you can tell if you need a car AC repair is if you don’t hear the AC clutch activate when you turn on the system. You can probably recognize the sound if you look for it, but if you don’t hear the click, your AC isn’t working properly.
If the refrigerant pressure in your AC is too low, it won’t signal the clutch to click as it usually does. Your car will blow cold air as long as the refrigerant is enough to engage the clutch, but once it doesn’t the system won’t work.
Recharging Your AC
You can recharge your AC at home, but this is not a beginner DIY project. You’ll be working with hazardous materials, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s possible to cause more harm than good.
If you don’t feel confident working on your car, do a quick Google search of “AC repair near me.” There are likely a handful of auto body shops that list their AC recharge price on their site. Unlike some of the other projects we’ve explained on our site, this is not on where we recommend cutting costs with DIY.
Additionally, there is a chance that you need to replace or repair the AC unit in your car. If your AC is leaking, for instance, you probably can’t fix it in your driveway. We suggest getting a professional opinion before attempting an AC recharge.
If you still want to try it yourself, though, we’ve included a step-by-step guide below.
What you Need
To complete an AC recharge, you’ll need the following tools:
- Enough refrigerant based on your vehicle’s specifications
- A recharge hose/pressure gauge
- A cooking thermometer
- Safety glasses
Refrigerant can be dangerous, and you should handle it with extreme care. If you get any on your skin, it will freeze almost immediately and burn you. Always wear gloves and long-sleeves if it’s not too hot. Use precaution when recharging your AC at home.
Start Your Car
Start your car and turn on the AC full-blast. Stick the cooking thermometer in the AC to get a reading. A working AC will blow air somewhere around freezing, though this depends on how hot it is inside your car.
Listen to see if you hear the click of the compressor clutch that we discussed earlier. If it does, then you’re probably a bit low on refrigerant. If the compressor engages, you’ll have an easier time recharging your AC.
If the clutch doesn’t engage, then you might have an electrical problem. You’ll need to add refrigerant to make sure it’s not the low amount, but we recommend taking your car in for inspection if this is the case.
Check the Pressure
Once you’ve determined that the compressor is engaging, turn off your car and open the hood. On the passenger’s side, you’ll find a tube with cap on the top. The cap should have an “L” on it. This is the low side pressure port.
Attach the recharge hose from your refrigerant kit to the hose once you find the nozzle. You should hear a light click after applying a bit of pressure. That’s how you know the hose is securely in place. Don’t press the trigger here, or the refrigerant from the AC will start to escape.
Next, turn on your car and keep your AC on full blast. Take a look at the gauge on the recharge kit and listen for the click of the compressor engaging. If the pressure is at or above 40 psi, you have a separate problem on your hands. If it’s under 40 psi, you can be sure that your AC problem stems from a lack of refrigerant in the system.
Recharge Your AC
Most refrigerant kits come with refrigerant and a recharge hose that fits. If you bought them separately, place the bottle of refrigerant on the hose attached to the trigger. Squeeze the trigger slowly and methodically for short bursts to make sure you don’t overcharge your AC.
Read the gauge after every press of the trigger. Your target is 40 psi, but don’t worry about going a little bit over. You won’t be exact every time.
Test the Temperature
Now that you’ve finished adding refrigerant to your system, it should be much cooler than before. Return to your car and insert the cooking thermometer into the AC vent once again. The reading should be much colder than it was before you recharged your AC.
Be careful removing the gauge and hose from your car, and keep your finger off of the trigger. You’ve finished the job, so you wouldn’t want to screw it up now!
DIY AC Recharge
We don’t recommend that everyone recharge their AC at home, but those who have experience working on cars should be able to complete the project without much trouble. If this is your first DIY job, however, it’s best to spend a bit of extra money and take your car to a professional.
Since your failing AC could mean so many things, getting a professional opinion is always helpful. You can always pay them for their advice and take your car home to recharge it anyway. You won’t lose anything over a bit of peace of mind.