Automotive Air-Conditioning FAQ

Commonly referred to as the heart of the system, the compressor is a belt driven pump that is fastened to the engine. It is responsible for compressing and transferring refrigerant gas.

The A/C system is split into two sides, a high pressure side and a low pressure side; defined as discharge and suction. Since the compressor is basically a pump, it must have an intake side and a discharge side. The intake, or suction side, draws in refrigerant gas from the outlet of the evaporator. In some cases it does this via the accumulator.

Once the refrigerant is drawn into the suction side, it is compressed and sent to the condenser, where it can then transfer the heat that is absorbed from the inside of the vehicle.

This is the area in which heat dissipation occurs. The condenser, in many cases, will have much the same appearance as the radiator in you car as the two have very similar functions. The condenser is designed to radiate heat. Its location is usually in front of the radiator, but in some cases, due to aerodynamic improvements to the body of a vehicle, its location may differ. Condensers must have good air flow anytime the system is in operation. On rear wheel drive vehicles, this is usually accomplished by taking advantage of your existing engine's cooling fan. On front wheel drive vehicles, condenser air flow is supplemented with one or more electric cooling fan(s).

As hot compressed gasses are introduced into the top of the condenser, they are cooled off. As the gas cools, it condenses and exits the bottom of the condenser as a high pressure liquid.

Located inside the vehicle, the evaporator serves as the heat absorption component. The evaporator provides several functions. Its primary duty is to remove heat from the inside of your vehicle. A secondary benefit is dehumidification. As warmer air travels through the aluminum fins of the cooler evaporator coil, the moisture contained in the air condenses on its surface. Dust and pollen passing through stick to its wet surfaces and drain off to the outside. On humid days you may have seen this as water dripping from the bottom of your vehicle. Rest assured this is perfectly normal.

The ideal temperature of the evaporator is 32 Fahrenheit or 0 Celsius. Refrigerant enters the bottom of the evaporator as a low pressure liquid. The warm air passing through the evaporator fins causes the refrigerant to boil (refrigerants have very low boiling points). As the refrigerant begins to boil, it can absorb large amounts of heat. This heat is then carried off with the refrigerant to the outside of the vehicle. Several other components work in conjunction with the evaporator. As mentioned above, the ideal temperature for an evaporator coil is 32 F. Temperature and pressure regulating devices must be used to control its temperature. While there are many variations of devices used, their main functions are the same; keeping pressure in the evaporator low and keeping the evaporator from freezing; A frozen evaporator coil will not absorb as much heat.

Another common refrigerant regulator is the thermal expansion valve, or TXV. Commonly used on import and aftermarket systems. This type of valve can sense both temperature and pressure, and is very efficient at regulating refrigerant flow to the evaporator. Several variations of this valve are commonly found. Another example of a thermal expansion valve is Chrysler's "H block" type. This type of valve is usually located at the firewall, between the evaporator inlet and outlet tubes and the liquid and suction lines. These types of valves, although efficient, have some disadvantages over orifice tube systems. Like orifice tubes these valves can become clogged with debris, but also have small moving parts that may stick and malfunction due to corrosion.

The receiver-drier is used on the high side of systems that use a thermal expansion valve. This type of metering valve requires liquid refrigerant. To ensure that the valve gets liquid refrigerant, a receiver is used. The primary function of the receiver-drier is to separate gas and liquid. The secondary purpose is to remove moisture and filter out dirt. The receiver-drier usually has a sight glass in the top. This sight glass is often used to charge the system. Under normal operating conditions, vapor bubbles should not be visible in the sight glass. The use of the sight glass to charge the system is not recommended in R-134a systems as cloudiness and oil that has separated from the refrigerant can be mistaken for bubbles. This type of mistake can lead to a dangerous overcharged condition. There are variations of receiver-driers and several different desiccant materials are in use. Some of the moisture removing desiccants found within are not compatible with R-134a. The desiccant type is usually identified on a sticker that is affixed to the receiver-drier. Newer receiver-driers use desiccant type XH-7 and are compatible with both R-12 and R-134a refrigerants.

Refrigerant oil is installed in most compressors in the factory. Check the compressor label for the type and amount of oil.

Cooling performance could improve by increasing compressor speed or capacity; however, HVAC system capacity is not based solely on compressor capacity. Control algorithms, evaporator and condenser sizing, as well as a host of other factors contribute to system capacity, so simply speeding up your compressor or upgrading to a higher-capacity compressor will not necessarily increase your actual system performance.