The warm weather is beginning to wind down, but that doesn't mean that you should ignore trouble with your car's air conditioning system. While you may think that everything's fine as long as you've got cold air coming from the vents, some noises can provide early warnings of impending trouble. These three sounds can all be indications that your air conditioner may require attention before next summer.
1. Audible Clicking From Vents
While the design of your vehicles HVAC system is similar to the HVAC systems found in buildings, there's one key difference: you can typically get a range for temperatures from the vents. Unlike your home's air conditioner, you can adjust your car's vents to blow air that ranges from hot to lukewarm to ice cold. This trick works through the blend doors and actuators hidden behind your vents.
The blend doors work by varying the mix of air between the air conditioner and the heating system. These doors typically run on small, computer-controlled actuators to provide the desired temperature to the cabin. Failing actuators can produce a clicking noise, which can often be audible from inside the car. If the doors are stuck, you may also notice that the air from one or more vents is too warm or cold.
Loud squealing sounds are annoying and potentially embarrassing. When you hear a squeal from your engine bay, it's generally a worn-out belt, pulley, or tensioner. You can usually get a good idea of what's causing the squeal by paying attention to when you hear it. If you only hear the noise when you turn on the air conditioner, then there's a good chance that it's your AC belt or pulley.
You should consider any belts in your engine to be items that require replacement every hundred thousand miles or so. Pulleys and tensioners can last longer, but the bearings can wear out over time and produce a grinding or squealing noise. Fortunately, both of these parts are relatively cheap to fix, and this problem is unlikely to harm your AC system if you address it promptly.
3. Loud Clunk
On some cars, you may be able to feel the compressor turning on when the AC clutch engages. This engagement might feel like a slight clunk or jolt, but it should not be particularly noticeable. If there seems to be a violent noise whenever the AC turns on, then it may be a sign of a problem with your compressor or AC clutch.
Low refrigerant pressure can also strain the air conditioning system, causing the compressor to become noisy. If you hear a noise like this, it's best to avoid using your air conditioner until you can have the system checked out by a professional. Improper refrigerant levels or AC clutch problems can potentially damage the compressor, leading to a very costly future repair.
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