12 Tips for Maintaining Your Car Air Conditioning System

The summers in Virginia can get exceedingly hot and humid. But don’t worry — your car’s air conditioning system is there to keep you cool.

That is, until it isn’t. Driving a lot in high heat will put a lot of strain on your car’s A/C. If it suddenly decides to give up the ghost, you’ll be in for one sweaty drive.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to extend your A/C’s lifespan. Read on to learn 12 easy tips on how to maintain car air conditioning systems.

How to Maintain Car Air Conditioning Systems

Keeping your car’s A/C operational is not so much about technical maintenance operations. Instead, it’s all about small, simple things that reduce the load on the air conditioner and help it last longer.

Of course, there’s a whole slew of DIY repairs experienced gearheads can do. However, car air conditioners can be complicated, so it’s best to get professional A/C repair service for such operations.  

Here are 12 easy things you can do at home to give your car air conditioning some tender loving care:

1. Use the Air Conditioner

The air conditioner on your car was made to be used. One of the best ways to keep it functional is to simply turn it on.

You should run your car A/C for 10 minutes every week. Even in winter, turn the A/C to the coldest setting and highest fan speed. Doing so maintains gas pressure levels within the system and keeps the compressor some exercise to preserve its health.

2. Run the A/C in Defrost Mode

Here’s another simple weekly maintenance task that only requires you to turn the air conditioner on. run the car’s A/C in defrost mode for around 10 minutes weekly.

The heat from the defroster will remove moisture from the air conditioning system, which prevents the growth of mold and mildew. Your A/C vents will stay cleaner, the A/C will last longer, and you get to enjoy fresh air without musty and unpleasant odors.

3. Keep the Air Filter Clean

Every car air conditioner has a filter to remove impurities. If the filter gets clogged with dirt, it’ll hinder airflow. As a result, your car’s A/C has to work harder and will wear itself out sooner.

You should check your car’s air filter regularly and change it as necessary. The filter is usually located in the glove box, under the dashboard, or under the hood. Check your owner’s manual for its location, or ask a technician to change the filter for you.

4. Clear the Exterior Air Intake

The trees in Virginia are gorgeous in both summer and fall, but all those leaves can be a menace to your car’s air conditioning. They can pack at the exterior air intake and clog it, leading to similar issues as a clogged air filter.

Always brush all leaves, twigs, and dirt off the bottom of your windshield. You should also pop the hood and clean under it if necessary.

5. Clean Your Car’s Interior

As the car’s air conditioner works, it sucks in air from the inside of your car. If your car interior is full of dust, dirt, and sand, all that stuff will pack into the A/C system.

Ideally, you should clean and vacuum your car once a week. That might seem excessive, but if you notice a lot of dirt accumulating on the floor mats, it’s time to vacuum.

6. Recirculate Air (But Not With Backseat Passengers)

Running your car’s A/C in recirculation mode can reduce the strain on the system. Instead of pulling hot air in from the outside, your A/C will suck in air from the inside and re-cool it. This makes its job much easier.

But if you have backseat passengers, you might want to avoid recirculating air. It’s fine for the front seat, but those in the back will probably be stuck with stale and hot air.

7. Don’t Pre-Cool Your Vehicle

It might be tempting to let your car’s A/C run for a few minutes before driving so you can get into a nice, cool vehicle. But don’t do it.

Car air conditioning systems work more effectively when the car is moving due to the increased airflow. We know a pre-cooled car is more comfortable, but cooling a standing car will wear your A/C out faster.

8. Keep the A/C at the Coldest Setting

The air conditioner in your car works the most efficiently when it’s set to the lowest possible temperature. Running it at higher temperatures forces the A/C to re-heat air, which wears it out faster and also burns more fuel you have to pay for.

Keep your car’s A/C turned to the coldest setting. If your car gets too chilly, simply turn down the fan speed.

9. Use the A/C Controls Gently

When you get in the hot car, you may want to turn the air conditioner to full blast. But just like you shouldn’t slam the gas pedal to the floor, turning your A/C to full right away can damage its components.

It’s best to gradually cool your car down to preserve the air conditioner’s functionality. After all, if you turn it to full and it breaks, you won’t be cooling your car at all.

10. Keep Your Windows Shut

On hot days it may be fun to lower the windows and feel the wind in your hair. But your poor car’s air conditioner isn’t on board with the idea.

Lowering your windows will lower the A/C’s efficiency and use up more coolant and fuel. Opening the windows will also let hot outside air in, which forces the air conditioner to work extra hard.

11. Park in Shade

This might seem self-explanatory, but it’s a simple tip that’s worth repeating. On hot days, try to park your car in the shade if possible.

Leaving your car under the sun will make it hotter and increase the strain on your air conditioner when you start cooling it down. Parking in a garage or under an awning or a tree can lower the internal temperature by a few degrees and give your A/C a breather.

12. Get Your A/C Serviced Regularly

Regular professional maintenance ensures your car’s air conditioning system is free of leaks, low fluids, and other issues. You should get your car’s A/C serviced once a year, preferably before the summer heat creeps in.

Additionally, your car A/C needs its refrigerant recharged regularly since you lose about 10-15% of it every year. This isn’t a job that should be done at home, since it can be difficult to impossible to tell how much refrigerant gas is in the system.

How often your car A/C needs recharging depends on the car and how you use the air conditioner, but the rule of thumb is 1-2 years. It’s best to bring your car in for an annual A/C check in early spring.

How a Car Air Conditioning System Works

Your car’s air conditioning system functions much in the same way as that in your home. But it’s much smaller, so engineers have had to make some tweaks and modifications to certain parts.

Here’s the basic operating principle of a car A/C:

  1. The compressor increases the pressure of the refrigerant gas, sending it circulating through the system.
  2. The refrigerant goes through the condenser which cools down the refrigerant and turns it into a liquid.
  3. Before the coolant is ready to cool your car, it passes through a receiver-dryer, which removes moisture from it.
  4. The coolant then passes through a thermal expansion valve and into the evaporator that removes hot air from the car while fans blow cool air in.
  5. After this, the refrigerant passes back to the compressor and the cycle begins again.

Signs That You Need Your Car Air Conditioning Serviced

Unlike with some other systems in your car, it’s fairly easy to tell if your air conditioning needs service. If it’s not blowing cold air, it’s time for maintenance. But there are also other signs that could indicate A/C issues.

If you notice any of these problems, bring your car to a reliable service shop for maintenance:

  • The air conditioner isn’t blowing cold air
  • You can smell mildew or other odors through the vents
  • The A/C only works when your car is moving
  • There’s an unusual noise coming from the vents
  • The airflow through your vents is weak even on the highest fan speed

Get Expert Air Conditioner Maintenance in Chantilly

It’s important to keep your car’s air conditioner functioning in northern Virginia. Not only are our summers hot, but our winters can also get freezing cold. A well-maintained air conditioning and heating system keeps you comfortable during any season.

Advanced Automotive has more than 35 years of experience in servicing car air conditioning systems in Chantilly. Our ASE-certified technicians are familiar with the A/C components of all car makes and models. With our help, you’ll stay cool in the sunshine and warm when snow falls.

Book an A/C maintenance appointment online, call us at (703) 952-3221, or visit our conveniently located auto repair shop at 4007-A Westfax Dr, Chantilly, VA 20151.