If you have ever noticed how the cold air in every automobile seems to progressively become less frigid year after year, there may be a reason for it. If you consider that many car owners only use their AC during the hottest summer months, it is easy to see how these parts can begin to deteriorate slowly from lack of usage. The reality is that automotive air conditioning systems retain their function when they are run regularly.
This is because the refrigerant condenses to a liquid and stores when it is not in use. There is also oil mixed in with this refrigerant that lubricates and protects the internal system from oxidation. In addition, you have a receiver/dryer that removes the trapped moisture from the system. It is possible for your compressor to seize and for other moving parts to seize or become dysfunctional over time if it is rarely operated.
The same principle is true with airplane engines. A small airplane engine is generally made of aluminum. If you do not run them frequently enough, the aluminum will begin to oxidize and deteriorate. The common symptom is for pitting to occur and other components to break down. An expensive rebuild may be the only solution.
For this reason, you should also run your AC in the winter months. This is not only to ensure that it lasts a long time but also to dehumidify the air and your ventilation system.
A lot of condensation builds up on interior windows during the winter months. If you switch your climate control selection tab to maximum heat and simultaneously run the air conditioner, this will defog your windows faster than using the defrost alone. And you will not feel the cold air from the A/C because the servos in the climate control will only direct heat from the passages of the heater core.
If you run your AC in winter, you will also create a drier environment that makes it difficult for bacteria and mold spores to grow. This will make your vehicle smell fresher and is better for your health than breathing in stale air. In fact, failure to use an A/C system is why many cars develop a musty smell later on.
The Expense of A/C System Failures
It can be very expensive to repair your A/C system once it begins to deteriorate. The A/C refrigerant must be evacuated by certified professionals who have special equipment to capture it. Then, you have to pay for diagnostics to determine what the root problem is behind the diminished function or the complete breakdown of the system. This is not always easy because all the parts must be functioning correctly together for optimal performance. Most shops will recommend leaving the A/C alone if it is still blowing relatively cold air and the refrigerant is not leaking because it is not cost-effective to repair it.
How Does an A/C System Work?
The A/C system works by circulating a refrigerant gas, usually 134a. This gas has unique properties that cause a substantial drop in temperature when it expands from its liquid to a gaseous state.
The compressor is circulating this gas into a condenser that transforms it into a liquid. The condenser is like a radiator and is often mounted in front of the engine radiator. It has fine aluminum fins and narrow passages that cools and condenses the circulating gas.
The liquid is then expanded using an expansion valve or similar device that atomizes it into a gaseous state within the evaporator. It magically cools the air and transfers the cold temperature drop through the air ventilation by using the car’s interior blower fan.