In the years before World War II, “4 60 AC” meant driving at least 60 miles per hour with all four windows rolled down to stay cool. This changed in 1939, when Detroit’s Packard Motor Car Co., then a maker of luxury cars, introduced the first air-conditioned car with the cooling system installed in the trunk. There were no dashboard controls for the a/c system, and drivers had to install or remove the a/c compressor’s drive belt in order to turn the system on or off. It actually wasn’t until 1969 that more than half of U.S. drivers would drive an air-conditioned vehicle.

With summer just around the corner, and this being Houston, now is the time to make sure your air conditioning system is working. Vehicle owners should learn how to keep their cars, vans and trucks maintained as the weather heats up.

How Your Air Conditioning System Works

First, though, let’s take a look at how your vehicle’s air conditioning system operates. There are five parts to it: compressor, condenser, receiver-dryer, expansion valve and evaporator. When you turn on your air conditioning, refrigerant begins a cyclic journey through each of these five components.

Refrigerant enters the compressor as a low-pressure gas (not a liquid). The word “Freon” is a brand name patented by DuPont, but is often used to refer to any type of refrigerant. Due to its impact on the ozone layer, the refrigerant R-22 has been phased out of production under EPA regulations. If you are unsure what type of refrigerant your car uses, a good mechanic can tell you, and make recommendations for an option that is safer for the environment.

The a/c compressor is actually a belt-driven pump designed to pressurize the gas and pump it into the condenser, which is a long, coiled tube. This process of pressurizing gas generates a great deal of heat, but air outside the condenser tube cools the gas down and transforms it into a high-pressure liquid refrigerant. The receiver-dryer then removes any water from the refrigerant.

Next, the expansion valve allows the still-pressurized liquid to expand and transform into vapor by the evaporator, which is a coiled tube similar to the condenser. The now low-pressure liquid entering the evaporator is chilled to approximately 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool vapor is blown into the cabin of your vehicle by a fan located outside the evaporator. At the same time, refrigerant is pushed back into the compressor and the cycle begins again.

The evaporator also removes humidity from the air in the interior of your car or truck. Water and anything else floating around in the air will condense on the coil of the evaporator. If you notice water dripping underneath your vehicle after driving and running your air conditioning, chances are it’s not a leak, but water dripping off the evaporator.

Keeping Your A/C System Running Smoothly

Admit it. At one point in your young adult life you owned a car or truck with broken air conditioning. As we get older, the prospect of sitting in traffic sweating your brains out becomes a little less exciting, and once you have a family, air conditioning isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.

Here’s how to help prevent your air conditioning system from failing just when you need it the most:

  • Run your air conditioner at the highest fan speed and coolest setting once a week for approximately ten minutes. Doing this helps to keep your compressor functioning properly.
  • Run your air conditioner in defrost setting once a week for five to ten minutes. This cleans out moisture and the potential for mildew.
  • Have your air conditioning system fully serviced before the summer months at least every two years. If you notice any issues with your system, bring your vehicle in to be serviced before a relatively minor repair becomes a major one.

Houston Air Conditioning Repair and Maintenance

At Dillon’s Automotive, our technicians will accurately diagnose any problems with your cooling system and quickly make the appropriate a/c repairs. It won’t be long before the weather really heats up here in Houston. If your system seems to be running properly, but you haven’t had it serviced in a year or more, contact Dillon’s Automotive today.

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