Can I fix my broken car a/c myself?
September 4, 2008 7:44 PM   Subscribe

The a/c in my car died about 2 years ago. I'm moving to the desert [SE corner of CA], so now this is a problem. I have no car knowledge, and no money. How can I fix my a/c?

1. How do I find out what's wrong without going to a mechanic [if possible]?
2. Is it worth fixing on a car ['98 Pontiac Grand Prix SE] that hasn't been driven in a year?
3. If I can find out what's wrong, can I fix this myself? Or should I get my fixit brother to do it?

I got the car in 2002 used. Also around 2 years ago, there was a serious over heating problem, leading to a new radiator and new hoses. I don't know if that had anything to do with the a/c dying, since I don't know what they took out or messed with. I also have no idea if not using the a/c in so long damaged it.

I just checked the weather, and its over 105 for the rest of the week. I really don't want to melt, and I move in a few weeks. Help!
posted by shinyshiny to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: AC systems can be fairly complex, and for someone with no experience.... well, it's going to be tough. I would suggest maybe finding a friend who knows a little about it, or maybe start here.
posted by bradth27 at 7:49 PM on September 4, 2008

There are kits for <>
I have an vehicle from 98 as well and the AC did not work, I spent $500 to get it fixed by a mechanic, worked for the summer, and by next summer it failed again. From that experience alone, unless you can do it really cheaply, don't pay to get it fixed.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 8:02 PM on September 4, 2008

You can't really diagnose it yourself with no knowledge of cars. Could be the compressor went out. Could just be the compressor clutch. You most likely have a leak in the system. This is the easiest remedy. You can buy a recharge kit for about $30 and do it yourself really simply. If it works, then you have a freon leak. If it doesn't, something more serious is going on. Either way you'll need to get it repaired since the freon will just leak out again, and trust me, that will be expensive.
posted by sanka at 8:02 PM on September 4, 2008

Ahh, I swear the preview didn't do that...
First line: "There are kits for about $100 that are fix leaks(if that's the problem) by sealing them and then replacing the lost ...stuff.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 8:05 PM on September 4, 2008

Best answer: I went an entire summer in Phoenix, commuting 25 miles each way in 105+ temps, with a broken AC because I was afraid of the cost. Once I brought it in, it ended up costing $100. So maybe don't be afraid to bring it in to someone to at least find out what the problem is.

The only thing I think you could do besides finding a mechanic that will provide free troubleshooting (unlikely) is to carefully test your system to try to identify how it is behaving and search on the net for people discussing similar symptoms.

Also, I would think there's a chance that ACs are cheaper to fix in places where it ISN'T 105, than where it is and the shops may think you're desperate.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 8:13 PM on September 4, 2008

When my AC died the local air con place did a full check totally for free, no obligation. They were able to tell me exactly what was wrong, how they could fix it (in detail), how much it would cost and how long it would take. Then gave it all to me in writing. That's the kind of information you're going to need before you can even start to think about doing it yourself anyway, so you might as well look around and find an air con place that will give you the same kind of no-obligation quote. It seemed like a standard service, here in NZ at least, I think because air con is kind of an optional extra (i.e. the car still works with out it) so people are often reluctant to spend money on it.
posted by shelleycat at 8:17 PM on September 4, 2008

If you go to a place like AutoZone and it's not too busy, someone from the store may show you how to recharge the freon to see if it's the easy fix. Either way, I would agree with hal_c_on that it's probably better to sell it and buy another vehicle with the a/c working. For that type of environment a white car will be much cooler when you first get into it.
posted by Yorrick at 8:25 PM on September 4, 2008

What color is the car? If it is black or blue or a dark color, I would sell it rather than fix the a/c. If it is a light color, i would consider fixing the a/c. Even a dark car with a/c in the desert will be hot. Real friggin hot when you leave it in the sun and then get into it to go home from work.

Mine broke and I decided not to fix it. I went to the dealer to ask what was wrong. They did a dye test and determined there were leaks. They quoted me about $500 to fix. I figured someone else would charge about $350-$400 so I said the heck with it since the car had 90,000. Two years late with 125,000 on it, there are days I wish I had a/c but I manage quite fine without it. I must mention that my wife who is not an a/c person at home will not ride in my vehicle if her hair is wet, we are going out on th town or any other reason that having the windows open at 40+ mph might be a negative on her hair and clothes preparations. Whatever.

If you haven't driven your car for a year, you should get it checked out anyway. Have the oil changed, fluids looked at, the tires balanced and checked etc. Ask about the a/c at that time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:48 PM on September 4, 2008

Best answer: This could be anything from a $0.30 fuse through something simple like a leaking condenser or failed compressor $few_hundred up to a $thousand+ dollar job if your car is the sort where you have to dismantle the entire dash to get to the evaporator.

Where a shop could pin point it in a couple minutes with a set of gauges and an electronic leak tester about the only thing you can do with common tools is verify the A/C clutch is engaging then check the fuse if it isn't.
posted by Mitheral at 9:44 PM on September 4, 2008

Response by poster: bradth27, that tutorial site looks helpful. I can tell I'm in way over my head in terms of dyi repair. This is a task that I'm going to handover to a relative who knows more about cars. I'm going to mention the suggestions everyone gave. Even if I do take it to a mechanic, this repair sounds like it'll cost way more than I thought. Thanks everyone for the various answers!

JohnnyGunn, my car is white.
posted by shinyshiny at 10:44 PM on September 4, 2008

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