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5 Signs Your Car AC Compressor Needs an Inspection


As a business owner, you bank on your fleet of vehicles to transport goods and employees to and from operations. However, when an AC compressor malfunctions, it not only causes discomfort but also decreases productivity and causes lost revenues.

A faulty compressor is one of the most common causes of a malfunctioning AC system. If left unattended, a faulty compressor can result in irreparable damage to your car’s cooling system.

This is why it is important to recognize the warning signs of a bad compressor and take action fast. With this in mind, this article highlights the top five signs of a bad car AC compressor that one should look out for. 

Table of Contents
What is the lifespan of a car AC compressor?
What causes a car AC compressor to fail?
5 signs your AC compressor is bad

What is the lifespan of a car AC compressor? 

On average, AC compressors can last between 8-12 years, which is usually the average time most people own their cars. This is true for a standard vehicle; an electric car AC compressor lasts even longer. 

This applies to those cars that are regularly serviced and well cared for.  Other cars’ AC compressors may experience faultiness before their estimated lifespan lapses.

What causes a car AC compressor to fail?

AC compressor on a white background

Various reasons can cause an AC Compressor not to function, ranging from seasonal driving conditions to lack of maintenance. Here are some common reasons that can cause the AC Compressor to fail:

Incorrect or low refrigerant

The amount of refrigerant in a car’s air conditioning system should always be maintained constantly. Insufficient refrigerant in the AC system causes the thermal load, which is usually in the AC compressor, to be high, eventually resulting in the AC compressor failure.

Improper lubrication

Just like other vehicle parts, a compressor also needs sufficient lubrication. Insufficient lubrication strains the air conditioning system, causing the AC compressor to fail.


The presence of clogs in any part of the filters, condensers, or valves cause pressure loss leading to the AC compressor’s failure. The lack of enough airflow in the car’s vents causes overheating in the AC compressor.

Tripping circuit breaker

A circuit breaker that keeps tripping may cause the AC compressor to fail. This is because too much power is drawn from the AC system indicating faultiness. This may mean replacement or the need to fix the compressor soon.

5 signs your AC compressor is bad

AC car compressor on a surface

Noises coming from the engine compartment

If, during an inspection, a chattering, squealing, whining, or rattling sound from the AC compressor is present, then it’s time to take the AC for service. Compressor noises can either result from a seizing shaft or a faulty clutch. 

A failure might happen when the compressor oil used for lubrication has water vapor, is of the wrong type, or if the supply needs an increase.

The air conditioner is not as cold as it should be

Another apparent sign of a faulty AC compressor is when there is a noticeable change of cold air coming from the ventilation when the AC is on. However, other reasons can cause warm air from the AC compressor

Damage evident on the AC compressor

When there is physical damage on the compressor clutch or the clutch itself, it could indicate an internal problem. For instance, corrosion caused by moisture on the outside can indicate a problem in the compressor. 

The compressor clutch will not engage

When looking at the compressor face, a clutch looks like a plate on the pulley front. Anytime you switch on the air conditioner, the clutch should engage. 

When the AC is turned off, the clutch should not spin; however, when the AC is switched on, the clutch may make a temporary click and then begin to spin within the pulley and belt. 

When the clutch fails to engage or produces a whining sound, it might indicate an issue on the compressor that needs repair, service, or replacement.

Connection concerns

Apart from the AC compressor giving signs of faultiness, there are also other problems to look out for on the AC system that connects to the AC compressor:

Refrigerant loss

A refrigerant loss is the most common reason that can cause an AC to stop functioning. Worn-out seals between the AC system components often cause this. But it can also result from a damaged hose or AC line.

When the refrigerant level is low, air from the AC system in the passenger compartment will be warmer. The low-pressure switch will prevent the compressor from emitting any air when it gets dangerously low. 

Low refrigerant levels also allow moisture to enter the system, potentially leading to damage.

Refrigerant blockage 

Though uncommon, can result from a damaged or pinched hose or AC line. It can also occur due to a clogged orifice tube or defective expansion valve.

Broken serpentine belt

Where the serpentine belt driving the compressor pulley is worn out, cracked, or glazed, it could hinder the AC compressor from spinning at the required speed. And, when it breaks, the compressor may stop working. 

A broken serpentine belt will also hinder the alternator’s power steering’s functioning. But if the air conditioner’s drive belt is separate, only the AC system will be affected.

Clogged cabin air filter

The cabin air filter is related to the blower motor and is responsible for cleaning the air as it goes through the compartment belonging to the passenger. The airflow through the vents is limited when the AC compressor is full of debris.

Faulty blower motor

A faulty blower motor can cause the AC to lose its cooling ability. This results when the fan fails to blow enough volume over the evaporator, thus causing insufficient cooling.

Blown fuse

A simple fuse could cause the AC to be dysfunctional. Just changing the fuse could make it start running again.


The signs listed above are among the things that indicate a bad AC compressor. In case the car is experiencing any of these signs, it may signify that it needs an AC replacement, or simply a service. Either way it would be a good idea to take one’s vehicle in for inspection.

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