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What Does Your Condenser Do And What Can Go Wrong?

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While there's plenty in modern cars that's nearly unrecognizable from past designs, air conditioning systems haven't changed all that much over the years. Newer systems are slightly more complex and more efficient, but they include many of the same components as older vehicles. You're probably familiar with the names of these parts, such as your compressor, evaporator, or condenser.

Of course, recognizing a component isn't the same as knowing how it works or why it can fail. Learning a little more about the parts in your car's air conditioning system can help you recognize when there's a problem and even help you understand how to resolve it. Your condenser is one such critical component, and it's easy to understand how it helps keep your car's cabin cool.

How Your Condenser Works

All air conditioners are energy transport systems. Your car's air conditioner picks up the heat (energy) from inside your cabin, transports it to the engine bay, and then releases that energy back into the wide world. The system uses a fluid known as a refrigerant to accomplish this task, so each side of the system needs a component that allows the refrigerant to absorb and discharge heat.

These two components are called your evaporator and condenser coils. Each one looks similar to a radiator, with a series of small refrigerant tubes hidden behind many tiny fins. These fins increase the efficiency of the coils, allowing the refrigerant to quickly pick up the heat at the evaporator and release it at the condenser.

Your condenser needs to do this job efficiently to keep your cabin cool. If the system can't release heat from the refrigerant, it won't be able to take more heat from the cabin. Since the fins alone can't release enough heat, the condenser relies on your car's radiator fan and the air blowing through your grill as you drive down the road.

Why Condensers Sometimes Fail

While your condenser is a relatively simple component, it's still one that can occasionally suffer failures. Anything that reduces the heat transfer efficiency of your condenser can strain your air conditioning system, potentially causing wear to more expensive components like your compressor. Condenser efficiency can drop if the coils become too dirty or debris physically damages them.

Other issues can also develop that may affect the condenser's efficiency, even though the condenser coils are fine. For example, there may be an issue with your car's radiator fan. If the fan doesn't turn on, especially while idling on hot days, the condenser won't be able to release heat. Restrictions elsewhere in the system can also prevent the condenser from receiving the correct refrigerant pressure.

Although a set of coils on the front of your car may not seem all that important, the condenser is essential to keep your AC running smoothly. If you think there might be a problem with your condenser, you should always have a qualified AC tech check your car as soon as possible to avoid causing damage to more expensive components. 

For more information, contact a local auto shop or visit a website like