Is Your Central AC System's Compressor Failing?

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Is Your Central AC System's Compressor Failing?

8 February 2023
 Categories: , Blog

"You're going to need a new compressor."

Those are the words nearly every homeowner fears hearing when their air conditioning system stops working. Your system's compressor is more than just another component: it's the beating heart that allows your air conditioner's refrigerant cycle to function. Without the compressor, your air conditioner would be incapable of successfully transferring heat away from your home.

Your compressor is also extremely expensive, and the labor costs to replace one can be high. Because this repair is so cost-prohibitive, many people put off calling an HVAC contractor if they suspect their compressor may be faulty. Fortunately, many less severe problems can produce similar symptoms, including these three common issues.

1. Low Refrigerant Levels

Low refrigerant levels can produce numerous symptoms that make it seem like your air conditioner is on its last legs. Reduced refrigerant pressure at the evaporator coil will cause a substantial temperature drop, eventually causing condensation to freeze on the coils. An iced-over evaporator can cause numerous issues, but the most severe is a condition known as slugging.

Slugging occurs when liquid refrigerant returns to the compressor, which can damage its internal components and wash away lubricating oil. Slugging can cause loud noises and will eventually damage the compressor. If you hear loud bangs as your compressor engages or runs, the underlying issue may be a refrigerant leak, not a faulty compressor.

2. Condenser Fan Issues

Your condenser's primary job is to dissipate the heat collected inside your home, but the condenser unit must also dissipate heat from the compressor. Like any mechanical device, your compressor will generate significant heat as it operates. The condenser fan pulls air through the condenser unit, cooling the condenser coils and simultaneously cooling the compressor.

Problems with the condenser fan can cause the compressor to overheat, potentially triggering safety shutdowns. As with low refrigerant levels and slugging, allowing your compressor to overheat repeatedly will eventually cause damage. However, repairing the condenser fan will often get your system running again at a far lower cost than installing a new compressor.

3. Electrical Issues

Air conditioning compressors typically draw the highest electrical load in your AC system and usually require a 220/240V connection. Because of their high draw, the contactor, capacitor, and other components that help provide power to the compressor can often burn out and fail. These electrical issues can trip breakers or cause your system to run inconsistently.

Although electrical issues can often masquerade as compressor problems, it's important not to try to diagnose these symptoms yourself. High-voltage wiring can be extremely hazardous, and it's always best to leave electrical diagnostics and repairs to a professional.

Speak to an AC repair service to find out more.