Understanding the Parts of Your Vehicle's AC System

Understanding the Parts of Your Vehicle's AC System

1st Oct 2018

car air conditioner vents

Car Air Conditioner Basics

Air conditioning is essential to creating a comfortable environment inside your vehicle. When summer arrives, you'll probably find yourself turning on the air conditioner while driving to stay cool. Like residential air conditioning, though, the climate control system in your vehicle contains a variety of parts. By familiarizing yourself with the components of automotive air conditioning systems, you'll have an easier time maintaining ice-cold air throughout summer.


Refrigerant is the substance used to transfer heat and create cool air. Prior to the mid-1990s, R12 was the primary refrigerant used in automotive air conditioners. Today, however, HFC-134 is typically used. Refrigerant has unique properties that allow it to change from a gas to liquid state and vise versa. Refrigerant flows through a closed system in your vehicle's air conditioning system, so it shouldn't leak unless the system has been breached.


Another essential component of your vehicle's air conditioning system is the condenser. This component looks similar to a radiator, as it features passages and is typically placed in the front of a vehicle (near the radiator). There are two types of automotive condensers: parallel and serpentine. The latter is recommended because they can be flushed if clogged or otherwise malfunctioning.


Automotive air conditioning systems also have a compressor. Not to be confused with a condenser, the compressor is designed to compress refrigerant while in a gas state so that it becomes warmer. As the refrigerant becomes warmer, it also becomes pressurized, thereby turning it into a liquid. The liquid then flows through the condenser where a fan blows over it to cool it down.


Finally, the evaporator is an air conditioning system component that houses cooled refrigerant in a liquid state. It's typically found in the passenger-side dashboard where a fan blows over the evaporator to release cool air inside the vehicle's cabin.

As you can see, automotive air conditioning systems contain a variety of components, each of which serves a specific purpose. When one of these components fail, you may experience lukewarm air or no air at all. This is why it's important to get your vehicle's air conditioning system inspected on a regular basis. And if you discover signs of failure, don't hesitate to diagnose the problem so that you can fix it. When neglected an otherwise small problem with your vehicle's air conditioning system can turn into a much larger, more costly problem.

air conditioner system graphic