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What Role Does a Condenser Play in Your Car’s A/C System?

The condenser is an aluminum-finned heat exchanger that looks very much like your car’s radiator. While the radiator of your vehicle may circulate antifreeze and water (aka coolant) to ensure the stable operating temperature of your engine, the condenser is a vital component of your car’s air conditioning system. Rather than releasing thermal energy from the cooling fins into the atmosphere to cool down a liquid, the condenser- works to cool down and condense the vaporized refrigerant pumped in from the compressor. Because it condenses a vapor in the same manner that moisture in the atmosphere condenses as dew on your windshield after a cool night, it is thus named a condenser.

Why Do You Need a Condenser?

Although most people think that an air conditioning system works a lot like your car’s coolant in transferring heat from the interior cabin into the condenser- to release the absorbed heat, this is not really the case. If it was, there was would be no sense in using special R-134a Freon gas and the now obsolete R-12. The reason why Freon is used is that Freon not only absorbs and transfers heat, but it also drops significantly in temperature when it transforms from a liquid to gaseous state from the orifice tube or expansion valve into the evaporator. This magic from Mother Nature is the only reason why a refrigerator and freezer are able to generate such cold temperatures.

Although the Freon gas technically absorbs heat from the cabin when it passes through the evaporator, it also generates refrigeration because of the unique properties of the Freon gas. The condenser- is necessary to help liquify the heated vapor that passes through the compressor in order to allow it to pass through the expansion valve or orifice tube again. Because it is the change in temperature from cool liquid state to gaseous state that created the refrigeration effect.

Why Do Condensers- Fail?

When it comes to air conditioning systems, there is no secret that the weakest links in the chain are the rubber parts. The rubber hoses and o-ring seals that hold the Freon gas in the high-pressure sealed system begin to harden and deteriorate over time. This allows more and more moisture to seem in which can cause internal corrosion and failure of the compressor or expansion valve. If the compressor fails because something is not working correctly in the system, then it could send shrapnel into the fine passages of the condenser- that block it or cause leaks.

The seals of the aluminum condensers may also be suspect and prone to separation or pinhole leaks. The condenser- may also become clogged or damaged from debris on the outside blowing in from below or through the grille. The diaphragm of the expansion valve may also go bad and lead to a failure to transform the Freon into a vapor. Once the liquid hits the compressor, this will cause it to overwork and fail.

Many amateur mechanics don’t know what to do when they no longer have that wonderful cold A/C cranking in during the summer. They will automatically assume that they are low on R-134a Freon because that is the American mindset. If your A/C is a little cool but not freezing cold, then it must need more of the refrigerant. But, it is not that simple because there are numerous components in the chain that all have to work together in perfect synergy to produce the refrigeration effect.

Checking your black A/C hoses for white chalky residue is one method of determining whether you do have leaks and need replacement hoses and seals.

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