Your car’s air conditioner becomes an important part of your vehicle as the weather warms up. It could even be considered essential if you’re driving in places like humid Florida or triple-digit Texas. To keep your car’s air conditioner running properly, it’s helpful to know how it actually works.
The air conditioning cycle
Your car’s air conditioner is able to cool the air thanks to refrigerant, which is a chemical with a very low boiling point that turns into a liquid when pressurized. Cars typically use a refrigerant called R-134A. The R-134A runs in a continuous cycle anytime your car’s air conditioner is engaged.
- The cool air is produced whenever the refrigerant passes through a small radiator called the evaporator. The refrigerant enters as a pressurized liquid, but that pressure is released by a valve known as a thermal expansion valve or orifice tube right before it enters the evaporator.
- The liquid R-134A quickly boils into a gas within the evaporator. It absorbs heat energy from the surrounding air to do so. This cool air is then pushed through the air vents by an electric fan called a blower.
- The R-134A, which is now a gas, gets sucked through a tube to the compressor. This pump re-pressurizes the gas.
- The pressurized gas then flows through another radiator called the condenser, which is located next to the car’s coolant radiator. The condenser allows the R-134A to cool and condense back into a liquid, with the heat being released into the outside air.
- The liquid R-134A then passes through a receiver/dryer or accumulator, which cleans it before returning to the evaporator.
If any one of those parts malfunction, your car’s air conditioner won’t work properly. Knowing the role of each part can help you diagnose a problem, or at least narrow down the possibilities.
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