What is an Air Compressor Used for in a Car

Cars are complicated machines and mechanics always like to throw words and use terminology that most of us do not understand. Spark plugs, distributors, brake fluids, timing belts, air compressors, and what now. All of this does not mean anything to the casual consumer. But, there are some things that you should learn, so the next time you visit a mechanic, you will know exactly what needs to be replaced, how long the repair will take, and how much money you will have to pay.

One of the things that regularly goes to maintenance is the air compressor. So, what is it and what does it do? Is it an essential part of every vehicle? Is it expensive to replace? How long does it last?

These are all great questions and I am going to answer all of them in this article. I hope these answers will clear everything up regarding the topic.

Table of Contents

An essential part of every car’s AC unit


Did you know that back in the 1950s most cars did not have any kind of air conditioning? People had to endure incredibly hot temperatures during the summer season without any kind of cooling inside of the car. Can you imagine what that looked like?

Fortunately, in 1960, the idea of an AC unit inside of a vehicle became quite popular and already a huge part of the new cars released had one. This was possible by installing an air compressor inside of the car. Without it, the AC unit would not work. It would just blow the same air back and forth without any temperature changes.

How does it work?


What does the air compressor do to magically send cool air into your car even though it is 90 degrees outside? Well, as far as we know, there is no magic involved, only physics. I will try to explain the process.

When you push the button to turn on the AC unit, you activate the air compressor that sits under the hood. A special mixture, a fluid that is made for this exact purpose gets considerably compressed. This compression causes the fluid, or what is known as a refrigerant to increase its temperature.

Once it reaches a high enough temperature, it passes through a condenser. The main purpose of the condenser is to let out all the excess heat, while also turning the refrigerant from a gas into a liquid. This is the moment when the refrigerant becomes cold.

The process is a bit more complicated and the fluid does need to go through several different steps, but I am going to keep it simple.

In the end, once the refrigerant is ready, it is spread inside of the dashboard through an evaporator. This is the final step and that is when the engine starts to blow hot air through the grates. As the air passes through those super cold evaporators, the final result is cold air in the car’s cabin.

That is the whole process. As you can see, the air compressor is actually very important. Especially if you want to stay cool when it is scorching hot outside.

Does it need maintenance?


Have you noticed that the AC unit in your car is lacking? Is it not as cool as it was a year ago or more? That is probably because it is time to take your car for maintenance.

However, if you want to save some money on repairs, it may be a good idea to learn exactly what could be the problem. Car knowledge goes a long way with mechanics. They will not try to scam you out of your money.

So, how often should you take your car to a mechanic to take a look at your AC unit or air compressor?

Well, here’s the catch. It depends on several different factors. The quality of the AC, the quality of the car, the brand, the model, etc. It even depends on how often you drive the car and how often you use the cooling.

Usually, these things are built to last for a long time. If you have not noticed any kind of issues, it is probably better to just leave it as it is. Once you notice a dropoff in a performance that is when you should start worrying.

However, if you do notice any issues and you believe there is a problem with the air compressor, it is better that you take your car to an experienced technician as suggested by

Keep in mind, often, the thing that would need to be maintained is the refrigerant. Every few years, the system needs to be refilled with the refrigerant for the best possible performance. Because that process of constantly heating and cooling causes the fluid to evaporate over time.

Additional information


Even though the whole process seems a bit simple, it isn’t at all. It is much more complicated than that. There are so many carefully planned steps to ensure that the refrigerant is properly processed.

And, believe it or not, but the air compressor has a much bigger role than just applying pressure on the fluid to heat it up. It also takes direct commands that are coming from your dashboard. It helps reach the temperature goal that you want and need in the cabin. It has a role to regulate the temperature too.

If you want to make sure that the air compressor in your car is in a bad shape, there are a few signs that could point to that.

If you notice weird and unfamiliar noise only when the AC unit is activated, that could be a sign that something is not okay with the system. Another clear sign would be when the refrigerant starts leaking.

Many of us take air conditioning for granted, especially the ones that can be found inside vehicles. They make our lives just a little bit easier and comfortable. This is why it is so important to appreciate some of the things enabling us with such a feature, such as the air compressor.

I hope this article was informative enough and that you now have an understanding of the air compressor’s role in a vehicle.

About Garri Mallac

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