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What Causes Your A/C Condenser to Go Bad?

BY: Larry Witherspoon Jr.

Once you’ve owned a vehicle with an air conditioning unit, it’s not something you can imagine ever living without. The precise temperature control that A/C offers is something of a modern miracle, turning what would have been a sweltering summer drive into a super comfortable cruise. It goes without saying, then, that you never want your A/C unit to break down.

Every year around springtime, plenty of people visit my auto shop with A/C issues, and more often than not, it’s their condenser that’s at fault. So what does a condenser do? Well, it’s one of the system’s key components and effectively returns the refrigerant to a liquid state. Without it, heat can’t be extracted, and you won’t stay cool.

So, what causes a car air conditioner condenser to go bad? There are a few reasons it might happen and some early warning signs that you can watch out for.

Common Reasons for A/C Condenser Problems

The most common causes of condenser problems include:

Bad Seals and Tubes

Just like any part, your condenser will deteriorate over time, particularly the seals and tubes within it. Unfortunately, these components can’t be fixed individually, so the entire unit needs to be taken out and replaced.


If any type of debris gets into your A/C system, it can block the flow of refrigerant or cause damage as it passes through your condenser. Debris in your air conditioning is often caused by a broken compressor, which spits out tiny metallic fragments. Should this be the case in your car, both the compressor and the condenser will need to be replaced entirely.

Ice Crystals

Going back to broken seals, if moisture is allowed to enter your A/C, ice crystals can form. Just like debris, they can cause blockages or damage components that they come into contact with.

How to Spot the Early Warning Signs

A car A/C condenser isn’t a cheap part to replace. In fact, the single component can set you back up to $950 at the repair shop! Therefore, it’s always better to keep an eye out for any issues as they start to happen, so you can minimize the damage and hopefully save some money.

Let’s take a look at the early signs your condenser might be going bad:

A Burning Smell

When your condenser starts to fail, heat can’t escape from your air conditioning system. That heat can build up until the components are so hot that they begin to burn. Turn on your A/C, and you’ll be able to smell it.

Warm Air from Your Vents

Before things progress to burning, you may start to feel the warmth through the vents. If you’re hit with an unexpected blast of lukewarm air whenever you switch on the air conditioning, get your condenser looked at by a trained mechanic ASAP.

Overheating When Idle

When a vehicle is moving, the condenser is cooled by the airflow that passes through it, which is why you might only realize things aren’t right when you come to a stop. A fully functioning condenser should be able to handle idling for quite some time, but a failing one will overheat.

Coolant Leaks

The refrigerant passing through your condenser is a super high pressure, so if there are any gaps in the seals, it’ll leak right out of them. An A/C can’t function without refrigerant, such as freon, so make sure your condenser gets looked at before there’s none left.

Dashboard Lights

Every vehicle has a built-in warning system in the form of dashboard warning lights, and newer models should have a light for issues with your air conditioning. Check your owner’s manual to see if this is something you should be looking out for.

A/C Condenser FAQs

How Long Should an A/C Condenser Last?

Nothing lasts forever, and your condenser is no exception. Condensers and compressors have a similar life expectancy of around 8-10 years, providing they’re well looked after, so a faulty condenser is usually only a worry for the owners of older or high-mileage vehicles.

How Do I Know If My Condenser Is Clogged?

Clogging can give itself away in different ways. For example, you may hear a grumbling or howling from your A/C. You may experience automatic shut-off due to low pressure in the system. Or you may notice signs of intermittent cooling, where the air blowing from your vents changes from cold air to warm and back again.

What Causes a Condenser to Fail?

A condenser can fail for one of a few reasons. Pipes and seals may have deteriorated, allowing refrigerant to leak out and air to get in. The air that gets in can cause ice crystals to form, which block and damage the condenser. Metal flakes from a faulty compressor can have the same effect.

Stay Cool in Any Situation

You don’t want your A/C to fail, and you don’t want to have to empty your bank account when it inevitably does. That’s why an Endurance vehicle protection plan is an invaluable investment for every vehicle owner. We’ll work with you to create a protection program that suits your needs and budget, so you’ll never have to worry about air conditioning issues again. Whichever plan you choose, you’ll also get 24/7 roadside assistance, substitute transport, and trip interruption costs as standard. We’ll also throw in a free year’s worth of Endurance Elite Benefits and all the amazing everyday driver perks they bring.

Want to avoid repairs altogether? EnduranceAdvantage™  has your back. America’s most comprehensive vehicle protection plan includes up to $3,500 in routine maintenance costs per year—keeping your vehicle in top condition and preventing problems before they happen. Just take your vehicle to an ASE-certified mechanic, show them proof of your Endurance membership, and we’ll reimburse them. No money even has to leave your wallet.

If you’re interested, we’re here to help. For a free, no-obligation quote, submit your details online now, or head over to our Learning Center for more useful info.

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