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Auto AC Repair – Recharge Your Own and Save

Updated on October 7, 2010

There is nothing worse than having your car’s air conditioning fail during the summer months. Showing up to work sweating is always a great way to make a good impression. You car’s air conditioning can fail due to a number of different reasons; the most common is a slow leak of refrigerant. If the leak becomes bad enough, you are facing serious repairs. Auto AC repair can involve replacing your compressor which will cost hundreds of dollars at a minimum. However, more often than not, you can recharge you auto’s air conditioning and get through the summer for a small investment of time and money.

The easiest auto AC repair is recharging your own air conditioning.

The first sign that your car is low on refrigerant is a lack of cold air when the AC is on. However, this can be caused by multiple problems including hardware failure. To be sure that it only needs more refrigerant is to open the hood and turn on the car and the AC. You will hear the air conditioning compressor start to spin up. The compressor is the large round device that is run by a pulley and has two hard metal lines coming out of it. If you do not have enough refrigerant, the compressor will spin up, run for a few seconds and then, make a clicking sound and stop spinning. It does this to protect itself from a lack of pressure in the system. The refrigerant also contains some lubricant, if you do not have enough the compressor will break down over time.


The first, and possibly most important step to charging your own refrigerant is to buy a real recharge kit. Do not ever use the refrigerant cans that come with the built-in gauge and adapter. These cheap adapters will only infuriate you and make you waste a lot of time and money on more cans of refridgerant. I bought my charging adapter kit for about twenty bucks and I have used it on tons of different vehicles over the years.

The next step is to buy a can of refrigerant. You can buy it at any car parts store and they run from about fifteen to twenty dollars a can. I always buy the cans that come will lubricant built in. This will help your AC system last longer and usually only costs about a buck more than the cheapest ones. Ignore the cans that claim that they will make your cooling system cooler, I have tried them and they do nothing for you but cost more money.

When you are ready to start, open your car’s hood and look for the low-pressure AC line. The low pressure line is usually the one that comes off of the compressor and enters the firewall at the back of your engine bay. The adapter is usually located close to the firewall and is generally easy to get to by design. When you remove the plastic cover, do so slowly. If you have the wrong line, gas will start to leak out. If this happens, tighten the cap back down and look for the right one. Consult your car’s manual if you have any question about which line you are looking at.

Next, unscrew the tap end of your charging adapter all of the way out. This is the end that you will later screw your can of refrigerant to. The tap end had a small metal point that will puncture the refrigerant can when you are ready to start charging the system. Attach the can to the charging adapter and attach the other end to the low pressure line on your car. The end that attaches to the low-pressure line will snap on, but may require you to push down on the outer ring to get it to lock on. Hold the can and adapter away from any moving parts and make sure that you are aware of the fan blades and other hazards. Now have a friend turn on the car and turn the AC up all of the way.

Screw the tap end of the charging adapter all of the way in to puncture the can of refrigerant. Back off the tap screw until the can starts to get cold and you will be able to feel the fluid moving through the hose. Now you need to start shaking the can up and down and side to side, making sure that the charger stays connected to the car. I normally keep my left hand on the adapter end at the low-pressure line and shake with my right. Watch the gauge, the needle will jump when the compressor kicks on and will go back when it cycles off. You will need to keep shaking the can until the pressure equalizes between the can of refrigerant and the AC system. The compressor will stop cycling once it has enough pressure, but keep on shaking until the can stops getting any colder or you no longer feel the hose moving with the flow of the fluid. Your companion will start telling you that they are getting cold at this point. Turn off the can and disconnect the charger from the low-pressure line. Replace the protective plastic cap and you have just fixed your own AC and become the hero of the neighborhood. You will be amazed at how many people you will be able to help with this simple knowledge.

I have never had a single can not do the job or recharging the system. If the AC system does not build up enough pressure to stop cycling, then you have a much more serious problem such as a bad compressor or a major leak. This will require a mechanic or a whole lot of additional on-line research to fix yourself.


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    • profile image

      grsmnky 5 years ago

      The low pressure switch may need to be jumpered if the compressor does not run. It may be jumped under the hood at the relay box, you pull the relay and jumper the correct terminals to force the compressor to engage. I don't know which relay terminals are needed on a Fusion.

    • Vandelay profile image

      Vandelay 7 years ago from United States

      One of the reasons that you need to get a good guage set is to be able to monitor the PSI. My guages have a very obvious marker for when you are over-charging your system. Even on a four-year old vehicle, I could still easily hear the cycling of the compressor, but it is a good point.

    • profile image

      gk 7 years ago

      You are very wrong on alot of your info. Yes anyone can charge their own ac system, but you never mention about PSI levels. Your compressor will continue to cycle on and off in older cars and only the newer ones can you not hear that happening. The pressure in the can will not equalize with the pressure in the system. The AC system will not shut its self off to prevent overcharging you can easily overcharge the system with just one can of refrigerant if you are not watching the PSI levels or starting from an empty system and know how much your system compacity is.

    • Vandelay profile image

      Vandelay 7 years ago from United States

      Keat, I bought a 12V charger/starter a few years ago. It has the ability to fast charge/trickle charge a battery and also can be used to jump a dead battery. I got it for about $40. Most automotive shops will test your car's battery for free and you don't even have to take it out of the car. I recommend having your battery tested each year before winter.

    • profile image

      Keat 7 years ago

      I don't remember the last time I ever charge my car battery. The worst thing is the car battery will die off itself without any signal or indication. How should we check from time to time? Unless we have a spare one to replace in emergency.