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AIR CONDITIONING, It’s Not Just for Summer!

Your car’s air conditioning system does more than just cool the interior of your vehicle in the warm summer months. Did you know that you use your air conditioning to dehumidify your car in the winter to clear up fogged windows quickly?  It’s vital to keep both your heater AND your AC in top condition throughout the entire year.

So now it may make sense why, when you turn on your defrost, your AC comes on!

But, contrary to what many think, the AC and the heating systems in your car are not run by the same system.  Known as HVAC  - heating, ventilation and air conditioning – the AC uses a refrigerant (makes sense) and the heater uses coolant (wait…what?!)

Here’s where things get confusing.  Trent Pickering of Pickering’s Auto Service in Lakewood and Arvada Colorado states, “Your heater works with your car’s coolant, thermostat, radiator and the water pump. So, your heater does need your car’s cooling system to work.   Just like in the summer months, the heat that is made when the engine is running needs somewhere to go so that your car doesn’t overheat. When called upon from your HVAC control panel in the winter months, some of the heat produced is transferred into the coolant. This “coolant heat” is then transferred into your car through the heater core, much like refrigerant is used to move cool air when your AC is on in the summer. In the winter, you use some of the engine heat to keep you and your car’s interior warm, but the majority will exit the engine compartment through your exhaust system. Everything must work together smoothly. If one area is not working well – the cooling system, the heating system or the exhaust system – it will negatively affect the other.”

So how do you keep each system running efficiently?

Your heater core can become clogged with rust and sludge. This can cause your heater to have diminished output.   Heater core leaks can also cause “white steam” into your car’s interior that can cloud up your car’s windows on the inside. If you smell coolant coming from your auto’s vents – it’s usually a sweet aroma  - chances are you have a problem with your heater core. Another sign of a leaking heater core can be when the passenger floor board is wet with coolant.

When should you inspect your heater core?

Obviously, get to your mechanic when you are experiencing issues but it’s also important to stay on top of things since this system is connected to the engine cooling system.  You should ask your auto repair facility to provide an inspection when you take your car in for routine maintenance.

A car’s AC system consists of a compressor, condenser and an evaporator. Your AC works much like those cans of compressed air you use to blow dust and debris off your computer keyboard; the rapid expansion of compressed gas causes the can to become very cold. In your air conditioning system, refrigerant is compressed and then that gas is “condensed” into a liquid state. The refrigerant (Freon) is then returned to a lower pressure and rapidly cools. A fan blows over the evaporator unit and through your car’s vents. 

A car’s AC system will sometimes need “recharged” to continue to perform to its maximum efficiency. Leaks can cause a loss of the refrigerant and these leaks may be difficult for the average auto owner to detect, so you should seek out the help of an auto maintenance professional for a leak test, should you experience AC issues.

When do you need to add coolant?

It is important to have your coolant flushed and refilled to make sure your engine does not overheat and that your car’s cabin is being heated efficiently.  Typically, it is a good idea to have your coolant changed every 30,000 miles unless otherwise stated in your owner’s manual. It is also important that the coolant level stay “topped off”.

Additionally, you should know that running your AC in the winter months can help keep the cooling components lubricated and in top condition.  Keeping your air conditioning unit active year around helps to lubricate the integral parts of the system.

For more information or if you have questions, visit Pickering’s Auto Service, make an appointment online, or call our knowledgeable staff to answer any of you questions or concerns!


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