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Agriculture Today

Expert explains high cost of AC repair

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Jeff Deines
On The Road Again
December 14, 2011 | 4,117 views | Post a comment

It’s no secret that auto air conditioning systems are expensive to repair when they quit working, but why is that? Air conditioning parts are like anything else, the price is generally based on supply and demand.

A compressor for an older model ’70s-era GM car could be as cheap as $100, and the sky is the limit on the upside. The worst I’ve seen so far was $1,450 for an older Toyota Camry compressor, which was a dealer-only part at the time. And of course, there are a lot more parts to an air conditioner than just the compressor under the hood. There are also the expensive electronics on the inside controlling everything.

In addition to high parts costs, all a/c systems aren’t built alike. Some aren’t too hard to work on, parts are exchanged easily, and there is plenty of room for access. Others can eat up labor hours.

For example, the evaporator is either installed under the dash or against the firewall under the hood, depending on the manufacturer. These little radiators are actually the part that gets very cold so the fan can blow the cold air into the vents, and they are almost always tough to get to should they need replacing. Sometimes, the wheel well has to be removed to gain access and then it is like performing surgery. Other times, the lower dash has to be disassembled which is tedious and awkward to get to if you’re bigger than 3 feet, 5 inches, and 80 pounds.

Honda CRVs are notorious for having bad compressors, and those owners have paid as much as $3,000 for repairs, according to the net. On this model, the compressor can be unbolted but not removed until the engine cradle is lowered a bit. In addition, the evaporator and expansion valve is several labor hours behind the dash in a maze of items that need removal to gain access. The first time into this dash you can lose an hour trying to figure out how to remove a few screws that seem impossible to access. Even the second time, it can take some time to do both the under-hood repair and the under-dash, because they are both labor-intense.

On the electronics side of the a/c systems, I know of some Volkswagen models that have a $600 electronic “module” that goes bad, and those aren’t the worst parts price offenders, by far. In addition to expensive parts and grueling labor hours to access and swap parts, add in the reclaiming, leak detection, pressure gauges, and other special tools and equipment needed to service these systems within the EPA’s guidelines, and you can understand why it costs so much to fix one of these systems.

Expensive and sometimes complicated, but when it’s more than 100 outside, it’s a worthwhile investment to keep it working -- at least in my view.

Send your vehicle maintenance questions to Jeff Deines. E-mail to

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