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Q: AC Repair

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My AC is blowing warm. I was told the Comperssor needs to be changed and the price would be $1600 at PepBoys. I have looked online and see that it says would be half of that.

My car has 112000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

A: Thank you for your question and I am sorry ...

Thank you for your question and I am sorry to hear of this problem in particular, as we all know that driving a car without A/C in the summer is about equivalent to what coal trimmers endured feeding coal into hot boilers in ships back in the 19th century. In other words, it’s really uncomfortable. On a positive note, though, if I replaced your compressor for $1,600 (please call me right away) I could take the next month off from work.

My first concern would be "the" diagnosis. To replace a compressor you have to have evidence of either a leak (and it has to be a leak above a certain threshold; for example, I have an infrared refrigerant leak detector that will detect a leak as little as .1 ounce (one-tenth of an ounce) of refrigerant spread out over an entire year, in other words a leak so small that it would take ten years to lose one ounce) or a mechanical fault such as a clutch failure, no compression or weak compression and so forth. It would be good if the Mechanic could tell you exactly what is wrong with the compressor so you can feel assured that the repair is really the right one. Related to this, if there is a leak in the compressor, there may be leaks elsewhere.

All of those leaks (dried out o-rings in system refrigerant piping are not unusual) have to be identified before the system is opened because if the compressor were replaced, and the system is evacuated and re-charged, and then other leaks are belatedly found, you get to do the job all over again. So, in addition to clarifying the diagnosis on the compressor, it is critical to understand the condition of the rest of the system. You need the complete picture (all the facts) before undertaking a big repair like this.

As far as the cost, asking people to do work for you is never "just" about the cost. A/C work requires close to clean room conditions (at critical points, not entirely of course). All moisture has to be thoroughly removed from the system prior to recharging. You have to use a new drier/accumulator. As well as the right amount of the right viscosityoil has to be added back to the system during re-charging. I would encourage you to get a second opinion because you need not just economically rational pricing but you need someone who has told you, for instance, "we checked everywhere for leaks...it is limited to the (often) compressor shaft seal". If that is not the "diagnosis" you got you should get a second opinion.

But the bottom line on cost is this: A typical compressor at retail costs in the neighborhood of $200 to $400, not factoring in discounts. You need a drier (that is not optional) which is roughly a $25 to $50 part. Material costs replacing a compressor are negligible (two cans of refrigerant are less than $10). Labor is your biggest cost. Labor rates vary but if we subtract the parts cost from your quote of $1,600, that implies about 15 to 20 hours of labor are required for this compressor replacement. That would be exceptional. The actual time required is probably more in the neighborhood of 3 to 5 hours. Consequently, I would encourage you to get a second professional opinion from a certified technician from YourMechanic who can fully diagnose the inoperable air conditioning issue.

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