10 Causes of AC Compressor Failure & 7 Ways to Avoid Compressor Breakdown
The last thing you want in the summer season is to find out on a hot scorching day that your air conditioner is not working. While some AC problems are not that costly, if the reason turns out to be AC compressor failure, it will surely put a big dent in your wallet.
The good thing is that the majority of the issues are preventable if detected timely.
We have compiled an extensive list to help you diagnose the problem early on and provide you with steps that you can take to prevent the issue in the future.
What Does an AC Compressor Do?
A compressor is a vital component and is considered the heart of your HVAC system. It is responsible for compressing the refrigerant, a cooling substance, so that it can flow in the AC and remove heat (or cold air in the case of reversible ACs).
They can last quite a long time – 10 to 15 years if provided with proper care.
However, failure to maintain your AC will lead to an increase in wear and tear. Dust, debris, or refrigerant leaks have a greater impact on the functioning of your AC compressor.
So, when a compressor breaks down, it means you have an HVAC emergency! In some unfortunate scenarios, you won’t be able to fix it, and replacement is the only option.
How Does an Air Conditioner Compressor Work?
Heat flows from an area of high temperature to a place of low temperature. Air conditioners work on the same principle.
Your air conditioner’s compressor plays the main part in the cooling process. The refrigerant collects heat from the evaporator. After that, it flows to the compressor, where it decreases the refrigerant’s volume and turns it into a liquid state. When a refrigerant is compressed, its temperature rises, and it transforms into a high-pressure gas. It then flows to the condenser coil to give up the heat which is released outside. It is then again converted into a liquid that flows to the indoor unit. The process is repeated over and over again to complete the refrigerant cycle.
To learn more about the working of an air conditioner, read this article: How Does an Air Conditioner Work?
5 Warning Signs of an AC Compressor Failure
Compressor repair or replacement is costly, and you would want to detect any problem that could lead to your air conditioner’s compressor failure as soon as you can. So, here are five early warning signs that indicate your compressor is about to have a breakdown:
1. Weak Airflow
Reduced airflow is one of the early symptoms of AC compressor failure. However, it may be quite hard to notice it as you will continue to lower the temperature for the first few days if you feel that your home is not cool enough.
The best way to find out if the airflow is weak is to put your hands under the vents. If you feel little to no airflow or feel warm air when it should be cool, this means your aircon has a compressor issue. You should contact an HVAC professional immediately and get it fixed.
Read this article to learn more about HVAC airflow problems.
2. Loud Banging Noises
If your HVAC unit starts with loud banging or growling noises and you notice vibrations accompanying it, you should be alerted at once. It could be a sign of various problems, and AC compressor failure is one of them.
These AC noises indicate that the compressor is having trouble starting and is likely to fail in the future. The banging noise also signifies the failure of the electrical components in the compressor.
You should immediately turn your unit off and contact a professional for a thorough checkup of your system.
3. Leaking Refrigerant
The telltale signs of a refrigerant leak include weak air flow, hissing sounds, water around your HVAC unit or ice formation on the evaporator coils. It would be best to solve a refrigerant leak on an urgent basis as it could lead to various problems. It can have an impact on your system’s cooling and cause compressor failure in the longer run. Monthly maintenance can help with the early detection of refrigerant leaks before it has a chance to damage your compressor.
4. High Electricity Bills
If your AC compressor has to work harder to cool your home, it will draw more power and run more often, drastically increasing your electricity bills.
So, if you notice a sudden surge in your bills without any increased usage, it is a matter of concern. You should immediately get your HVAC unit checked to know if it’s acting up and needs a fix.
5. Tripped Circuit Breaker
When a circuit breaker trips, it is a measure to protect your appliances from an electrical overload. It happens when you have too many devices running simultaneously or due to a power surge.
However, if your outdoor unit is constantly tripping the circuit breaker, it is not a good sign and indicates AC compressor failure. It means that the compressor needs more power to run because it is overheating.
Turning it back on won’t help in this case; you must contact an HVAC professional immediately.
What Causes AC Compressor Failure? – 10 Common Reasons
AC compressor failure is usually due to an internal problem that impacts the performance of your compressor over time.
Here is the list of 10 common causes of air conditioner’s compressor failure that require your immediate attention:
1. Electrical Failure
An electrical failure can be caused by damaged contactors, wires, and fuses. Acids build up in your system as a result of electrical problems causing other parts of your AC to malfunction as well. Power surges can also result in electrical issues in your air conditioner.
Acid and oxidation buildup is usually a prominent sign of electrical problems in your HVAC system. A trained professional can detect acid buildup during a routine inspection, making the repairs before it gets out of hand.
2. Blockage of Condenser Coils
Lack of maintenance plays a big role in blocking your condenser coils. When they are clogged with grime and dust, they cannot release heat which puts pressure on the compressor. If you continue to run your system in this condition, your compressor can overheat and stop functioning completely.
3. Compressor Overheating
Overheating is a common cause of compressor failure, and there are many factors at play.
If direct sunlight falls on your outdoor unit and there is inadequate ventilation around it, it makes your unit’s compressor overheated. High voltages can also damage the motor causing the compressor to overheat.
Moreover, dirty coils, low refrigerant levels, and lack of insulation; all can contribute to compressor overheating, ultimately resulting in compressor failure.
4. Evaporator Motor Displacement
If your AC’s evaporator motor is displaced, it can force the refrigerant to return to the compressor. This pushes the compressor oil out of its place, and your system can face lubrication issues. It causes the compressor to lose its efficiency over time, and eventually, it will cease to operate.
5. Low Refrigerant Levels
You won’t cool your home without an adequate amount of refrigerant in your air conditioner. It is a common misconception that refrigerant levels decrease with time. Your air conditioner doesn’t use up the refrigerant. If the levels are low, there is likely a leakage that needs to be sorted urgently.
Low refrigerant levels decrease the pressure, which causes the compressor to work harder to push the refrigerant in the system. Eventually, the entire compressor will collapse.
Lack of maintenance can increase corrosion and cause cracks in the AC coils. Therefore, regular maintenance is the only way to avoid this issue in the future.
6. Too Much Refrigerant in Your Unit
Wondering how the excess amount of refrigerant got in your unit? Have you ever had an issue of low refrigerant level and called a technician to fix it?
A less qualified person may not know how to fill it up properly and end up filling it more than what is needed. The refrigerant levels must match exactly with the quantity specified by the manufacturer. High levels of refrigerant can lead to increased pressure in the system, causing premature AC compressor failure.
It’s always recommended to call an experienced HVAC expert to deal with air conditioner issues.
7. Lack of Lubrication
Your HVAC needs the correct amount of lubrication to function optimally. Without adequate lubrication, the wear and tear will increase, making your compressor work harder. When there are low levels of oil, your compressor parts rub against each other. This makes small parts come apart and are let loose in the system.
Loss of lubrication is mostly due to leakage from the evaporator, condenser, pipe connections, or the compressor shaft seal. An overstressed compressor is likely to break down earlier than its expected lifespan.
Getting your air conditioner serviced is the key to prevent this problem. The experts will check the lubricant levels, make any necessary adjustments and see if the oil pump is working fine.
8. Clogged or Damaged Suction Lines
Over time, the suction lines of your refrigerator can develop cracks and holes, hindering the refrigerant flow in the system. This puts stress on your compressor as now it has to use extra power to pump enough refrigerant through the unit resulting in a breakdown. One of the evident signs is a decrease in the cooling capacity.
If you notice your unit is not cooling like it’s supposed to, call an HVAC expert to have a look at the suction lines.
9. Dirt & Debris Stuck in the Outdoor Unit
Outdoor pollutants, dust, debris, soot, and moisture can enter your outdoor unit and cause issues for your compressor.
Moreover, air can also be introduced, and it can dispel refrigerant in the condenser. This can increase the temperature inside the compressor and can cause oil carbonization on the discharge valve. Oil carbonization results in residue buildup and makes the valves leak. Leaking valves further increase the temperature, causing more damage to the compressor.
You can avoid this problem by scheduling annual AC tune-ups.
10. Incorrect Sizing of Suction Lines
If your suction line is too long or too short, it can cause AC compressor failure. Wrong sizing can build pressure and overheat the compressor.
This issue mostly arises when an untrained or amateur technician attempts to repair the line and installs the wrong size. It is always best to call a professional for any AC repairs. They know what type of suction line is best suitable, and they will install the right length of the suction line.
7 Ways You Can Prevent AC Compressor Breakdown
If compressors fail before their expected life, the issue is mostly internal and can be avoided with proper care.
Here are seven steps you can follow to prevent AC compressor failure:
1. Inspect the Wiring
You need a regular professional inspection to check the wiring as you won’t be doing it on your own during monthly maintenance. Wiring issues can lead to acid accumulation which deteriorates many components of your air conditioner, including the most important one – your compressor.
During the inspection, the technician can check and replace any faulty wires and fuses before they lead to acid buildup.
2. Install Voltage Monitor or Surge Protector
You can install a voltage monitor or a surge protector to guard your unit against sudden high voltage, low voltage, or power surges. Some surge protectors even give you a compressor warranty in case of damage or compressor failure.
3. Remove Clutter Around the Outdoor Unit
Leaves, dust, grime, and other pollutants can get stuck inside the outdoor unit interfering with its functioning. Periodic cleaning of the outside unit is crucial to keep it running properly.
4. Keep the Suction Lines Clean
Temperature and pressure changes can impact the normal operation of your compressor. When suction lines become blocked due to excessive dirt, the pressure and the temperature increase, leading to overheating. An overheated compressor can fail quite rapidly.
5. Only Call Qualified Professionals
An unqualified technician can pose fatal problems for your air conditioner. As discussed above, they can fill the refrigerant too much, which can cause compressor failure. Similarly, while repairing suction lines, they may install a short or long suction line which can interfere with the compressor pressure.
Air conditioner repairs are a sensitive matter and should always be handled by HVAC experts.
6. Lubricate Your AC Thoroughly
Considering that the compressor is the heart of your air conditioner, keeping it lubricated is the key to its better health. Lubrication can help in avoiding compressor failure before the expected time.
7. Frequent Cleaning of AC Coils
AC coils collect a lot of debris and need frequent cleaning; failure to do so can interfere with the heat exchange process. When this happens, the compressor has to do extra work to remove the heat.
Now that you know all the causes of AC compressor failure, the lesson is never to ignore any warning signs. The delay will not make the problem go away; it will only add to the damage. If you cannot manage to take care of your system on your own, you can go for an HVAC preventative maintenance contract. This will help in getting the underlying issues fixed before they have a chance to damage the compressor.