How to Recharge Your Car's Air Conditioner

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Let us paint a picture: You’re taking a family road trip to the Grand Canyon. The desert is beautiful but it sure is hot. Somewhere on a miles-long stretch of Arizona road, your air conditioning conks out. Complaints start to trickle from the back seat and soon you’re forced to pull over and find a mechanic. Time your family could’ve spent staring at the most spectacular landscape in the world is replaced by kicking the dirt in the mechanic’s parking lot.
Sure, the mechanic will have you back on the road to the Grand Canyon in no time, but it would’ve been better if your air conditioner (AC) didn’t give out in the first place.
You should always make sure that your air conditioner is adequately charged, especially in the summer months. Here’s how to do it yourself.

How to recharge your air conditioner

Before getting started, gather these tools and materials:
  • AC trigger dispenser with a hose and gauge
  • Meat thermometer
  • 12 to 28 ounces of refrigerant (depending on vehicle requirements)
  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves

Turn on the AC

Switch the air conditioning system to its High or Maximum setting. Next, open the hood to see if the compressor is running (indicated by the compressor pulley spinning). If it is, chances are, the AC system is simply low on refrigerant. Check your owner’s manual for the compressor pulley’s location.
If the pulley isn’t spinning, that could indicate several problems. The refrigerant level could potentially be so low that the compressor fails to work. You could also have an electrical problem with the compressor. Either way, it’s a good idea to add more refrigerant to see if that fixes the problem.

Test the pressure

To test the pressure of your AC system, turn off the vehicle and let it cool down. Once it is completely cool, locate the low side pressure port. You’ll probably find this port on the passenger side of the engine compartment. Look for a black or gray cap with the letter “L” on it.
Another way to locate the low side pressure port is to look for two aluminum pipes branching out of the firewall behind the engine. You can follow these pipes to the engine to locate the port.

Attach the recharge hose

Attach the hose from the recharge kit to the low side pressure port using the quick-connect fitting on the end of the hose. Do this by placing the quick-connect fitting over the port and pushing down firmly until you hear a click. Be careful not to accidentally pull the trigger on the kit, as this will release the refrigerant.

Start the vehicle

Turn your vehicle on again and make sure the AC is still on its highest setting. Monitor the gauge that comes with the kit, waiting for the AC compressor to engage. Once engaged, the gauge should tell you how much PSI of refrigerant is in the system. Anything under 40 PSI is too low.

Attach refrigerant

Once you have determined your AC system is low on refrigerant, attach the refrigerant can to the recharge hose. Hold the can upright and pull the trigger to allow the refrigerant to slowly fill up the AC system.
Hold the trigger for 5 to 10 seconds and release. Check the gauge to make sure you don’t overcharge the system. The PSI should be above as close to 40 PSI as possible.

Check the temperature

Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the air coming out of the AC vent. It should be somewhere around 30 degrees. This temperature can vary depending on the ambient temperature outside and whether or not the vehicle has been sitting in the sun.

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