How Do Your Car’s A/C and Heater Work?

Weather is normally fairly temperate here in Western Washington, but there are definitely days when you want your car’s air conditioning and heating to work. The best way to make sure your equipment is ready when you need it most is to keep up with a regular automotive HVAC maintenance schedule, as well as, repair problems as soon as possible. It also helps to understand a little bit more about how your heater and AC work. Learn more about the two systems below to increase your chances of spotting problems before they get too severe.

How Does a Car’s A/C Work?

At one time people used to use ice to help keep their cars cool, but the technology that pushes delightfully cold air out of your vents today is more sophisticated than that. The refreshing air you feel on a hot day actually started out as hot air, but has had the heat removed from it during a process with multiple steps. You don’t need to get too much into the science to understand a high-level explanation of how this process occurs. To start, it’s good to know which common parts make up your car’s air conditioning system and work to put the refrigerant to use.

  • HVAC Control Panel
  • Compressor
  • Condenser
  • Accumulator
  • Expansion Valve
  • Evaporator
  • Blower Motor

Those parts all spring into action when you turn on your car’s AC unit through the HVAC control panel. The compressor constricts the refrigerant, and it begins to lose heat as it passes through the condenser. The receiver and dryer remove contaminants and moisture, then the refrigerant enters the expansion valve or accumulator.

All the while, the refrigerant is becoming depressurized and getting cooler. Finally, refrigerant makes its way to your evaporator, which removes any remaining moisture and cools the temperature even further. From there, the ventilation system’s motor blows air over the evaporator, making it cold before pushing it out of your car’s vents.


How Often Should My Car’s AC Be Recharged?

As you can see from the process above, the refrigerant is absolutely critical for a functioning air conditioner. Over time, however, your system is likely to lose some refrigerant and eventually start running low. At that point, you will start to notice that the air coming out of the vents is not as cool as it was before. That’s a sign that something has gone wrong in your AC system, and the refrigerant has started to escape.

Bring your vehicle in for an inspection, and an experienced auto mechanic will be able to determine the cause of problem that has allowed your vehicle’s refrigerant to escape. From there, they’ll be able to fix the problem so it doesn’t happen again. Finally, they’ll add more refrigerant to your system, and your car’s AC system will be restored. Then you’ll be prepared for a cool, refreshing day the next time things heat up here in Washington.


How Often Should I Get My Car’s A/C Inspected?

If you want to be as sure as possible that your car’s air conditioner will be working next time you need it, it is a good idea to get the system inspected whenever you take your car in for other regular checkups. As with just about anything else, preventative maintenance can help you avoid bigger, more expensive problems down the road. Otherwise, you’ll know it is time to get your car’s air conditioning system inspected whenever it starts failing to keep you cool on the hottest days of the year. This could mean that your car takes too long to get cold, or that the air conditioner simply never gets cool enough.


How Does a Car’s Heater Work?

Your heater is part of a system that accomplishes two things. In addition to heating your vehicle, it also helps to keep the car’s engine cool. In other words, your car’s heater is connected to some very important functions that go beyond just keeping you and your passengers comfortable during your commute. There are a few key components when it comes to understanding how your vehicle’s heater works:

  • Heater Core
  • Blower Motor
  • Heater Hoses
  • Heater Control Valve
  • HVAC Control Panel

Additionally, your heater interacts with the coolant, thermostat, radiator, and water pump in your vehicle’s cooling system. The heat generated by the engine needs somewhere to go so that the engine doesn’t get too hot, while you want to be warmer. This makes your car’s heating system somewhat of a win-win situation. Majority of the heat generated from your engine goes out of through the exhaust system. However, the rest of it is transferred into the coolant inside your HVAC system. This coolant is transferred much in the same way refrigerant moves to create cool air when the air conditioner is on.

The warmth from the engine goes from the radiator to the heater core, which basically acts as a heat exchanger. It allows coolant to flow through, and this flow of coolant is regulated by the heater control valve. As the engine’s heat is carried by coolant into the heater core, the device starts to get warm. Depending on the levels at which you set your HVAC control panel, the blower motor will force air over the heater core and into your cabin at the appropriate speed.


How Often Do I Need New Coolant in My Car?

It’s very important for the coolant level to stay full, and to make sure there are no leaks in your heater hoses. It’s also a good idea to have your coolant flushed and refilled regularly to make sure that your engine can be cooled, and your cabin can be heated efficiently. Typically, we recommend changing the coolant in your car about every 30,000 miles, but it certainly can’t hurt to check on it more often than that.


How Often Should My Car’s Heater Be Inspected?

Since the heater is connected to the car’s engine cooling system, it’s important to stay on top of things. As soon as you notice a problem with your vehicle’s heating capabilities, take it to a shop for an inspection to figure out what the problem is. Even if you aren’t having problems, it might not be a bad idea to have the engine cooling system and heater inspected whenever you take your car in for regularly scheduled preventative car maintenance. These consistent checkups will help you rest assured that your car is healthy and everything is functioning as it should be.


Maintenance for Japanese Cars

At Greg’s Japanese Auto, we’re committed to providing the best car maintenance in Seattle and throughout Western Washington. We only service Japanese imports, which has allowed us to become extremely specialized. Our team has access to all the tools and experience they need to follow best practices and keep your car in great shape for as long as possible. We know which signs to look for when we run diagnostic tests for your vehicle so that we will be able to solve problems quickly, and get you back on the road as soon as possible. Whether the problem is with your heater, air conditioner, or something else entirely, we’ll get to the bottom of it. Contact us today or schedule your appointment online.

Photo credit: By Alexandru Nika

Greg’s Japanese Auto

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We only work on Japanese makes and models, and we have the experience and knowhow to give your car the service it deserves. Call us today to schedule your appointment.

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