4 Symptoms of a Bad AC Compressor in a Car (and Replacement Cost)

Every air conditioning system of a vehicle depends on a steady flow of refrigerant to circulate through it. This refrigerant is what allows the air conditioner to produce the cool air which comes out of the vents in the dashboard.

The only way this refrigerant can continue flowing properly is from a component called an air conditioner compressor, also known as an AC compressor. What this component does is it creates pressure which pushes the refrigerant and keeps it flowing smoothly.

As long as the AC compressor stays functional, you should have a stable flow of cool air coming from the vents. But like anything, an AC compressor can fail.

Bad Car AC Compressor Symptoms

AC compressors endure a lot of stress. Since car air conditioning systems get turned on and off constantly, this power fluctuation puts a lot of stress on the compressor.

Over a certain number of years, this stress will wear down the compressor and cause it to eventually malfunction. That is why people who use their air conditioners on a regular basis will experience problems with them sooner rather than later.

There are some warning signs that will present themselves if your AC compressor is starting to go bad. Below are 4 common symptoms.

1) Strange Noises

If you switch on your air conditioner and there are a lot of strange noises being generated, then your AC compressor is likely starting to fail.

The compressor relies on a sealed bearing and numerous other components to turn. If the internal bearings or components were to get damaged or worn out, then it will make it more difficult for the compressor to operate properly.

Strange noises will only be the beginning of the problem. That is why you should take this symptom as an early indicator that you need to get your AC compressor replaced.

2) Hot Air From Vents

If you turn on your air conditioner and you only get hot air blowing out of the vents even after a couple minutes, this is a clear indicator that your AC compressor is failing.

If the refrigerant cannot circulate through the air conditioning system because of a bad compressor, then it is not going to create the cool air that you want. As a result, you will have hot air instead.

This might be a gradual process where you will first feel the cool air getting slightly warmer. After a while, the air will get to the point where it is completely hot with no coolness whatsoever.

Read also: 5 Symptoms of a Bad AC Expansion Valve

3) Leaking Fluid

The AC compressor has its own internal bearings which prevent fluid from leaking while it is pressurizing the refrigerant. However, if these bearings were to become worn out or damaged, then fluid could easily leak through them.

You will need to replace the bearings rather than repair them.

4) Stuck AC Compressor Clutch

The AC compressor has its own clutch which is connected to the engine by a pulley. This allows the compressor to use the engine power only when it is needed.

If the clutch were to get stuck or seize entirely, then it would not be able to transfer power from the engine over to the compressor. In most cases, you won’t be able to repair the clutch either if it has seized like this. Your only option will be to replace the entire thing.

AC Compressor Replacement Cost

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An AC compressor is a very significant component of any vehicle. It will not be cheap to replace the compressor after it goes bad.

The component itself will cost anywhere from $650 to $950 or more. The labor costs will be anywhere from $150 to $200. This means that you could be looking at a total price of $800 to $1,150. There will also be taxes and fees added to these totals as well.

12 thoughts on “4 Symptoms of a Bad AC Compressor in a Car (and Replacement Cost)”

  1. Wish I would have seen this sooner! All the warning signs were there. Now I have no choice but to replace the compressor when I could have taken steps to save it.

  2. How would you fix that? There’s a lot of noise coming from the engine and I’ve been told it’s the AC compressor failing. How can I save it?

    • If it’s not simply the accessory belt slipping, you may have to replace the A/C compressor. A slipping belt usually makes a squealing noise, especially on startup or hard acceleration.

  3. My a/c in my 2016 Nissan Altima went from blowing cold air to cool air and then hot air, what do I do about that???

    • The A/C system may have a leak, the compressor could be struggling, or you may simply need a recharge. I’d take it to a shop to have it looked at.

  4. Hi there my 2010 Tahoe does put out cold air but when I turn on the air conditioner for the first time there’s a definite clunk coming from the area where the AC is. Could this be the compressor? It only does it when I first turn it on. Thank you thank you

    • It’s probably the compressor clutch. The clutch allows the serpentine belt to turn the A/C pulley without spinning the compressor until you want to turn the A/C on. At that point, the clutch engages and spins the compressor.

      It may simply need an adjustment but a slight vibration as the compressor kicks in is fairly normal. If it’s more than a slight vibration, I’d take it to a shop just to have them make sure nothing’s wrong.

  5. My AC starts blowing hot air when i start driving it takes a few miles before it starts blowing cool air but if i stop say in traffic for any length of time or am parked it will start blowing hot again until i get moving again. I am going to assume this is a sign my compressor has failed?

    • You maybe low on engine coolant, may want to check the anti-freeze level! Our old van used to do that when it was low!


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