Automotive Air Conditioning Seals 101

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

No matter what type of vehicle you drive — a practical minivan, zippy sports car, trusty pickup truck or Earth-friendly hybrid — you rely on the air conditioning system to help keep you and your passengers cool.

If you have ever wondered how your vehicle’s air conditioning system works, it is actually made up of a fairly complex system of parts both big and small. Everything from a fairly large condenser to the smallest of o-ring seals help to ensure that you make it from your home to the grocery store in August without breaking out in a sweat. Let’s take a closer look at these various parts and how they affect your car’s AC system.

Compressors, Refrigerants and More

As NADA Guides notes, your car’s air conditioning system takes in heat and moisture from the air that is in your vehicle. The AC system contains a refrigerant called freon, which the compressor will pressurize into a liquid. The liquid then goes into the condenser, which is similar to a radiator. The condenser exposes the cold refrigerant liquid to the fresh air, and absorbs the heat from the liquid. It then goes into an expansion valve where it turns to gas, before flowing into the accumulator, which removes water and grit. The clean freon gas then goes through more tubing into an evaporator; it can absorb heat from the air that is passing through, leaving behind cooler air that is blown by fans into the inside of your vehicle.

The Importance of Seals in Automotive AC

As you might suspect, it is vital to have air-tight seals in your car’s entire AC unit. Basically, it is meant to be a closed system, without any atmospheric pressure getting in the unit. If you have a leak in any area, the air conditioning system will not work correctly and will need to go in for repair. As Areas of My Expertise notes, the AC has a number of pressure lines that include valves, all that help to push the air through the various compartments mentioned above. In order for the AC to work correctly, each of these areas needs an air-tight seal; without it, the system won’t get the right amount of pressure to function properly. In addition, faulty seals will cause the valuable freon to leak out of the system. The car’s AC “knows” when too much freon has leaked out, and the pressure switch will then shut off the compressor. Since the compressor is where the air is cooled, this will result in hot air blowing from the unit — not a fun scenario on a hot July afternoon when you have a dozen errands to run.

How to Fix a Faulty AC

If you have a leak in your AC system, you can technically have more refrigerant added in as a very short-term fix. But ultimately, your focus should be on replacing the old and worn-out cracked seals with a high-quality o-ring that is meant to handle the rough environment of an automotive AC unit. If you are a DIY-er when it comes to car repairs, you will need to purchase a variety of o-rings for the AC, including in the hoses that come from the condenser.

Small but Mighty

You might think that the larger parts of your car’s AC unit are the most vital, but you can really make a good case that the tiniest of o-rings are really what hold the unit together. These small parts have a huge role in making sure that your AC works well whenever you flip the switch in your car, and that you and your passengers can make it from Point A to Point B in the dog days of summer without overheating.

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