Informational Guide

Repair an AC

Learn what problems your AC may encounter and how to fix them with our complete guide.

by Ian Haynes

There is nothing worse than turning your air conditioner on during the hot, muggy summer days only to find out it isn’t working. When the panic and sweat start rolling, you make hasty decisions and can end up spending too much on air conditioner repairs.

This article will help you identify the underlying issue with the air conditioner, how to repair yourself if possible, and when to call a professional. With this guide, you can save time, money and get your home climate back under control before you get overheated.

With residential air conditioners, there are a lot of moving parts. There are electrical and mechanical components, refrigerants, and a lot of copper tubing. Something can go wrong at any time.

Unfortunately, with air conditioners, there is no warning, and it can happen after a few months or several years. Let’s take a look at the most common issues that cause air conditioners to fail.

AC Refrigerant Leak

Easily one of the most common issues is low refrigerant levels. As a sealed system, refrigerant should never leak. There is nowhere for the refrigerant to exit the system by design. This means that if you have low refrigerant, there is a leak somewhere.

When there is low refrigerant, the system will stop blowing cold air. The CFM of the airflow will be reduced, and you may find that the system, from the compressor to the evaporator (including refrigerant lines and coils), ice over.

Water Leak (Indoors)

Indoor water leaking is almost always found around the evaporator unit. When the air passes over the evaporator coils, it condenses. The condensate falls into the drain pan where it is removed from the home through the drain line. If the drain line or pan is clogged, though, it can overflow, causing a water leak.

Another possible culprit is low refrigerant causing the lines and coils to freeze. When the system is off and the ice melts, the water leaks out into your home.

Water Leak (Outdoors)

Seeing moisture build-up on the refrigerant line (low-pressure side) and the coils on the condensing unit is normal. The change in temperature from coils and lines to the ambient air will cause condensation. However, it shouldn’t be so bad as to create puddles or small streams of running water.

When this happens, it is almost always caused by melting ice, which is generally caused by low refrigerant levels, but can also result from a clogged and dirty filter or other airflow blockage.

Dirty AC Filter

A dirty or clogged filter can cause a lot of problems. Lowering airflow, causing evaporator freezing and improper temperature outputs are some of the most common issues.

A dirty air filter is easy to fix, but it isn’t something you see every day. Unless you set up reminders, a filter can quickly go overlooked. This makes the issues a clogged air filter causes easily seen long before the root cause (the filter) is realized.

AC Fan Failure

Another common problem is a burnt out fan. However, a fan is just angled blades connected to a spindle. Unless the blades are corroded, the problem is in the fan motor. This includes the blower motor inside the evaporator unit.

These two motors have electrical connections that can cause burnout. There are also mechanical issues inside the motor, or contactors and capacitors that can cause burnout. This makes it tricky to figure out the exact cause.

Failure of Electric Control

When you turn your thermostat on, a series of electrical controls kick on to operate the entire system. From temperature setting controls to fan control, 240 volts runs through the entire unit. When a single wire breaks or corrodes, the entire system can fail.

The hardest part with the electrical control aspect of the system is that you may not be able to find the exact problem. There are certain areas you can check, such as the contactors in the condenser unit or the capacitor fan controls in the evaporator. However, the problem is in locating the wire or wires causing the underlying issue.

Repairing a Central Air Conditioner

Residential air conditioners are something that over 67% of the homes in the US have installed. Even the best central air conditioners will break down from time to time. Some of those issues can be solved in a few minutes by the homeowner. Other issues will require a licensed professional.

DIY Issues and Solutions

Unfortunately, there are only a few issues that come up that the average homeowner can handle. This is mainly due to the refrigeration aspect. To work with refrigerants, you must be certified by the EPA.

However, airflow and some electrical issues can be handled. First, you always want to check the air filter. This is a simple fix to many problems, including airflow, temperature variances, and even icing not caused by refrigerant loss.

You can also handle some electrical issues starting with the thermostat. Faulty wiring, loose connections, and even broken lines behind the thermostat or the thermostat itself. These are easily investigated, and a thermostat is easily and cheaply replaced.

Beyond airflow and minor electrical issues, there isn’t much here left for you to do. The best repair, though, is prevention. Regular system cleaning, inspection, and maintenance will go a long way towards preventing these issues from coming up in the first place.

Issues Requiring a Professional

A professional is needed for almost every other residential air conditioner system issue. Cleaning vents, compressor overheating, low refrigerant, leaks, and burnt-out fan motors all need a trained professional.

The biggest issue with these known problems is proper diagnosis. For example, a fan motor that doesn’t spin can be one of seven different causes. It can also be a combination of issues. To test the problem, you need to understand the wiring, components and be willing to work with 240 volts of live electrical circuits.

Unless the issue is an air filter, small electrical component, or a fan motor with an obvious cause, a professional is needed to inspect, diagnose, and repair the system.

Estimated Cost of Repairs

The biggest cost of home air conditioner repair is bringing the licensed repair contractor to your home. The inspections for the home systems can take several hours before the issue is even located. This is especially true for refrigerant leaks, which can occur at any point through the system.

Your actual cost will vary depending on several factors. The biggest cost will be the hourly labor fees of the contractor you choose. On average, you can expect to pay between $60 and $120 per hour for labor costs.

This doesn’t include actual repairs, though. Your repair costs will depend on the needed repair, warranty claims, and other issues. However, major repairs can cost an additional $200 to $1200 as an average guideline.

How To Repair Car’s/RVs ACs?

An automotive air conditioner also generally requires a trained, certified (EPA 609) technician. The biggest difference is that you can go to them, saving you money and time. However, before you drive to a mechanic, there are a couple of things you can check yourself.

DIY Issues and Solutions

Almost every car made after 2001 comes with a cabin air filter (many older models do, too). This filter is located under the dash or behind the glove box that filters the air from the AC system. When this filter becomes clogged, it can prevent the cold air from accessing the vents.

You can pull the glove box down and access the cabin air filter fairly easily. If it is clogged or dirty, replacement is an inexpensive option. Most cabin air filters will cost between $5 and $25. The swap only takes a few minutes and can be done without the need for tools in most cases.

Issues Requiring a Professional

The other most common issues with automotive air conditioner failure are due to leaks in the refrigerant lines, bad seals, or a worn compressor clutch.

All of these issues require a trained and licensed professional to diagnose, locate (for leaks), and repair.

Unlike a residential system, an automotive AC is not a stand-alone unit. It is tied directly into the engine of your car or truck and relies on other components to operate correctly.

From the drive belt that runs the compressor to the fans and temperature sensors to control airflow, there is more involved than just your AC.

Because of this, there isn’t much you can do as a DIY repair unless you have extensive automotive repair experience, the right tools, and certifications.

The difference with an RV is that the system is even more entwined with the whole vehicle. Some RV air conditioners are also run on various fuels (propane, kerosene, electricity, etc.), which require further expertise.

This expertise also costs a lot more.

Estimated Cost of Repairs

Automotive repair shops, dealerships, and mechanics will all have various rates. What you will pay for is known as labor hours. This is a recommended time frame a specific job should take by a well-trained technician.

The cost per labor hour includes removal, assembly, testing, diagnosis, and repair of the system but does not include parts. You will pay between $40 and $80 per labor hour plus the cost of the parts.

On average, an automotive AC leak or component replacement for most air conditioners runs between 3 and 4 labor hours, and parts can vary from a few dozen dollars to a few hundred. RV repairs can easily double those fees, and the labor hours alone will double or even triple.

How To Repair Windows/Wall ACs?

“Through” air conditioners (through-the-wall or through-window) are the lowest repaired units available. Because of the price, it is generally cheaper to buy a new model than to pay for repairing an existing unit.

There are, however, certain issues when a DIY repair or even professional repairs are needed and worthwhile.

DIY Issues and Solutions

One of the biggest issues with window air conditioner units is that they stop blowing cold air. There are several reasons this can occur. However, with the small stature of the complete unit, the largest issue is a dirty air conditioner.

Cleaning the air filters and removing the casing to clean the internal areas will help restore the airflow, and proper cooling capacities of the small units will help tremendously.

If the filter, vents, louvers, and internal areas are clean, there is little else you can do in-home to repair a broken air conditioner.

Issues Requiring a Professional

As with other refrigerant based air conditioners, you must be certified to work with, handle and recover refrigerant. Because the systems are so small, they also change features consistently, a better model is almost always available.

Repair costs are similar to residential systems and can be charged up to $75 per hour plus the cost of parts. Small appliance repair shops may offer flat rate repairs, recharges, or replacements, but usually, this is done when the system is still under warranty.

Estimated Cost of Repairs

By the time your window unit does break down, the cost to repair a unit will be the same (or even more) than a newer model with higher efficiency and more features. Because of this reason, you would only want to get your current unit repaired is if it is still under warranty.

A warrantied unit will pay for the repair or replacement, which is the best situation for the type of air conditioner. Otherwise, it is more cost-effective to purchase a new unit.

White Small Building Exterior with Wall Air Conditioning Units

How To Repair Portable ACs?

The biggest difference between a window unit and a portable air conditioner is that the unit is actually in your room instead of sitting on the window sill. The unit itself uses the same technology, containing smaller components inside a compact shell.

It also poses the same repair limits. There are a couple of things you can do at home and a few done in a shop to get the unit working again. Most, though, aren’t worth the time or cost.

DIY Issues and Solutions

As with the window units, cleaning the unit is the biggest thing you can do to prolong the use of the system. Cleaning the drip tray and filter is about all you can do as a DIY solution.

Because the systems are under warranty, if you remove a screw or take the unit apart, the warranty is void. If the system stops working or has issues, you either need to void the warranty to attempt to fix it yourself or take it to a professional repair person.

Issues Requiring a Professional

A professional repair contractor will work with the manufacturer after you make a warranty claim. This will generally cost you nothing. However, if your warranty has expired, you are out of pocket for repairs that cost more than a new model.

Because the entire system is sealed, except for the filters, vents and drain pan, any DIY repairs are out of the window. If anything goes wrong with these systems, you will need to make a warranty claim or find a repair technician.

Estimated Cost of Repairs

If you do opt for professional repairs, expect to pay between $40 and $60 per labor hour plus parts to have your unit repaired. Because of this, you can find a new model with more features and better features for cheaper than the repairs of an out-of-warranty portable air conditioner will cost.

Top Central Air Conditioner Brands: How They Fix Their ACs

Along with energy saving air conditioners, each brand also wants to be your supplier for life. They offer high quality ACs in the hopes you will see their value and buy their products. Durability is one of the highest marketed aspects of a residential air conditioner.

But we all know that eventually, something will go wrong, break down or stop working.

We look at several of the top brands in the industry to find out their most common problem and what the company does or suggests as a proper fix for that problem.

Trane Air Conditioner Repair

Trane air conditioners are among the top-selling and most durable brands on the market right now. The main benefit is that once a Trane is properly installed, they rarely break down. The biggest problem, though, is that when they do eventually break down, it is expensive to repair.

The biggest consumer complaint about Trane air conditioners is the condenser fan motor burning out. If the condenser is still under warranty, Trane requires that you make a claim and go through the warranty process.

If, however, you want to replace the fan motor yourself, the system needs to be outside the warranty. However, it is still recommended that you hire a professional to do the job, even though a fan motor can be one of the easiest replaceable items on a condenser.

Carrier Air Conditioner Repair

Carrier air conditioners are some of the most popular and easily recognized units on the market. With the oldest brand in the industry, Carrier has created one of the largest brand networks in the world and competes on all levels from residential to industrial.

For their residential central air systems, the biggest customer complaint is that refrigerant loss is more common than with other brands. In almost every case, this is due to a faulty Schrader valve core in the fill port.

Because this port deals directly with refrigerant (as does the initial problem), you must have a licensed technician do the repairs. In almost all cases (depending on when the issue occurs), the installing contractor should have a labor warranty to protect this. Meaning between Carrier’s warranty and the labor warranty, there shouldn’t be any out-of-pocket expense to you.

Friedrich Air Conditioner Repair

Friedrich air conditioners are the best solution to hot, humid days in climates and regions where central air conditioners aren’t always needed. The window and through-the-wall models from the brand are among the most reliable and easily operated systems in the industry.

Aside from the initial install and setup, they aren’t without their problems, though. The most complained about aspect of a Friedrich window unit is that it stops blowing cold air. The biggest cause of this is a dirty or clogged air filter.

Friedrich primarily uses washable screen filters with their models. They are easy to remove and rinse off but are often forgotten about. If your system stops blowing cold air or has decreased airflow, the first step is to clean the intake vents, filter, and exhaust vents.

If that doesn’t alleviate the problem, you have two options left. If the system is still under warranty, you can take it to an authorized repair shop and let them diagnose and fix the problem. The Friedrich warranty will cover the repairs as long as you file a claim and follow the instructions.

If the warranty is expired, you can open the case yourself and see if the problem is caused by a dirty interior. If it is, you can clean the system and put it back to work. If it is not, though, a repair shop will be needed, at your cost, or you can buy a new system.

Lennox Air Conditioner Repair

Like Trane, Lennox air conditioning is a company steeped in tradition and known for its high quality products. They have a reputation for durability, reliability, and, of course, higher-tiered pricing.

After installing a Lennox air conditioner, the biggest consumer complaint is that the system loses airflow. However, this generally goes beyond a dirty or clogged air filter (though you should always check this first).

The largest reason this occurs is that the system is improperly installed. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done quickly to alleviate this problem. Most users that complain about this feature opted for a lower quality or less experienced contractor to do the job.

The only defense here is to ensure that your contractor is reputable and reliable with experience installing Lennox systems. Mistakes can happen, though, even to the best installers, and this is where your installation and labor warranty will come into play.

Luckily, the issue will show itself in the first couple of months, meaning your warranties should be full and easily claimed. See below for tips and methods to ensuring you find the right installer for the job.

Bryant Air Conditioner Repair Manual

Bryant air conditioners are some of the quietest operating systems on the market. This has a huge draw when you combine that with their efficiency levels and outstanding warranties. Of course, like any other machine, there will be issues from time to time.

When it comes to Bryant machines, the biggest customer complaint is electrical. The contractors, capacitors, and wiring seem to burn out, corrode or have issues more than other brands. It is rare, but when it happens, it can cripple an entire system.

However, the main problem is that it can happen at the condensing unit or inside the evaporator with the blower motor. This is hard to check and can be dangerous when there are 240 volts running through the live wires.

It is best to make a warranty claim if you are able. Having a licensed and trained technician diagnose the problem is safer and faster than trying to do it yourself. Once the issue is diagnosed, you can have the technician perform the repair or opt to save a bit of money and do it yourself.

This will, of course, depend on where you are in the warranty period and how much the labor costs will be for the repairs.

How To Choose A Contractor For Home Air Conditioning Repair?

When selecting a competent and reliable contractor for air conditioning repair, you will find many options. We use Modernize to cut through the clutter and give us licensed, checked and reviewed contractors almost instantly.

No matter what resource you use, there are things you need to consider to ensure you find the perfect match. Below are the most important of those factors and why they matter to you.

Licensing And Experience

A professional repair tech must be licensed. This is not only a suggestion but a state requirement in every area of the country. More than that license, though, experience in your type of air conditioner is a must.

With so many types of air conditioners, from central split systems to heat pumps, through-the-wall, and even mini split systems, you want a technician that knows your brand and type well.

Home Evaluation

You should also be wary of any contractor that offers you a quote or flat rate over the phone. A home inspection is needed to determine what type of system is best, how large the system needs to be, and any problems or obstacles they will encounter.

The home evaluation should take an hour or two and will be discussed during the estimate or quote process. Without this essential detail, you won’t have a proper repair process, and the overall cost will go up.

References And Referrals

Every company starts somewhere, and not all of them have thousands of glowing reviews. However, if you take a chance on a smaller contractor with a better price, you should do so with the best information. Find out who else has hired them, ask questions and get referrals or check references to be sure the contractor is the right fit.

Rebates And Special Offers

When the season slows down, business dries up. To help keep the company going year-round, they may offer rebates, special offers, or discounts on installation and repair services. You can also use 3rd party services like Groupon or others to find deals that can save you money.

Efficiency

Repair time can vary significantly from contractor to contractor and will depend on the type of system being worked on as well as how busy the contractor is. However, the longest professional install shouldn’t take more than a single business day (unless there are other issues like structural concerns).

If the project is expected to span more than a day or two, there needs to be a good reason. If the contractor can’t provide a satisfying reason for the lack of efficiency, you may need to find a new company.

24 Hour Air Conditioner Repair

As anyone in the southwest knows, just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean the heart stops. Having a repair company that has emergency services is key. You want to know that they will be there any hour of the day or night to get your system running again at any cost.

How To Choose A Contractor For Auto Air Conditioning Repair?

When the air conditioner in your car, boat, or RV goes out, you want a reputable, affordable, and certified technician working on it. Any dealership may be the best option as they will have access to genuine parts. However, the dealership often has inflated prices.

When searching for a reliable mechanic, it is best to keep the following factors in mind. Remember that while it is uncomfortable, an auto AC isn’t the end of the world. Spending a little more time with your research and decisions can save you time and money in the long run.

Experience

Almost all automotive air conditioners are the same. What is different, though, is the car around the system. Knowledge of the car brand and make is important, and you should ensure that the mechanic knows the brand well enough to work on your car.

License and Certification

If your auto mechanic is not ASE certified, you should leave. This certification is not mandated across the country but indicates that the person doing the work knows what they are doing and has the technical experience to perform the job.

Customer Service

Leaving your car for several hours with a garage or mechanic can be intimidating. Great customer service is always helpful. Make sure that the mechanic keeps you up to date on progress, issues, or any other problems that may occur.

You should always get a call and final say in anything that happens. If a mechanic takes it upon themselves to do the work without getting your permission first, that is a huge red flag.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

How do you know when your AC is broken?

Your AC is considered broken when it no longer produces cold or hot air into the home. Even if the system comes on, if the airflow isn’t high enough, the temperature isn’t right, or the system doesn’t move air at all, it is broken.

How do I reset my air conditioning unit?

The reset procedure will depend on the type of air conditioner you have. Some models will have a reset button near the control board that you can press and hold or toggle to reset the system. Others won’t have any buttons and will require shutting off circuit breakers to cycle power and reset the entire system.

Is a broken AC an emergency?

A broken AC is always a problem, but considering it an emergency will vary. For example, in the state of Texas, a broken AC is only an emergency if the ambient temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Some regions have a children clause making it an emergency at any temperature if small children live in the house. You will need to check with your local, state, or city legislation to determine what constitutes an emergency in your area.

How do I find a 24 hour HVAC repairman in my area?

You can use Modernize.com or our professional contractor tools to locate reliable and dependable repair contractors. Many of the most professional companies and contractors will offer a 24-hour service.

Can you sue your landlord for not fixing AC?

You can sue your landlord for not repairing the AC in every state except Arkansas. The level of arbitration and costs will vary from state to state and even region to region, though and most states will require you to have an active lease without any other penalties (withholding rent, etc.).

Conclusion

A broken air conditioner is never a fun time. Depending on the cause of the breakdown and the time of year, it can even turn into an emergency. Your repairs need to be handled professionally and with the utmost urgency when possible.

This article aimed to help you identify common problems, their solutions and assist you in finding a reliable repair center for your home, car, RV, or boat air conditioner issues.

Ian Haynes

Ian Haynes is a digital marketing specialist, writer, and researcher. He has worked on hundreds of articles relating to home cooling, heating and air quality with a vast knowledge of the technical aspects of these types of appliances. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador. Learn more about the AC Lab team here.

Top