Car Air Conditioner Works Intermittently—What’s Wrong?

Nothing beats cranking your car's air conditioning to the max on a hot day. But when you notice that cool air is blowing intermittently, you know something is wrong. So, we asked professionals what causes a car's air conditioning to work intermittently.

Professionals agree that the electronics are one of the more difficult reasons an air conditioning isn't working properly. With new features added each year, it's no surprise that a car's AC system has become more complex. Issues such as a refrigerant leak and a blocked condenser further complicate things.

In this article, we will discuss what intermittent cooling is and some of the common causes that contribute to it. We will also give you tips on how to maintain your car's air conditioning so that it works all year round. Continue reading to find out more.

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What Is Intermittent Cold Air?

Woman hand on air conditioner ventilation grille in car. Climate control panel

In layman terms, this means that your car's air conditioning is blowing cool air at random intervals. In the first half-hour, cool air might blow comfortably throughout the interior of the car. And in the next half hour, warm air suddenly replaces it.

Of course, the increments would vary with every case. But basically, the air conditioner has an issue of not blowing cool air consistently. This can drive one crazy, to the point of wishing that it didn't work at all.

But don't worry. A simple trip to a maintenance shop would easily resolve this issue. Just remember every single detail that happened while your car's air conditioning was working intermittently to find out the likely cause.

What Are Common Causes Of Intermittent Cold Air?

As mentioned earlier, failing electronics usually causes intermittent cooling. Due to wear and tear, or being overly complex and delicate, a failure in the car's electronics would lead to the air conditioning not working properly. Of course, there are other reasons intermittent cooling happens, which we will now learn about.

Damaged Cooling Fans

Debris and other small particles can cause these fans to wear down and crack. When this happens, they cannot cool the condenser enough. It also allows hot air to circulate through the air conditioning.

With a visual inspection, you can check whether your cooling fans need to be replaced. And if the fans are in good working condition, then it may be an electrical issue. Have a professional repair it for you.

Clogged Condenser

Same with the cooling fans, a condenser can easily become clogged and damaged with stray debris. And when blocked by debris, the condenser cannot properly cool the car's refrigerant. This would lead the car's air conditioning to only blow hot air.

Most cars have a condenser at the front of the car, it's easy to cleanup debris and dirt. Use a car brush if needed.

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Broken Condenser

Debris may not only clog your condenser, but could end up breaking it entirely. Be sure to check for puncture holes or any damages that it may have incurred on the road.

The only way to resolve this issue is by replacing the condenser. Consult a technician for advice when getting a replacement.

Low Refrigerant Levels

When your car is low on refrigerant, this can cause your car's air conditioning to intermittently blow cool air instead. And sometimes, a refrigerant leak is the culprit.

Normally, it is quite difficult to find where the refrigerant is leaking from. But if you manage to find it, use a special sealant to close the hole. However, have a technician check just to be safe.

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Blown Fuse Or Electrical Issue

One of the more common issues of the past decade, it is also one of the hardest to diagnose. Simply put, there is just way too much wiring that needs to be checked to pinpoint exactly where the problem is. So, a lot of technicians would often ask many questions about this issue.

If you suspect that an electrical issue is at fault, immediately bring your car to the nearest maintenance shop. There, a technician can visually check for any faults in the wiring before further diagnosis. Expect to cough up around $150 to $250 during this trip.

Faulty Compressor Clutch

The compressor keeps the car's air conditioning up and running at all times. And it suffers greatly from lack of use, especially during the winter.

To prevent this issue, it's best to run your car's air conditioning system to the max for at least 10 minutes once every week. This helps keep the compressor at maximum efficiency at all times and reduces the risk of shock from prolonged periods of neglect.

Foul Smell Coming From The Air Conditioner—What To Do?

Driver hand tuning air ventilation grille, fresh air is coming out

Even though your car's air conditioning might not suffer from intermittent cooling, there are other issues that you need to be aware of. One of those issues is when you start to smell something foul coming from the air conditioning. It usually means that there's mold growing inside, and you are breathing this in.

That's why it's important to maintain your car's air conditioning regularly and have the filters cleaned out every year. Do this to prevent breathing in these harmful pollutants.

Another cause for concern is when you begin to smell gasoline coming from the car's air conditioning. This means there's a gas leak. And if that's the case, it needs to be immediately repaired. 

Sweet Smell Coming From The Air Conditioner—What To Do?

Ignoring any sort of smell coming from your car's air conditioning is dangerous. If you smell something sweet inside your car and didn't recently buy any desserts, you need to find the source.

When you smell something sweet coming from your car's air conditioner, there's probably an antifreeze leak. Antifreeze is a coolant that helps maintain your car's engine during extreme temperatures. They usually contain harsh chemicals and could be fatal in large amounts.

So, if you smell something sweet coming from your car's air conditioning, be on high alert and look for where the leak is coming from. Contact a professional to help you out.

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How Do You Maintain An Air Conditioner?

Closeup portrait of car's driver hand on air conditioner blower hole

No matter the weather, it's always best to maintain your car's air conditioning at its optimal peak. This is to ensure that it's always working at maximum performance, so there are fewer chances for it to break down.

Earlier, we mentioned one way to keep your car's air conditioning at peak performance is to use it at least once every week. For at least 10 minutes, keep your air conditioning at its coolest setting and maximum speed. This not only maintains your car's compressor, but helps prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

One tip that a lot of car owners often overlook is having the air filters cleaned. Dirty filters not only contribute to a foul stench wafting around the cabin of your vehicle, it also promotes intermittent cooling. Check your filters often and have them cleaned or replaced at least once every year.

Also, it's best to keep your car's air conditioning at the coldest setting. This allows it to work more efficiently without having to burn a lot of fuel.

Likewise, don't pre-cool your car. Instead, open one of the backseat windows and put the fan on high for at least 20 seconds. This will blow the hot air out of the car. Afterward, set your car's air conditioning at the max setting to achieve optimal efficiency.

And finally, keep your car clean. Dirt and bacteria can have a negative impact on your health and on your car's air conditioning. Being clean prevents mold and bacteria from having a place to grow and stops bad smells from circulating inside your car's cabin.

Final Statement

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So, we learned that there are several culprits that cause your car's air conditioning to work intermittently. However, by keeping the air conditioning well-maintained and having it serviced yearly, you'll be able to avoid most problems.

If you find yourself in the position where the air conditioning is working intermittently, simply bring your vehicle to the nearest maintenance shop and have a technician inspect it for you.

Enjoyed what you read so far? If so, check out the links below and read other articles related to this topic.

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Car Air Conditioner Smells Like Pee; What Could Be Wrong?

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