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Failed AC compressor in need of repair or replacement.

What Leads to Air Conditioning Compressor Failure? Common Causes and Prevention Tips

What Causes Air Conditioning Compressor Failure? Preventing Breakdowns and Extending Compressor Life

It’s one of those sweltering summer days when you desperately need the refreshing blast of cold air from your trusty air conditioner. But when you hit the switch, nothing happens. After calling a technician, you learn the culprit – a failed AC compressor. Without this vital component functioning properly, you’ll be sweating through the dog days of summer.

While compressors inevitably wear out over time, many premature breakdowns could be prevented through proper installation, maintenance and care. Read on to gain insight into the common causes of AC compressor failure, signs of trouble, and how to maximize your compressor’s lifespan.

How Does an AC Compressor Fail?

The compressor is the core component of an air conditioning system. It pressurizes and circulates the refrigerant that absorbs and removes heat from your home. Like the engine in your car, the compressor is subject to mechanical wear and tear over years of use. Two primary types of compressor failure include:

Gradual decline – Performance slowly deteriorates due to effects of age, strained operation and wear until the compressor finally dies.

Abrupt breakdown – The compressor stops working suddenly due to an event like an electrical spike, defective part or contaminated oil starving the lubrication system.

Why Do Compressors Fail Prematurely?

While designed to operate for roughly 8-12 years, factors like improper sizing, lack of maintenance and faulty installation can cut an AC compressor’s life short unexpectedly. Common causes of premature failure include:

  • Loss of refrigerant – Leaks put strain on the compressor, leading to breakdown.
  • Electrical defects – Voltage spikes, wiring issues and control failures strain the compressor.
  • Contaminated lubrication – Sludge, debris and moisture in the oil accelerates wear.
  • Improper sizing – Too large or too small a compressor operates inefficiently, causing strain.
  • Installation errors – Incorrect refrigerant levels, poor airflow and more lead to abnormal operation.
  • Extreme seasonal conditions – Very hot summers overwork the compressor and cold winters add wear upon startup.
  • Neglected maintenance – Lack of cleaning, tune-ups and lubrication takes a toll.
  • Short cycling – Frequent on/off operation strains the compressor motor.

With care and preventative maintenance, an AC compressor should provide 10-15 years of reliable, efficient performance. But neglecting maintenance often leads to premature breakdowns.

Warning Signs of Failing AC Compressors

Watch for these indicators of a struggling air conditioner compressor:

  • Reduced cooling capability
  • Higher energy bills and short-cycling
  • Unusual noises – grinding, knocking, squealing
  • Circuit breaker tripping
  • Compressor motor overheating
  • Condenser coil icing up
  • Excess humidity and odd smells from vents

Don’t ignore these signs of compressor problems! Have your AC inspected and repaired promptly to restore cooling and avoid further damage.

How Does AC Compressor Failure Occur?

Air conditioner compressors can fail in a few different ways:

Electrical – Problems like voltage surges, internal shorts and defective capacitors cause motor burnout.

Mechanical – Extreme heat and friction from lack of lubrication causes parts to seize up and stop rotating.

Refrigerant issues – Leaks or blockages in refrigerant flow interrupt the compression process.

Contaminants – Built up grime, sludge and debris cause components to bind and wear out faster.

While the end result is a non-functioning compressor, identifying the exact failure mode helps determine if repair or replacement is the solution.

Steps to Prevent Premature AC Compressor Failure

Routine maintenance and care reduce the risk of compressor breakdowns. Here are tips to improve longevity:

  • Schedule annual AC tune-ups to check refrigerant, lubrication, leaks, etc.
  • Change air filters monthly to prevent dirt buildup from restricting airflow. Use MERV 11 or higher pleated filters.
  • Keep the AC condenser coil clean and clear of leaves, grass and debris.
  • Have a technician deep clean the evaporator coil annually to remove sediment.
  • Check voltage and amp readings yearly for any defects taxing the compressor.
  • Keep the compressor protected from harsh weather and corrosion when not in use.
  • Avoid running the AC when outdoor temperatures are below 60°F to prevent strain.
  • Service the AC unit thoroughly in the spring, before summer heat hits.
  • Maintain a log with dates of service, refrigerant recharges and parts replacements.
  • Verify proper sizing – an oversized or undersized compressor causes premature failure.
  • Have funds ready for repairs or replacement when needed.

Steps to Take When Your AC Compressor Fails

If your compressor does fail unexpectedly, take these steps:

  • Turn off the AC system immediately to prevent further damage.
  • Call a professional technician to diagnose – don’t attempt repair yourself.
  • Ask if the compressor issue is repair or full replacement.
  • For replacements, ensure proper sizing for optimal efficiency.
  • Inquire about warranty coverage if the failed unit is less than 5-10 years old.
  • Discuss new compressor warranty for parts and labor.
  • Have the technician check the whole system for underlying issues.
  • Perform thorough leak testing, refrigerant charging and monitoring.
  • Consider upgrades like a variable speed compressor for improved efficiency.
  • Request multiple quotes if needed to compare fair pricing.
  • Negotiate respectfully if a quote seems excessive.
  • Accept that replacement may be better than continuing repairs on an aged system.

With attentive care and maintenance, an AC compressor can deliver 10-15 years of cool, energy efficient performance. But don’t let neglect lead to early failure – be proactive with seasonal tune-ups! Investing in your air conditioner will pay dividends in durability and lower energy bills.

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