Can a Novice Install a New AC Condenser?

hot girl in car
Don't get beat by summer heat. Fix your car's AC. Getty

If your car or truck has weak or inoperative air conditioning, you're frustrated. Before you pay big money for an AC service, you should do a little troubleshooting on your own. If you're not sure where to start, this question may help guide you in a direction. Keep the reader mail coming, we're always glad to help out. This one comes from Willie who's been getting a little heated over his warm AC situation. He's narrowed the problem down to a leak in the condenser. He asks, "Can a novice change the condenser, or should it be left to a pro?"

Safety Tip for AC Maintenance

One important note about working on your own air conditioning system: Releasing freon into the atmosphere is pretty high on the list of environmentally irresponsible things you can do while working on your vehicle. In some cases, accidents happen, and you may end up doing just that. But if you can plan ahead and avoid it, please do so. Not only is it horrible for the atmosphere, freon that is under pressure can cause some serious injuries of it's released unexpectedly. Unless you're sure your air conditioning system is completely empty and depressurized, have a repair shop reclaim the freon before you start doing your work. 

Congratulations, Willie, on your decision to handle your own auto repairs. These questions are tough to answer because everybody has a different level of skill and experience when it comes to car repair. Nobody knows better than you. If you feel good about jumping in, go for it. The worst thing that can happen in most cases is a trip to the repair shop to clean up something you did incorrectly. If you're willing to take that chance, you'll probably do just fine and save yourself a lot of cash by doing it yourself.

That being said, there's one step in the replacement of an air conditioning condenser that you can't do yourself, and it's a very important step in the process -- safely collecting the system's refrigerant! But wait, if you need a new condenser because it leaks, isn't the system already empty? It probably is, but to be sure you need to check the system pressure with a proper AC pressure gauge. You don't need an expensive professional gauge to do this, the DIY refrigerant charging kits usually include a decent quality pressure testing gauge. You can use one of these to test the system pressure without adding any more freon by connecting the kit to your AC system without opening the valve to refill the air conditioner with refrigerant. For more information, learn how to recharge your own AC system. It shows the gauge and the step you'll need to properly test for pressure in the AC lines and related parts. Don't ever assume. If system pressure is zero, go ahead and remove the old condenser worry free. If you have even a pound of refrigerant in there, you need to have a shop suck it out with the proper equipment. Refrigerant is dangerous and bad for the environment. If you want to finish the job yourself, just have the shop empty the refrigerant for you and replace the condenser yourself.

Air conditioning systems can be frustrating, so it's almost never a bad idea to take your car to have it serviced by a pro. A professional shop has tools and supplies directly related to AC systems that make it precise and fast to analyze what's going on in your car's system. Warm air from the vents can mean many things, and I never recommend that somebody start replacing parts of their car without knowing what works and what doesn't. This can get expensive very quickly and turn into a nightmare for your wallet. Often the problem will still be unsolved!