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How to keep your car air-conditioning working efficiently

Whilst there’s a long list of criteria for your car to pass its MOT, these features might not actually be the highest on your list of personal priorities. And many of these ‘bonus’ features, such as air conditioning, don’t even get checked in an MOT or a typical service, so might well need some TLC.

Let’s explore this overlooked but much-loved feature…

Most car manufacturers recommend recharging or re-gassing the air con every two years. Why? Because the system uses a refrigerant gas to produce a cooling effect, and it can run low over time. Not only that, but any leaks in the system mean that even with a new gas canister, it can seep out through rusty patches and cracked pipework. This can be expensive (your car uses more fuel trying to get the failing air con to work), inconvenient (traffic jams in August without air con? Unthinkable!) and could even be illegal, as you’ll be responsible for high chemical emissions directly into the atmosphere, potentially landing you with a fine and a guilty conscience.

The trouble with air conditioning in new and used cars is its precarious placement. At home, you shouldn’t have your fridge right next to your oven or other heat sources, and you have to allow space for air to flow and prevent the gas pipes from getting knocked. In a car, it’s a similar principle but without the benefit of space; the coolest position for the condenser is under the car’s chassis, where the rush of cold air while driving can keep it cool. However, that’s a prime spot for getting knocked and bumped, and it’s a fairly fragile system to begin with. So what’s to do?

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There are some DIY kits on the market, but they aren’t a huge amount cheaper than getting it done by someone in the know. This takes a load of stress and hassle off for the car owner, and it also means that the mechanic can have a good look at the system and check for any leaks, preventing extra expense, inconvenience and trouble. Motor trade professionals use a UV reactive dye in the system which shows up any porous pipes, which is certainly not something you’d want to try at home.
One last word on air con: it’s not just a summer thing. If you’re driving along in winter and your vision is obscured by condensation, you may not be able to tell your traffic lights from your from your chevrons. A fast blast of warm air is the fastest way to tame condensation, so air con is a valuable asset all year round. With all that in mind, it’s a good idea to stick a re-gassing reminder on the calendar, just like you would for the MOT or insurance policy renewal.

Make it a habit to get your air con checked and recharged every year or two, and you’ll be in for a much more comfortable ride.