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Matthew Wright

Can a Novice Install a New AC Condenser?

By June 29, 2008

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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?"

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. 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.

June 30, 2008 at 7:43 pm
(1) Greg K says:

Actually Willie, there is more than one part of this repair that you probably can’t do yourself. They neglected to tell you that once you have safely recovered any remaining refrigerant that is in the system, & installed your condenser, you will need to have the system “evacuated” for 20 minutes or so. This is done with a vacuum pump. Evacuating actually creates a vacuum in the system making sure that any moisture in the system is removed. Moisture may have entered the system after the refrigerant was gone or if the system was left disassembled for any amount of time. This step is a MUST!!! Also you must add the correct type & amount of oil to the system. Good luck with your project.

July 1, 2008 at 7:47 pm
(2) John H says:

Also if the A/C system has been opened or without refrigerent for longer than 5-10 minutes your probably will need to replace the reciever/drier/accumulator as it is probably saturated with moisture and will not cool as well.

July 2, 2008 at 10:59 am
(3) Mr. Fixit says:

I would replace the Receiver Dryer no matter what. They are cheap and it is good practice. If you do this repair yourself, look in the manual and see how much oil you should add back to the system for the items you replaced. Both the condensor and the Receiver will hold a small amount of oil.

July 2, 2008 at 8:59 pm
(4) brad says:

Willie, im not an auto mechanic, however my condenser on my 05 town and country craped out 3 days ago. The dodge people wanted 650 dollars to replace. I bought a condenser from advance auto replaced it and put 2.2 pounds of freon back in it and she purs like a kitten. Unless you had a compresser failure you do not have to evacuate the system. Ive done a few of them and if only a few days have passed like i waited a week until the condenser came in. Everything is fine. The condenser at advance auto was 175dollars. Diy always.

July 2, 2008 at 9:24 pm
(5) Matt says:

Tell ‘em Brad, DIY Always!!

July 7, 2008 at 6:07 am
(6) Greg K says:

Willie I hate to go against what someone else says, but the suggestion of not having to evacuate is not only a VERY BAD suggestion, it’s just the wrong way to do the job. 1st, a compressor failure has nothing to do with the reason for evacuating the system. If a compressor has a catastrophic failure, more work is required. This would include a total system flush, replacement of the expansion orifice, & rec/drier. As we have told you earlier, the reason for evacuating is to dry all of the moisture that enters the system when opened up. Moisture will not have an immediate effect on the system, but over time it will. Corrosion & System inefficiency are just the beginning of the problems you will encounter. Please, if you are gonna take the time to do the job, do it right………….unless you want to do it over. Don’t take bad advice & try to short cut it!

July 8, 2008 at 4:40 pm
(7) Craig says:

Greg K. is absolutely correct. The only thing I would add is instead of pulling a vacuum for at least 20 minutes, I’d do it for at least an hour. You can’t pull a vacuum too long. The longer you pull vacuum, the more moisture you get out of the system. Moisture raises havoc with any A/C system. Eventually down the road, it creates corrosive acids which will eat away at aluminum parts of the system like condenser, evaporator, tubing, compressor, you name it. And, the drier the system, the better it will cool. Do it right the first time and never look back! If you do a couple car A/C jobs, you can easily pay back a vacuum pump, you can find them at online auction sites and via the Internet anywhere from $50-300.

June 18, 2009 at 11:59 pm
(8) coaster says:

hmm.. i think that’s right..its not proper to test a novice to install car condenser..seems to be a crucial issue…assistance from a pro should do ^^…one more thing..it is not just for installation but also the right product to Buy Car AC Condensers

August 5, 2010 at 2:43 pm
(9) Vickie says:

Where do you go, and what is the range of cost to vacume and evacuate your system? I think I may try to do this myself

August 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm
(10) Robert McHenry says:

Like prior poster sytated, You can get HVAC Vacuum pums anywhere from 300 down. Check Ebay & craigslist. I’m picking one up for $75.00

Harbor Freight sells a $15.00 vacuum pump that runs off of an air compressor. It works BUT takes ALLOT of air to do the job. Need a rather large compressor to keep up.

A good set of gauges can run 100 – 300 smackers but worth it.

August 9, 2012 at 11:17 pm
(11) Don says:

You can also rent the vacuum pump at most Parts stores.

March 7, 2013 at 11:22 am
(12) Joe says:

As a matter of fact, Don, the evacuator pump can sometimes be loaned for free from retailers like Autozone or Advance… for a substantial security deposit upfront, which will be returned if the equipment is returned in the same condition in which it left the store.

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