Understanding Auto Air Conditioner Repairs
Each summer the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection investigates a number of automotive air conditioner concerns. We hope the following information will help explain some of what is involved, and allow consumers to make more informed choices regarding these services.
When the air conditioner in our automobile stops cooling, we bring our vehicle to a specialist for diagnosis. Due to the environmental impact of refrigerants, air conditioning repairs must be performed by certified technicians using specialized equipment. Rather than depending on the repair shop to discuss the advisability of air conditioner repairs we recommend that you ask them about the upper end repair cost possibilities. How does this price compare to the value of your automobile? It would also be a good idea to discuss the worst case scenario regarding the checkout charges with your repair representative before starting with diagnosis.
Many times the cooling has stopped because refrigerant has leaked out of one or more of the many parts and connections that make up the air conditioning system. Larger leaks can be detected in some cases when the system is evacuated. After the technician uses a pump to remove any remaining refrigerant, gages will show if the system is airtight enough to hold this negative pressure which is called a vacuum. Once vacuum has held steady for a period of time the shop is allowed to add refrigerant.
What may seem, and cost, like a repair at the beginning of this procedure, is only the process of diagnosis. This check out is the cost to check the system, and would cover diagnosis, refrigerant, and dye in most cases. Replacement parts and labor will be at additional cost.
It is typical that the final needed repairs will be evident only after the system is made operational. Also there is no way for a technician to predict future problems, so there is still a risk factor involved. Again you would be well served to have an idea of the potential costs should the repairs become more involved.
Finally the vehicle may be returned with the air conditioner working, yet in the weeks that follow the air conditioner could loose refrigerant due to defective parts, including those inside the ductwork of the dashboard where leaks are difficult to detect. Hoses or connections not involved with the job could start to leak, or another of the original remaining parts could fail. Even though our consumer has spent a great deal of money this does not mean the shop will be held responsible for additional needed work.
Montgomery County Code does require the repair shops to: use reasonable care, use procedures consistent with industry standards, and advise customers of any revision of cost over 10% of the estimate when working on your vehicle. No work should be performed without the customer's authorization. Except parts returned under warranty, replaced parts should be offered to the customer. Parts returned for rebuilding will have a core charge that may need to be paid to have these parts retained.