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Repairing Your Car’s AC: Cost, Maintenance and Your Funding Options

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Car repairs can be expensive and are often unaffordable, with AAA reports indicating as many as 1 in 3 drivers in the United States aren’t able to pay for unexpected costs to fix a vehicle.

While many things can go wrong with your car, air conditioning problems are one of the leading repairs requested – especially during the summer months, according to YourMechanic, a mobile auto repair service. Driving around with no AC is definitely not fun in the summer, and could even be dangerous, so it’s important to know some typical AC car repair costs so you can come up with a plan to cover these charges if your air conditioner needs a tune-up.

How much it costs to repair your car’s AC

Whenever you suspect a problem with your car’s AC, it’s important to get advice from a trusted auto mechanic. You should speak with a mechanic before trying to do any work on your own, as some of the chemicals that make air conditioners work can be toxic to you and to the environment.

A mechanic you can trust should conduct a thorough assessment of your car’s air conditioner to identify the issue causing your system not to cool properly. This should include:

  • Visually inspecting the air conditioning system
  • Determining if the refrigerant is properly charged: Refrigerant is a fluid or gas that absorbs heat from the environment
  • Looking for leaks of chlorofluorocarbon gas (CFC gas) using a sniffer: CFC gas is a high pressure gas created when refrigerant is compressed in your car’s AC system
  • Testing the controls that affect whether air is directed properly
  • Evaluating other systems in response to specific symptoms you describe

This inspection should reveal some of the most common problems with air conditioning units including:

  • Compressor problems: Faulty or worn compressors can cause refrigerant leaks or other issues.
  • Condenser problems: A condenser that breaks or becomes clogged can prevent the flow of refrigerant, increase pressure in the AC system, and prevent the transfer of heat.
  • Blower problems: An issue with your blower could prevent conditioned air from being pushed into your vents.
  • Receiver or dryer problems: These can result in excess water, which can damage different components of the AC system and make it harder to defrost windows.
  • Fuse problems: When a fuse that controls your air conditioner blows, the unit won’t work and the car may need electrical service. Finding the underlying problem that caused the fuse to blow may also be necessary.

The cost of AC repair will vary depending on what specific problems you’re having as well as how many parts need to be repaired or replaced. The table below shows some of the most common repairs your system may need, along with the prices for each repair, according to YourMechanic, a mobile auto repair service.

Keep in mind, however, that pricing for car service varies based on numerous factors such as your location, car model and more.

Service Price range
Condenser Fan Relay Replacement $77.03 – $131.99
Compressor Replacement $600.35 – $2,516.10
Blower Motor Relay Replacement $78.24 – $194.12
AC Cycling Switch Replacement $132.24 – $368.56
Refrigerant Recharge $184.89 – $198.89
AC Belt Replacement $84.84 – $274.50
AC Filter Replacement $81.48 – $138.18

Finding a reliable mechanic

It’s imperative you don’t overpay for air conditioning repair – which means you need to find a reliable mechanic that will diagnose your problem correctly, charge a reasonable rate for parts and labor, and not charge you to fix things that aren’t really broken.

Finding a mechanic you can trust may seem impossible, but there are some questions you should ask to ensure your mechanic is someone you can count on. To make sure you find the right person to repair your AC, ask:

  • Can you talk to other customers willing to provide references?
  • Has the mechanic worked on your vehicle make and model?
  • Are your parts still under warranty?
  • Can you get a written estimate up front?
  • Under what circumstances will you have to pay additional fees and costs?
  • Is the mechanic ASE certified?
  • What is the possible fix for your issue and are there alternative solutions?

A mechanic unwilling to provide references or an upfront estimate in writing isn’t someone you should be doing business with.

Paying for your car’s AC repair

Even with a good mechanic, the cost of repairing your air conditioning may be pretty high. You’ll want to find the best way to pay for repair expenses, and fortunately you have a few different options as this table shows.

Funding option Pros Cons
Cash from savings You won’t have to pay interest or try to find money from a family member or lender You may not have cash available or may use funds you need for other things
Borrowing from friends and family You can avoid paying interest if your family member is willing to offer an interest-free loan, and you can avoid having to apply for credit with a lender You may not have loved ones willing or able to loan you money, or you may damage your relationship by borrowing – especially if problems arise in paying back the loan
Credit cards If you already have a card, you don’t have to apply for any new credit

You may be able to qualify for a 0% promotional APR on purchases if you open a new card – so could avoid paying interest if you pay the card in full before the 0% rate expires

You could avoid interest charges by paying off the credit card bill in full when you get your statement.

You may be able to earn rewards points or cash back by charging your repairs.

Not all car repair professionals accept credit cards

You could end up paying a lot in interest if you don’t pay off the balance due before the promotional rate expires or when the credit card statement comes

You would need to apply for a card – which takes time – if you don’t already have one

You could hurt your credit score if you max out your card or exceed 30% of your available credit by charging the repairs

There’s no fixed day when the debt will be paid off, and you could be paying for the AC repair for years if you make only minimum payments

Payday Alternative Loans Payday Alternative Loans are available to credit union members as an alternative to high-interest payday loans

Fees are capped and you can borrow small amounts between $200 and $1,000 for more minor AC repairs

There’s a short one to six month repayment timeline so you’ll become debt free faster

You have to be a member of a credit union

You may have to pay an application fee of up to $20

You can only borrow a small amount, so payday alternative loans aren’t ideal for major repairs

Personal loans You have flexibility in how much you borrow, with different lenders offering loans valued at $1,000 or less to $40,000 or more

Interest on personal loans is usually lower than credit card interest

You’ll have a fixed repayment timeline so you’ll know exactly when your AC repair loan will be paid off – and, if you opt for a fixed rate loan, your monthly payments will stay the same for the entire repayment period

It can take a week or longer to qualify for some personal loans and to get your funding

Some lenders have loan minimums of $5,000 or more, so a personal loan may not be the right choice if you only need minor AC repairs

Qualifying for a loan and your rates are based on your credit; low credit borrowers may not qualify

Cash from savings

Ideally, you have cash reserves you can draw on to pay for unexpected expenses, such as to repair your car’s AC. Covering these types of costs with cash allows you to avoid taking out new debt. That comes with the benefit of avoiding interest charges and other fees that may come with loan products.

However, you’ll have to decide if draining your savings is worth the cost of repairing your AC. With fewer (or zero) cash reserves leftover, you put yourself at risk of being empty-handed for what could be bigger emergencies, such as a car malfunction that leaves you stranded.

Borrowing from friends and family

If you don’t have cash to pay for car repairs – or you’d rather hold onto your savings for a more pressing emergency – you may consider reaching out to friends and family who can lend you the money. You could come out with a no-interest loan that you get to repay on your own terms.

Take caution with this option, however. Borrowing from a loved one or friend can put a thorn in your relationship, especially if you have a habit of making payments late or for less than what you agreed upon. Take the time to sit down to talk over how you’ll repay the loan, and provide proof that you can repay it in full.

Personal loan

A personal loan can be a great choice when you need help covering repair costs because you have many lenders to choose from and have flexibility in how much you can borrow. The interest rates on personal loans are usually not as high as credit card interest rates (though a low credit score could lead to higher rates). You also benefit from the fact there’s a fixed schedule for loan repayment determined up front so there’s no surprises when it comes to how long repayment will take.

Personal loan borrowers have a choice of fixed or variable rate loans. With a variable rate loan, your starting interest rate may be lower than with a fixed rate loan, but the rate and your payment could rise. If you opt for a fixed rate loan, your payment stays the same for the entire time you’re paying back the lender, so you have complete certainty in the total cost of your loan – which is a big benefit.

However, while there are some personal loan lenders that provide fast funding – even as soon as the day after as you apply – many lenders take a week or longer to approve you for a loan and provide you with the money. When you need car repairs right away, a personal loan may not be the best choice.

Credit card

Credit cards are a common way to pay for AC repairs or other fixes your car needs. That’s because putting your repair costs on your card is easy if you already have a credit card.

But if you have excellent credit, you may qualify for a credit card with a 0% promotional offer. If you can pay off the AC repairs within the promotional window, you can benefit interest-free financing for a number of months. However, unless you’re able to pay off the balance before the end of the promotional period, the repairs could end up being much more expensive and you are burdened with a large amount of debt on a credit card with a high interest rate.

And, credit cards only require you to make small minimum payments so if you don’t pay more than the minimum, it could take you many years – and hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest charges – to pay off your AC repairs.

Payday alternative loans

Far too many people turn to costly payday loans to cover car repairs because payday loans can provide fast access to cash even without great credit. This is a bad idea as the effective APR on payday loans could be more than 400% annually. You also have a very short time to pay back the amount borrowed and may end up having to take out another payday loan – with additional fees – if you can’t pay off the loan in full.

You don’t have to turn to payday loans to fund small AC repairs though. Payday alternative loans are small loans of $200 to $1,000 made by credit unions in an attempt to serve as an alternative to high-cost loans. Fees are capped at $20 and there are other borrower protections built into these loans. They can be a way better solution for most people who need to borrow money quickly.

Maintaining your car’s AC

Once you’ve paid for AC repairs, it’s important to do what you can to keep your system functional for as long as possible. To make sure your car’s AC stays in great shape to keep you cool, consider having the condenser cleaned regularly to allow for better airflow; replacing your car’s air filters to help the system function efficiently; and having your system periodically checked for small refrigerant leaks.

By investing a little bit of time and money into your AC system,hopefully you can avoid big costly repairs – and make sure you stay comfortable while driving your vehicle.

 

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