How Do I Know if My Home AC Compressor is Bad?

UPDATED 2019: Air conditioning is so important in the South. Hotter days may cause you to ask, “How do I know if my AC compressor is bad?” You may know it as the big metal box outside your house but it’s just the exterior part of your air conditioning system

Air conditioning compressors typically last 10 to 15 years with routine maintenance and normal use. In our area, it’s common for AC compressors to age a little quicker because we use them so much. However, if it acts funny, it helps to know if an AC compressor is going bad before it breaks down completely.

Quick Review: What is an AC Compressor and What Does it Do?

Let’s start with understanding the basics of an AC compressor. It’s not actually the big metal box outside your home connected to the indoor HVAC. The AC compressor is inside the box along with other components. The box itself is commonly referred to as the “ac compressor” because it’s one of the most critical pieces of the cooling process.

A heat pump or AC compressor is essentially a motorized pump. Its job is to move refrigerant gas from the indoor cooling coil to the outdoor AC compressor or condenser. There the gas is compressed and cooled back to a liquid form.

Traveling through the larger refrigerant “suction line,” refrigerant gas returns from the indoor air handler cooling coil to the outdoor AC compressor.

Then, the outdoor compressor, or condenser, returns the liquid refrigerant to the indoor air handler and evaporator coil. As the liquid refrigerant evaporates inside the indoor cooling coil, the air loses humidity and cools.

By condensing the refrigerant gas outdoors in the AC compressor, heat moves from inside to outside. If you have a heat pump, the cycle happens in reverse to move heat from the outdoor air to the indoor coil when you need heat.

Early Signs Your AC Compressor is Failing to Cool Your Home

Subtle issues begin with a reduction in cool air production or warm air coming from vents when it shouldn’t. These are early signs something in the system is compromised or the ducts/vents are clogged. 

A jump in your electric bill is another way to know if your AC compressor is bad. If your electric bill climbs without an obvious reason, call for an HVAC inspection. If the air conditioning compressor is wearing out, it can’t compress the gas enough. This decreases its efficiency. It runs longer to try to meet your cooling needs and creates a big electric bill. 

How Do I Know if My AC Compressor is Bad? 4 Big Signs 

  1. A ticking or chattering noise
  2. Clicks and rattles
  3. Puddles of chemicals
  4. Short Cycling

Ticking or Chattering Noise

This sounds similar to the noise when you turn a gas burner to light on a stove. This could indicate the AC compressor is struggling to turn on, or “hard start.” If you hear this when the air conditioning starts, the electrical relay switch may be wearing out. This is advanced-level work, so it’s best to consult an HVAC professional.

Click, Rattle and Roll?

A clicking or rumbling noise upon AC startup often indicates the AC compressor motor mounts have released the motor and it’s bouncing around inside its casing. This is definitely a professional fix. It can be dangerous without the proper education to work on loose motors. Don’t worry though, NATE-certified technicians receive ongoing training for these issues.

Puddles or Leaks

If you find what appear to be leaks around any part of your air conditioning system, you may have a refrigerant leak. This is serious because it can cause health risks such as headaches, nausea, coughs and eye irritation. If you listen to the AC compressor while it runs, a hissing sound suggests a leak.

If allowed to continue, your air conditioning completely stops because it’s missing the chemicals it needs to create cool air. Similar to a car engine, motors and other moving parts do not like to run out of their coolants. This needs to be addressed quickly by an HVAC pro. Refrigerant is toxic, so avoid handling it yourself.

Short Cycles or Uneven Temperatures

If the air conditioning compressor shuts down before the house cools, it could be short cycling. This means it’s quitting the cycle early. Air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces do this for several reasons, including dirty air filters, broken thermostats or the HVAC unit is improperly sized for the home. Schedule a tune up if you haven’t had one lately to assess this issue. 

Exterior Maintenance Tips for AC Compressors

  1. Be gentle during yard work
  2. Keep a buffer for airflow
  3. Prevent dog and critter damage

Careful Landscaping

When landscaping around an exterior unit like an AC compressor, avoid hitting it with the lawnmower or “weed-eaters.” Although they look tough, the vents can be damaged by everything from a rock thrown by a mower to hailstones.

Help the AC Compressor Breathe

Be sure to keep vegetation cut back two to three feet from the unit. Invasive plants nearby easily invade and clog it. In addition, leaves, twigs and other debris can get trapped inside after storms or over the season. All of this impedes its airflow and creates friction.

Keep Dogs and Rodents Away

Some dogs like to mark the AC compressor, to the point of eroding the aluminum fins. Rodents and other animals sometimes nest or use it as shelter. If you find your dog going after it, protect the AC compressor with a fence. Just be sure to keep it accessible for service.

Use a fence style which allows good airflow, but keeps the dog a safe distance from the AC unit. If you notice signs of rodents around your AC compressor, call us. Our technician will clean out any nesting material or worse, remains. 

Join a Maintenance Plan for Consistent Air Conditioning

For maintenance, it’s wise to take advantage of a service plan, such as Ray & Son’s Comfort Club. The membership includes two scheduled 17-point seasonal tune ups and cleanings for your heating and cooling systems, including both indoor and outdoor components.

Call Ray & Son at 229-218-8866 for a preventive maintenance appointment, to sign up for the Comfort Club or for an estimate on a new AC unit. HVAC efficiency has improved a lot in the last decade and we’re proud to be a Carrier ® Factory Authorized Dealer. 

Are costs a concern? Don’t worry, we offer multiple financing options. Finance and enjoy a more efficient AC system under a new warranty while you spread out payments. 

Has Your AC Compressor Had It? Call Ray & Son

Whether repairing or replacing air conditioning systems, our NATE-certified and fully insured technicians are happy to explain every step of his or her process. An HVAC tune up is a great time to get answers to all of your questions. We want you to feel comfortable using and maintaining your air conditioning system, as well as feeling comfortable in your home!

If you wonder if your AC compressor or any HVAC component is going bad, call Ray & Son today. We handle all your AC maintenance and repair needs for all brands. We’re also available for emergency AC repairs, 24/7!

Our team serves communities in and around southern Georgia and northern Florida, such as Nashville, Valdosta, Lakeland, Douglas, and Lennox. For more than 50 years Ray & Son has been “Where Service is our Business and Quality is a Way of Life!”


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