Vehicle Air Conditioning System: Everything You Need To Know
There are many systems in your vehicle that will be used daily as part of your driving needs. It is safe to say the air conditioning system will most likely be one of them. As a feature, air conditioning in vehicles has slowly moved from being the preserve of mostly luxury vehicles to being a standard feature in many car models today even down to the most basic trim levels.
In tropical climates, having an air conditioning system in your vehicle is not a luxury but rather a critical necessity especially if your regular commute involves a lot of stop and go traffic and being inside your vehicle a lot.
Automakers have been constantly evolving this technology since the first iteration but for the purposes of this piece, we will be focusing on the traditional version of a vehicle air conditioning system and explore how it has evolved up to this point. Read on to examine more in-depth coverage of this feature:
The History Of Air Conditioning Technology
It may come as a surprise but air conditioning in vehicles was available as early as 1939. US car company Packard was the first to offer an option to install an air conditioning system in vehicles but that option was not well received by customers. Eventually, another attempt was made in the 1950's by some US automakers. An example is Chrysler who debuted their Air temp air conditioning system.
Operated by a single switch on the dashboard with low, medium, and high positions, it not only cooled the car, but also reduced levels of humidity, dust, pollen, and tobacco smoke. The small ducts directed cool air toward the roof of the car, after which it filtered down around the passengers instead of blowing directly on them – which makes it more advanced than modern systems.
Also, during this time period, another company Nash developed its own unique air conditioning system. Called the “All-Weather Eye”, it combined both a heater and an air conditioner into one in-dash system. This design eventually set the standard of air conditioning design that is seen and adopted by all automakers today.
How Does An Air conditioning System Work?
The air conditioning process is mainly engineered to transfer excess heat from the vehicle’s cabin to the exterior. Within a typical system, the major component at the heart of the process is the refrigerant called R134a. This is the highly volatile substance that ignites the process that leads to eventually cooling a vehicle’s cabin.
Turning on the air conditioning system initiates the first process which is a sensor that tells the compressor in the engine bay to turn on. A gentle click usually accompanies the compressor turning on. The compressor then begins to assist in pressurizing the refrigerant into the condenser. The condenser looks like your radiator and is also located in front just behind the grille. The refrigerant will next shed its heat and condenses from gas to liquid form. During this process, any moisture that can freeze will be removed from the refrigerant by the receiver/dryer.
This liquid then enters the expansion valve, where the pressurized liquid is metered out, at low pressure, as it enters the evaporator, behind the dashboard. As the pressure drops, the liquid boils (R134a does so at approximately -25 degrees Celsius), thus cooling the outer surface of the evaporator rapidly, meaning that any air blown over it will also shed its heat. The gas then passes through the compressor again and the cycle is repeated.
Why Is It Important To Maintain Your Air conditioning System?
The air conditioning system in your vehicle has two sides, the “open” side, and the “closed” side. The closed portion comprises of those processes that happen in the engine bay and leads to the production of cold air that will eventually make its way to the cabin. The open side is how the cold air gets distributed into the cabin directly.
With the open side, a clogged and dirty pollen filter can not only reduce proper airflow but can also produce unpleasant odors. The damp and warm environment behind the fascia panel, surrounding the evaporator, is prone to harboring bacteria. Not only is “smelly air-con” syndrome an undesirable result but also the firing of bacteria directly at the occupants is likely to pose a health risk, including “sick car syndrome” which is a recognized medical condition. However, replacing the cabin filter and using an aftermarket air conditioning cleanser within the car should alleviate the problem.
Just like other components in your car that will need constant attention, the air conditioning system has several things you must pay attention to from time to time. The refrigerant contains a special oil to lubricate the compressor. When the gas pressure drops too low, the compressor will not operate as a self-protecting measure. The receiver/dryer unit can become saturated with moisture over time and this part is recommended to be changed at least every two years. The gas within the system has to be evacuated before installing new parts and rechecking and if necessary, recharging the entire system.
Tips 4 Keeps
Air conditioning systems have become an expected standard feature in all modern vehicles on sale today. But still, surprising select automakers still do not offer standard air conditioning in their most basic equipped models. Several reasons factor into this but the major factor is the target marketplace for the vehicle. Vehicles that will be sold solely in cold climates can end up not being equipped with air conditioning as a standard feature due to very low need in the region.
Not all manufacturers make their air conditioning systems to the same specifications and while some automakers install units that have simple functionality, others install more sophisticated climate control systems that incorporate unique ways in which air flow is regulated inside the cabins. There are even air conditioning systems that now have sensors within the cabin which can target airflow efficiently and not require vehicle occupants to keep making constant adjustments.
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