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If your AC performing its job poorly, making all kinds of noises, has refrigerant leaks, uses more energy than it used it, these are all symptoms of possible AC compressor problems. Also, if the circuit breaker (that your AC is connected to) keeps on tripping, there could be a short inside the AC compressor.
A refrigerant-cooled AC system has many components, and one of the most important ones is a compressor. The compressor is designed to serve you for years with proper maintenance, but eventually (like everything else), it can go bad.
The compressor of your home or office AC system is responsible for compressing and pumping vapor refrigerant to cool hot air down. The refrigerant in the form of gas enters the compressor and gets pressurized while its volume is being decreased.
As pressure increases, the refrigerant vapor gas gets really hot and the compressor sends all this hot gas to the condenser coil to cool it down. The condenser, in its turn, releases the heat and turns the refrigerant back to its liquid state.
This is how your hot summer air turns into the cool breeze that we all enjoy. When the compressor stops working, this could mean a big discomfort, especially when many people are relying on it.
Since the compressor is a system that pressurizes gas only, if refrigerant in its liquid state gets inside of the compressor, it can damage it severely. Compressors are also prone to overheating and electrical problems.
Another reason for compressor problems could be a motor winding failure. If you only hear the sound of the fan coming out of your AC, then your compressor may not be getting the power it needs because of open, shorted, or grounded winding.
This problem is NOT always with a compressor, but it is worth checking before replacing this very expensive part. A licensed HVAC professional will need to troubleshoot an electrical flow in your wires and terminals and give you the best possible solution to the problem:
Before I start going over some symptoms of a bad AC compressor, it is generally a good idea to check if your AC unit gets supplied with electricity. This is especially true if it does not turn ON at all.
The circuit breaker panel is usually located in the garage or basement but could also be in a closet or a hallway. It’s a metal box that generally looks like this:
All circuits should be labeled, so find the one with the “A/C” label on it:
The two most common reasons for the tripped circuit breaker are:
- You overloaded the circuit.
- You have a short somewhere (that could include a compressor).
Resetting it to the normal position (if it’s flipped), should solve a problem with starting your AC. If your AC unit is still refusing to work or the circuit breaker flips right back, call HVAC professional immediately to check for more complicated wiring problems.
Also, all AC systems are protected by fuses, and if they blow, your AC will not start:
Replacing a blown fuse should reconnect your AC to the electrical circuit, but if it blows again, you need to ask a professional to check it out. If anybody is interested, here are some nice, UL-listed fuses from Bussmann (paid link). Amazon store.
Now let’s go over the symptoms of a bad AC compressor in detail:
Symptom #1. Your AC compressor is not turning ON
Your AC turns on, but let’s take a closer look. If you can hear a fan running, but not sure if the compressor is working, take your thermostat all the way down.
At this point, your compressor should kick in and if it doesn’t, further electrical testing will be required to troubleshoot your compressor. If you don’t know what you are doing, it is NOT recommended to test wires yourself!
The following video will show how the compressor and its wiring is being checked for faults:
Symptom #2. Your AC is not blowing cold air
Another most common situation is when your AC is turned ON, but it is not cooling your home or office. Sometimes it is even blowing warm air instead of cold.
The first thing you should do in this situation is to look around for a leak. If a refrigerant leak is detected, call HVAC professional to take a look at where the leak is and fix it.
You could also be dealing with the low refrigerant situation and your HVAC professional could definitely help you out by refilling it. This could also mean that you are dealing with a bad compressor that needs replacement.
Symptom #3. The tripped circuit breaker does not reset
You cannot miss this possible sign of a failed compressor if the circuit breaker is being tripped over and over again! You can troubleshoot your AC circuit by disconnected all appliances from it and plugging in only your air conditioning.
If the circuit breaker trips again, then there is an electrical problem with your unit and it needs to be checked by a qualified HVAC professional. It could be anything from a wiring problem to a short circuit inside the compressor.
Here is how professionals troubleshoot a shorted compressor:
Symptom #4. You are experiencing a decreased airflow
This sign is very hard to detect since it is still cooling the air. It is an early warning sign that your compressor could be failing.
If your AC at some point starts getting annoying because you are not getting enough of the cold air, call your HVAC professional to check out if the compressor is failing.
Symptom #5. You notice different noises and vibration
Another reasonably simple thing to notice is different noises coming out of your AC unit. Abnormal noises could come up during startup and as soon as you hear them, shutting the whole thing down before further damage is done is generally a good idea.
A ticking sound could signify trouble with a relay, while a rattling noise generally means that something inside the compressor motor has come loose. Running your AC in this kind of state is not recommended and could be damaging.
If everything worked fine, but all of a sudden you start hearing unusual noises and even vibrations, then you should immediately call your HVAC professional to check it out.
Symptom #6. Your AC is overheating
Your AC could also be overheating. When was the last time you checked if there is enough space for air circulation around it (usually 3 feet)?
If your AC is overheating and is located outside, you may want to look for tree branches or excess amounts of leaves that could be blocking the air vents. There could also be some debris is inside the air conditioning unit itself and your HVAC professional should check it out.
An overheated compressor will get damaged rather quickly to the point where it needs to be replaced.
Symptom #7. Hot air is not being released
One of the signs of a failed compressor the hot air not releasing where it should be. If you are suspecting a compressor problem, one of the things you should check for is a proper release of hot air.
You can easily notice this if you stand beside the unit where the air has to be released and if it’s not HOT, you probably have a problem with your compressor.
Symptom #8. Refrigerant leaks around the HVAC system
Unless you are walking around your AC a lot, you may not notice this one right away. If your AC unit starts giving you trouble, one of the things to check for is refrigerant puddles.
If you spotted a refrigerant puddle somewhere near your AC, then you need to seek professional help ASAP! Refrigerant leaks can cause health issues as well as increase your energy bills.
If the refrigerant puddle is detected, soon enough you will not be getting any cold air, that’s why taking care of this situation ASAP is highly recommended!
Symptom #9. Your electricity bills got higher
If the compressor is having trouble doing its job, it could be putting an extra load on your energy circuit and be a cause of higher energy bills. Noticing that your AC is becoming more costly to operate while you are not using more than you normally would, is another sign of a failing AC compressor.
These high energy demands will be reflected on your energy bill and maybe it’s a good idea to replace your AC with a newer and more efficient version since fixing compressors is very expensive.
If your air conditioning system is failing you and you are looking to upgrade, Goodman (paid link) is one of the best A/C split systems out there. And here is a five-star Copeland compressor (paid link) if you need a replacement. Both items are sold on Amazon.
We hope that this article helps you with identifying possible compressor problems. Don’t forget that working with AC is NOT a DIY project!
** Very Important! Unless you are a licensed HVAC professional, opening your AC unit and “playing” with its wiring is NOT advised. A faulty compressor needs to be checked by professionals and possibly replaced.