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Driving With a Faulty AC Compressor: Is It Safe for Your Car?

Automotive AC belt driven compressor.

A car's air conditioning system is important, particularily in hot climate.

Driving with a bad AC compressor can be uncomfortable due to lack of cold air, but could it cause other problems?

You can usually drive your car with a bad AC compressor; however, if you know that your AC compressor is bad, you should keep your AC turned off.

Driving with a bad AC compressor can strain the car's engine, leading to premature wear and tear.

Below we explain the possible outcomes of driving when your AC compressor is bad, the types of repairs you may face, and the time and cost it takes to get a new AC compressor or repair existing AC compressors.

Table Of Contents [show]

    Automotive AC belt driven compressor.
    Automotive AC belt driven compressor.

    Can you drive with a failed AC compressor?

    Driving with a failed AC compressor is usually ok, at least for a short time, long enough to get the vehicle into a repair shop.

    Depending on what the problem is, a failed AC compressor could put undue strain on the vehicle's engine.

    The vehicle's engine powers the AC compressor via a belt and pulley system. If the AC compressor's pulley doesn't spin as freely as it should, the engine will have to work harder than normal.

    Also, driving with a failed AC compressor risks damaging things like seals, leading to a more expensive repair in the long run.

    Can you drive with a seized AC compressor?

    The vehicle's engine powers the AC compressor with a belt and pulley system.

    If the compressor seizes and its pulley doesn't rotate, the belt on the pulley, driven by the engine, will most likely burn up and break due to the friction over the stuck pulley.

    A damaged AC compressor may damage seals and lines in the system, causing a refrigerant leak.

    When your AC compressor is seized, it is also experiencing bad mechanical issues, which is reason enough not to drive in this condition.

    A rebuilt AC compressor.
    A rebuilt AC compressor.

    Can you bypass a bad or seized AC compressor?

    If you have a bad or seized car AC compressor, and you don't need your AC or can't afford to get it fixed, you can probably bypass the compressor.

    Bypassing the compressor is quite simple if you understand how the engine drives the AC compressor.

    To bypass the AC compressor, you first need to isolate the serpentine belt that drives the AC compressor.

    In extremely rare cases, the only component the belt drives is the AC compressor, and you could cut it off or remove it.

    However, almost always, the serpentine belt is critical to your vehicle's operation and can't be removed.

    If the serpentine belt drives other components, such as the alternator, you may still be able to bypass the AC compressor by installing a shorter serpentine belt.

    The benefit of bypassing the AC compressor is you no longer need to worry about causing extra damage to the compressor, and you will probably also increase your fuel mileage!

    Why does a seized AC compressor occur?

    A seized AC compressor can be caused by the incorrect refrigerant, low-quality refrigerant, or improper lubrication.

    What happens if I don't replace my AC compressor in my car?

    If you don't replace the AC compressor in your car, you are needlessly burning extra fuel due to the extra drag it imposes on the car's engine.

    Along with burning extra fuel, you are putting excess wear and tear on the engine and damaging the compressor, causing increasingly expensive repairs.

    A mechanic recharging a car AC system.
    A mechanic recharging a car AC system.

    Is a malfunctioning AC compressor unhealthy?

    It's unwise to continue driving with a faulty AC compressor, as the lack of airflow in the vents can lead to moisture and bacteria buildup.

    Over time, this leads to mold and mildew growth, which you breathe in while riding in or driving your car.

    There are various adverse effects of mold and mildew exposure, including:

    • respiratory problems

    • skin irritation

    • eye irritation

    • more intense asthma reactions

    Further, due to all of the exhaust and other fumes you are exposed to when driving, it's important to have decent airflow at all times so that you don't continually breathe in toxins.

    Can a bad AC compressor affect other parts?

    In addition to affecting parts like the vehicle engine and the entire AC unit, a malfunctioning AC compressor can negatively affect fuel economy and increase vehicle emissions.

    How do you know if your AC needs a new compressor?

    You may be wondering about the signs of a faulty compressor.

    There are a few clear indicators of a bad AC compressor that you should look out for.

    These typically signal problems in the AC system, but a mechanic can tell you whether the exact issue stems from the compressor itself or perhaps from bad ac compressor clutch.

    • loud noise- if you hear a grinding noise or noticeable belt squeal coming from the AC, it could indicate a bad AC compressor since it's a mechanical sound

    • hot air- in the passenger compartment, warm or hot air flows out of the air conditioner vents instead of cold air since it can't properly cool down the refrigerant

    • no air coming out- a bad AC compressor may lead to less air coming from the AC vents because it can't pump as fast as it should

    • smells- a vehicle's AC compressor may be bad if odors are coming out of the AC vents (moldy or mildew smells indicate low airflow due to the compressor while burning smells indicate a bad serpentine belt or other compressor belts

    How long does it take a mechanic to fix a bad AC compressor?

    Depending on factors like customer wait times and mechanic availability, the time it takes to repair an AC compressor may vary.

    However, you can typically expect the job to take an average of 5 hours of mechanical labor for the full repair.

    Time Needed to Repair a Bad AC Compressor

    Mechanics will likely need anywhere between 4-6 hours to repair a malfunctioning compressor and associated parts like the AC compressor clutch, AC pulley, pulley bearing, and more.

    Generally, you can expect the repair to take longer than a total compressor replacement.

    However, the repair will move faster if your mechanic can pinpoint the exact AC parts that must be fixed along with the compressor.

    A recently installed AC compressor in a car.
    A recently installed AC compressor in a car.

    Time Needed to Replace a Bad AC Compressor

    If you're going to replace a compressor, the job will go much faster because it's an easy swap for mechanics.

    It should take around 1.5-2 hours to replace the part.

    Aside from this labor, you can expect the mechanic to dispose of the old refrigerant and change it with new fluid, which may add a few hours.

    How expensive is it to fix an AC compressor?

    In most cases, an AC compressor fix is a part replacement.

    This is because you're more likely to get your money's worth in the long-term and the present if you replace instead of repair.

    Replacement Cost

    This replacement generally costs just under $1,000 to complete.

    Note that this estimate is just an average and can vary depending on the type of car you have, your location, the demand for mechanics near you, and other factors.

    Breakdown of Cost of Parts and Labor

    You should also note that this replacement estimate for a compressor comprises two figures - the cost of parts (roughly $800) and labor (approximately $200).