Caring for Your Car's Heating & Air Conditioning Systems

How to Care for Your Car’s Heating & Air Conditioning Systems

A vehicle’s heating and air conditioning systems are often taken for granted until they no longer work properly. Unfortunately, clogged filters, failed components, and a lack of regular maintenance can inhibit both their function and the comfort you feel in the cabin. Find out what makes these critical systems work efficiently and how you can ensure they remain in good working order. 

How to Care for Your Car's Heating & Air Conditioning Systems

Ignoring performance issues with your heating and air conditioning system can lead to expensive repairs down the line. Learn how to maintain your system with this article.

Why Maintaining Your Car’s Heating & Air Conditioning Systems is Important

You’re likely familiar with what heating and air conditioning  systems do when it comes to maintaining the temperature inside your vehicle. But did you know that they are also responsible for several other aspects of the vehicle’s operation? 

For starters, a car’s heating and cooling abilities directly affect its engine. As the motor creates combustion and friction in order to operate, it also creates intense heat. Most of the heat is dispersed through the exhaust. Still, some is managed by a continuous loop of antifreeze travelling between the radiator and the engine. A properly functioning heating system will also pull some of the warmed coolant into the heater core, creating the warm air that blows through the vents.  

Components that make up the air conditioning system are just as important during frigid weather as they are when it’s hot. For instance, the compressor contributes to ensuring your vehicle’s defrost mode works. It acts by condensing moisture from the atmosphere and turning it into water. When the defroster is engaged, strategically placed vent tubes pump dry air into the vehicle to combat frosty or foggy windows. 

The most essential reason to stay on top of your heating and air conditioning maintenance is safety. Driving in extreme temperatures without proper heating or cooling can put you at risk of developing heat- or cold-related illness. It’s also important to change your cabin air filter regularly. A new filter promotes better airflow while preventing pollen, bacteria, and dust from entering the vehicle.

How Does a Car Heater Work?

The heating system relies on multiple components and an intricate cycle to keep interior air warm. Perhaps the most critical factor is antifreeze, a complex fluid designed to avoid freezing at low temperatures but also withstand blazing heat. 

To ensure that the vehicle operates property, coolant acts as a heating or cooling component that travels through the engine, radiator, thermostat, water pump, and hoses. After assisting the motor, remaining antifreeze is diverted to the vehicle’s heater core, where it is used to regulate temperature inside the cabin. Parts like the blower motor, heater control valve, and HVAC control panel are used to adjust temperature and airflow. 

Improve Cabin Heating & Cooling with a New Air Filter

The engine’s air filter gets most of the attention when it comes to regular maintenance. But when it comes to efficient heating and cooling, the warrior in the glove box deserves some recognition. The cabin air filter captures pollutants and ensures sufficient airflow is directed into the vehicle. Like the filtration media in heating and central air units in your home, a clogged filter can restrict air and damage the blower motor by making it work overtime.

You can check your owner’s manual to find the manufacturer’s recommendation for replacement intervals, but a good rule is to install a new cabin air filter once a year or every 12,000–15,000 miles. 

How Does a Car’s Air Conditioner Work?

Rather than relying on antifreeze to cool a vehicle’s interior, an automotive air conditioner uses freon, a refrigerant. The freon begins its journey in the air compressor, where a high-pressure process causes it to liquefy. This liquid travels to the condenser, where it meets outside air, absorbing heat and removing excess moisture. 

The freon is then sent to an expansion valve or orifice tube, where it returns to its gaseous state. It then passes through a dryer or accumulator to remove additional moisture and impurities before hitting the evaporator core. The delicate fins on this component produce cool air before blowing it into the cabin. Freon follows this continuous loop whenever the air conditioner is engaged. 

If your vehicle is blowing warm air while the air conditioner is on, the first DIY step a car owner can take is to refill the refrigerant. You can buy an affordable can of freon and a reusable hose to recharge the system in most cases. It’s crucial, however, to use the correct type of freon based on what the manufacturer used at the factory. As EPA regulations become stricter, automakers are changing their configurations from R12 to R134A, with R1234yf being the recommendation for many newer models. 

How Often Should My Car’s Air Conditioner Be Recharged?

Most vehicles can benefit from an air conditioning system recharge every few years. However, if you feel like it isn’t cooling the air, you may have a leak or a failing component. Over time, seals and O-rings can shrink or degrade from long-term freon exposure or inactivity during the winter. When trying to determine if a lack of freon is the culprit, check for leaks underneath your vehicle or hire a professional to pressure test the system.

What Causes the Heater or Air Conditioner to Stop Working?

Since there are numerous components responsible for the function of your vehicle’s heating and cooling systems, problems can be challenging to diagnose.  

The heater can be compromised by a non-functioning thermostat, a lack of antifreeze from leaks, faulty blower fans, or a defective HVAC control module. If you find that you are low on antifreeze, it is vital to use the automaker’s recommended product. Most chemicals can be easily identified through colour. 

Air conditioning systems are also prone to leaks, failed parts, and blockages caused by unfiltered impurities. Repairs to these intricate components are always best left to professionals. To ensure proper operation (and perhaps protect your warranty), special equipment is required to evacuate the system of old freon, pollutants, and metal shavings. Installing a new component without properly eliminating old contaminants can lead to early failure and pricier repairs. 


Because a car’s heating and cooling systems are involved in both its primary operation and the comfort and safety of drivers and passengers, regular maintenance is essential. Don’t ignore air quality or temperature regulation issues. Failed components can cause severe damage  and rack up repair costs.

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