People often ask me if a car AC service is a scam or can it actually benefit their automobile. Here's my short answer to this question.
A menu based car air-conditioning service isn't always a scam. With that said, some auto repair shops advertise it to lure in customers with air-conditioning problems the service won't resolve.
The way to separate the car AC service scam from a genuine maintenance item that can provide value is to evaluate what's included in the procedure.
Compare it to what's actually wrong with the vehicle. When what's included aligns with the complaint, cause and correction of the AC problem it's highly beneficial.
For this reason we'll have to break down this article into sections. First we'll talk about what they include in the most common air-conditioning services.
However, the services rendered can vary greatly between individual auto repair centers. For this reason you must remain vigilant in finding out exactly what they include.
After we discuss what the average air-conditioning service includes, we'll talk about the common situations where this maintenance service becomes exactly what the doctor ordered.
Finally, we'll talk about the full-blown car AC service scam where the only intention is to up sell you into additional car air conditioning repairs.
I want to make an important and opinionated statement before we move on. I think that most AC services performed on a home air-conditioning unit remain full-blown scams.
After replacing my central air-conditioning system, the company automatically showed up six months later to provide a free air-conditioning service.
The gentleman sprayed the outside condenser unit with my garden hose. He then connected his gauges. In the process the technician accidentally released a large amount of Freon into the atmosphere.
Then he said, "Everything’s fine and I'll see you in six months". First of all, I am quite capable of hosing down my condenser coil myself.
Secondly, if he releases refrigerant from the system every six months it won't be long before I actually have no air-conditioning.
However, you can't compare the car AC service scam with the ones used on the home air-conditioning unit. Although these air-conditioning systems operate on the same principles your automotive system is bouncing down the road for several hundred thousand miles.
This is something your home air-conditioning could never withstand. Therefore, automotive systems do require more maintenance and repair.
Unfortunately, only in a few specific situations will a menu item air-conditioning service solve automotive air-conditioning problems.
When private auto repair shops offer a car AC service they often talk about how it includes 1 pound or 16 ounces of Freon.
The services start around $60 and they're designed for cars and trucks that aren't cooling properly.
I like this service for older automobiles, because you actually get refrigerant installed. We'll hit on this point later in the benefits of a car AC service section below.
However, many of the chain auto repair centers have now decided to lower the price on these services to attract more customers.
These lower-priced maintenance services provide nothing more than a performance test.
Since this kind of air-conditioning maintenance doesn't include any Freon, they often push a price point of $29.95 or less.
You could buy your own manifold gauge kit for about the same price. Nevertheless, I still like this service in certain situations, because when they talk about an air conditioning performance test, they actually mean they are going to connect a set of manifold gauges to the automobile.
When they connect the manifold gauges they obtain high side and low side pressure readings. This is an extremely important piece of information.
With these numbers, you get a great idea of not only how much Freon remains in the system, but how well your air-conditioning compressor is operating.
With that said, both of these services offer more benefits to the auto repair center, then the car owner in many scenarios. And we'll uncover the reasons why in the car AC service scam section below.
The short answer is yes. In the $60 maintenance service mentioned above, where they install up to a pound of Freon, the service can actually provide a lot of value.
This is especially true on a 10-year-old automobile that still blows cool air and has never received any type of air conditioning repairs. This scenario covers millions of vehicles operating today.
In this situation Freon naturally escapes in small amounts over that long 10 year period. The pound of Freon installed and the diagnostic service to look for air conditioning refrigerant leaks can provide exactly what the doctor ordered for these older automobiles.
In the case of the $30 air-conditioning performance test this probably won't solve any problems. However, it can provide really good information to help you make decisions. Again, on older automobiles with well over 100,000 miles, air conditioning repairs become extremely expensive.
This is especially true if the problem falls within one of the three worst air-conditioning problems on cars. The $29.95 air-conditioning service can help you avoid spending $2,000 on air conditioning repairs on an automobile with a book value of $600.
The car AC service scam becomes a problem when the shop has no intentions of providing any value as described in the above section.
Some unscrupulous shops often run ads in the local paper for these services during the hot summer months.
Often the automobiles that they attract require expensive automotive air-conditioning services to restore the system to full operation.
When you go in for a $30 service and receive an estimate of $1500 worth of car air conditioning repairs it's time to stop and ask some questions.
The first thing I recommend is learning more about how these systems operate. Then I recommend researching vehicle specific problems with the air-conditioning system for your particular automobile. Often you find automobiles with technical service bulletins covering issues in specific areas.
As an example, some Dodge vehicles need the air conditioning condenser replaced because of a design flaw. Using this example, the standard menu item automotive air-conditioning service will not fix this car problem.
On some Chevrolet models they are having problems with the temperature door actuator motor. The symptoms of this problem include an air-conditioning system that doesn’t get cold enough.
To drivers, it might seem they just need a shot of Freon. However, the failure has nothing to do with the level of refrigerant charge. I do not recommend an automotive air-conditioning service on cars or trucks where the system is functioning properly.
Sometimes drivers who suffered with the pain and discomfort of an automobile with a broken air-conditioning system will sign up for one of the services to avoid future problems.
However, I think this kind of thinking remains flawed. If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. As I mentioned in the home central air service above, sometimes when technicians service equipment, they can actually create problems where none existed. I’m not saying that they had evil intentions; I’m just saying that human error is a common occurrence.
Unfortunately, during the hot summer months desperate auto repair shops can weaponize the car AC service and push consumers into repairs that far exceed the value of the automobile. For this reason consumers need to understand what’s included in the service and how it applies to the problem with their own vehicle.
Author bio : Mark Gittelman is a retired ASE certified master technician, Chevrolet Professional Service Council member and the founder of FixMyOldRide.com. Watch the video on the about Mark Gittelman page to see his credentials, awards and certifications for yourself. Mr Gittelman hand writes all of the articles on FixMyOldRide.com unless indicated otherwise.