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An AC compressor is a necessary component in your car’s air conditioning system. Air conditioning being the “AC” in “AC compressor", if you didn't already figure that out. The AC compressor serves two main purposes. First, it pumps the refrigerant through the air conditioning system. And second, it creates pressure for the refrigerant. Both of these things are crucial when it comes to creating cold air, which I’m guessing is something you would like your car’s air conditioning system to be able to do. The bulk of AC compressors get their power from the drive belt or belts. Depending on the type of car you have, the AC compressor may be controlled by an AC compressor clutch, which is engaged when you use the climate control buttons, or it may be of the variable displacement variety, which uses a control valve. Some cars even have their AC compressor running at all times, just at varying levels. It’s fairly common for elements in your car’s air conditioning system to die with wear and tear. The AC compressor is especially vulnerable, due to the fact that a leak in the refrigerant will result in low levels of lubricant for the AC compressor. This is the primary cause of failure.
In theory, climate controls are simple. You ask for cold air, you get cold air. You ask for hot air, you get hot air. Things get complicated when you ask for cold air and get hot air. But that’s exactly what might happen if your AC compressor is busted. No, you're not going crazy. When the AC compressor’s life is over, your air conditioning system won’t have a way of cooling down the air that it’s sending into your cabin. Then you’ll get warm air, which isn’t so great on a sunny summer day.
Your car should generally make two noises: The sound of the engine, and whatever you're blasting through the stereo. That's about it. If it makes more noises, you might have some issues on your hands. If the AC compressor is broken, you may hear a rattling noise, due to the compressor being loose, and...well...rattling around. Makes sense yeah? So, when you hear a noise, get it looked at. And when that noise is rattling, it may be the compressor.
Air conditioning is a luxury. It’s far from an important safety feature on your car. So, you’re completely safe to drive around, even with a bum AC compressor.
You might be miserable. And you might do further damage to the air conditioning system, which will cost you extra money when you do get around to fixing the compressor. But at least you’ll be safe.
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