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What is an Expansion Valve?
Sounds like something from a cool action movie, right?
The expansion valve is a critical part of your car’s air conditioning system. The air conditioning system in your car relies on refrigerant, and the expansion valve controls the amount of refrigerant that enters a key component, called the evaporator core. The expansion valve is also responsible for converting high-pressure liquid refrigerant, from the compressor, into low-pressure refrigerant.
Having a functional expansion valve is important, because if there’s either not enough refrigerant or too much refrigerant entering the evaporator core, the air conditioning will not work right. And the cabin of your car will get nothing but warm air.
It's also worth noting that not all cars have expansion valves. Some have a device called an orifice tube instead, which serves a similar purpose.
And, that’s pretty much it. The expansion valve can fail after a bit of use, at which point your car’s air conditioning system will be a fair bit compromised. So, hope you like warm weather.
Symptoms of a failing Expansion Valve
Air conditioning is warm
Air conditioning systems seem like the greatest invention in the world, until they stop working. Then they kind of suck, right?
This might happen if your expansion valve is acting up. When the expansion valve isn’t working, the flow of refrigerant will not be correctly controlled, and that can mess with the temperature of your car’s air conditioning system.
Depending on the severity of the expansion valve problem, you might not have warm air. You might just have cold air that isn’t as satisfactory as you would like. Kind of like when you order an ice-cold drink, and it comes out room temp.
Frost on the Expansion Valve
A busted expansion valve may limit the amount of refrigerant entering the system and cause frost to build-up on the valve. Freezing may be great for a Tahoe vacation in December, but it’s not so hot in your air conditioning system.
If you notice some frost on the expansion valve, then you've got a problem.
How urgent is an Expansion Valve Replacement?
The air conditioning system is extremely important when it comes to your comfort in your car, which I’m guessing you value. That said, it’s not important from a safety feature, unless you’re planning on driving through Death Valley.
So, you can keep driving your car, and you’ll be safe. But you may be super uncomfortable, and you’re probably going to cause further damage to the air conditioning system, which doesn’t seem like the greatest idea to me.