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Commercial Air Conditioning, Commercial HVAC

5 Symptoms of AC Compressor Failure

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Last Updated on February 11, 2019


symptoms of ac compressor failure

If your air conditioner is doing something unusual, you may be wondering if it’s a small problem you can tackle yourself, of if you need to call in the professionals. If you suspect that the problem may be a impending AC compressor failure, that’s a big concern.

As you may know, the compressor is the heart of your air conditioning system, responsible for pressurizing refrigerant so it can do its job of absorbing heat from the air in your space and releasing it outside. When it breaks down, it’s an expensive fix that might even require you to replace the entire system. So you’re right to be worried. When you suspect your AC compressor might be failing, always have the problem diagnosed by a qualified professional right away.

Here are 5 telltale symptoms of AC compressor failure. We’ll explain more about each one below.

  • The compressor doesn’t turn on at all
  • The system is blowing warm air
  • The system keeps tripping the circuit breaker
  • The outside unit shakes when it starts up
  • The outside condensing unit is making strange noises

Top 5 symptoms of AC compressor failure: what’s going on?

Here’s what’s happening and what it means when you experience the symptoms of AC compressor failure listed above.

1. Compressor doesn’t turn on

Here’s how it starts: you notice it’s too hot in your space and the AC is not achieving the set temperature. When you check out your indoor unit, the fan seems to be working fine. But then you check out the condensing unit. While you do hear the fan, and there’s power to the unit, the compressor does not appear to be running at all.

Your first course of action should be to turn down the thermostat to try to get the compressor to come on. If it doesn’t, it may have already failed due to any number of underlying problems. At this point, you don’t want to fool around with it; call in an HVAC expert to diagnose what’s happened.

This is a situation where you may end up facing a repair or replace decision. A failed compressor can be very expensive to fix. If your system is aging, it may not be worth investing the money in the repair. Read this informative guide to help you make your decision: Repair or Replace? A guide to making an informed choice when your HVAC system is down.

2. System blows warm air

If the condenser does appear to be running, but the system is blowing warm air, that’s also a symptom of AC compressor failure about to happen. A compressor in trouble is not able to pump refrigerant through the system, resulting in a lack of cooling power.

However, it’s important to note that this symptom can also be caused by a refrigerant leak. If the system has been gradually losing cooling power for some time, this could be the cause. As the system loses refrigerant charge, it causes strain on the compressor, so refrigerant leaks can cause your compressor to fail. Don’t ignore this problem! Learn more about refrigerant leaks: AC Troubleshooting: Refrigerant Leak.

Wither way, you should turn the system off and have it inspected immediately.

3. Circuit breaker tripping

Does your outside condensing unit keep losing power and tripping the circuit breaker? This is a symptom of AC compressor failure because your compressor may be overheating and drawing too much power, causing the circuit breaker to trip.

Here’s the important thing to know: don’t just keep resetting the circuit breaker and turning the system back on! Your circuit breaker is doing its job and protecting you from a potential fire hazard. Learn more: Why is my air conditioner tripping the circuit breaker?.

4. Outside unit vibrates when starting

If you notice your condensing unit shaking every time it turns on, the compressor is likely “hard starting” which means it’s having trouble turning on. That often happens just before it fails. Never ignore this symptom of AC compressor failure! Immediately turn the system off and call in an HVAC professional to inspect your compressor.

5. Noisy condenser

Does your outside air conditioning unit sound a lot louder than usual, or making strange noises you haven’t heard before? These symptoms of AC compressor failure can happen due to failing electrical components or even a fan motor that has become dislodged and is rattling around inside the condenser unit. However, you should have it fixed before strain on the system leads to compressor failure.

If you’re not a trained electrician or AC technician, you don’t want to be attempting to fix these issues yourself. However, it’s good to know that this might not be a very expensive fix.

The lesson: Don’t ignore symptoms of AC compressor failure

Especially when you’re talking about a commercial system, you and lots of other people are relying on your air conditioner. When it’s not working properly, that impacts your employees’ productivity and can even cause you to lose customers. While it may be tempting to put off dealing with symptoms of AC compressor failure (hoping the problem might just go away on its own) that’s unlikely to happen. And you’ll likely cause more damage and higher repair bills by waiting.

If you are hesitating because you don’t have a service provider you trust, now is the time to establish that relationship. A good way to start is with a preventative maintenance contract. With that, your system will be regularly inspected and any failing parts will be replaced. So you avoid problems like compressor failure, because the underlying causes will be fixed before they get to the point where they strain the compressor. In the process, your service provider becomes familiar with your equipment and your business which makes it easier to diagnose problems and recommend the right solutions for your needs. You also get someone who can help you proactively plan for equipment replacement so you can budget in advance.

If you’re in the NYC metro area, feel free to reach out to Arista at any time with your questions.

Should you repair or replace that broken HVAC equipment? Download the complete guide.