I just got the sad news that my air-conditioning condenser...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I just got the sad news that my air-conditioning condenser is gone, and it's going to cost me $900 to replace. When I told my husband, he said that I should have known that car air conditioners have to be run at least once a month throughout the year to keep the seals in good shape. Well, I DIDN'T know that! I did an informal poll at work, and no one else knew it, either. Is it true? -- Jane

TOM: Well, it's sort of like what the Jewish grandmother says about chicken soup: "It couldn't hurt."

RAY: But it wouldn't have helped you, Jane. The reason you run the AC every so often in the off-season is so the moving parts of the compressor don't seize and so the seals stay soft and pliant.

TOM: But your compressor didn't fail, Jane. Your condenser did. And there's nothing in the condenser that moves. The condenser is located in front of the radiator, and it simply cools and condenses the AC's refrigerant. My guess is that some sort of roadway debris hit it and knocked a hole in it, or it just rotted out. And running the AC in the winter would have done nothing to prevent that.

RAY: Many cars automatically turn on the AC when you use the front-window defroster. And in those cars, you obviously never have to think about it, because you'll inevitably use the AC all year round. But some cars don't have that feature. And on those cars, it can't hurt to turn on the AC once a month or so during the winter.

TOM: And don't worry about freezing. You can turn the heat up full blast with the AC on. That doesn't cause any problems at all. And it'll keep you from suffering from "heiniethermia."

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