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I just had the A/C in my car die on me again; air coming through the vents with the A/C is just as warm with it turned on as off. However, my fridge/freezer is something I've had for over 5 years and it just keeps trooping on, cooling the food fine. I've known freezers to last fine for 20+ years.

I presume that both the car A/C and fridges/freezers operate on the same principle of refrigeration, and yet cars seem to need "re-gassing" every few years or the A/C will stop working. Why is this? Why can't they make car A/C as reliable as your fridge or freezer's refrigeration?

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up vote 22 down vote accepted

They are not even close in comparison.

Your refrigerator is a small sealed unit that averages 488 BTU, the compressor speed is controlled to operate efficiently as possible, and is designed to operate in a controlled environment.

According to electricity expert Michael Bluejay, the average refrigerator uses 488 BTUs per hour in normal use.

Read more

Your car Air Conditioning is about 5 Tons (60,000 BTU) at highway speeds. Yes sixty-THOUSAND BTU, not a typo. The compressor has to operate at a variety of speeds, from idle to redline, and a wildly wide range of thermal load, and temperature. The entire system has to put up with vibration and movement, and is assembled with lines that bolt or latch together which give many more points for failure.

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Sounds about like what I said ... but you said it so much better, so I +1'd yah. :D – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jul 17 '14 at 19:33
Started on that when I saw the question and then 18 ADD leaps later I came back to finish it lol. Seen yours after I posted. – Move More Comments Link To Top Jul 17 '14 at 19:38
You're first line could also hint at another, broader comparison. The primary purpose of a refrigerator is to keep things cool to help preserve them. The primary purpose of a vehicle is transportation, which may or may not include the comfort of potential passengers as a secondary concern. Hence, the design hurdles necessary for an AC unit in a car. – Ellesedil Jul 17 '14 at 19:49
@MarcStober to some extent yes, with a constant and predictable power input the compressor can be designed to turn at the exact RPM required for maximum efficiency – Move More Comments Link To Top Jul 18 '14 at 4:52
@jnovacho I think "tons" here is a measurement of cooling power that is not really related to weight, according to this article it has something to do with the power needed to make a ton of ice:… – Marc Stober Jul 18 '14 at 12:12

It has to do with the type of compressor which is used. The system in a refrigerator/freezer has a completely closed unit, where the compressor is housed inside of the gas. Because of this, all the lines associated with it can be soldered shut with hard lines, etc. Because of this, a house refer/freezer will not cool as quickly, either. They work very well, but you also have insulation and a lot smaller volume to cool.

A car's compressor is housed outside and the refrigerant pumps through it, with lines which are made of rubber, and seals which deteriorate over time. As long as the seals and hoses remain in good stead, the car's A/C usually will continue running without issue. Lot's of times it's lack of use which causes A/C equipment to go bad. Vehicle A/C units cool a relatively large volume of air (as well as everything in it -- such as seats, dash, glass, etc.) in a very short time.

We expect much more out of a car's A/C than we do out of a refrigerator. They don't stand up as well because it is made to work and work fast, which has the effect of wearing out faster. If you don't want the car to cool as fast, I'm sure they can make one which will last longer.

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As a quick (and probably over-simplified) summary: a refrigerator has one moving part. A car AC has far more. – Mark Jul 8 at 1:51

Air conditioning cooling is calculated on the volume of air that needs cooling-A car interior is roughly about the size of an apartment bathroom . Most cars are about 1ton (12000Btu). SUV can range upwards of 20000 to 40000 Btu (1.5-3.0 ton). If you were have a 5 ton unit in your vehicle as one person claimed..passengers would have frostbite or be extremely cold as they scraped the frost of the inside of the vehicle. A 5 ton compressor would be used in heat pump applications where the area to be cooled is the size of a 2 story house. Automotive compressors don't run continuously like they did in the old days. As a matter of fact in cars they cycle on and off depending on the system pressure. They even cycle on/off even in the winter to keep the system pressurized, lubricated and sealed.In the old days compressors wouldn't be operated in winter and a result the refrigerant would pool at the lowest point in the system the condenser coils, the seals would dry out and admit water vapor into system. As water vapor entered the system it would react with the refrigerant turning it acidic destroying the system as a result.

The basic differences between refrigerators and air conditioning is duty cycle, type of compressors used, as well as refrigerant used.

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I'm not entirely sure I understand your question. The A/C on my 1997 Golf has just failed and needs re-gassing. This will be the first time it's needed re-gassing in the life of the vehicle; 19 years old in two months.

Putting aside personal experience. Consider strapping a fridge to the bonnet of your car. Drive it for say 60,000 miles (that's around 5 years ish?), subject it to speed bumps, cobbled streets, cornering forces, braking and the general vibration of the car, not to mention the temperature differences it will experience being outside during summer and winter. Now check the operation of that fridge. I am willing to bet it will need expert attention.

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