Piston Slap: Condensing Honda's Hot Air? (Part II)
TTAC Regular David Holzman writes:
My here-to-fore bombproof 2008 Honda Civic (stick) with 84,000 miles just suffered an air conditioning failure. I’d planned to drive it until spring before getting the AC repaired — I drove my ’99 Accord for almost four years after the AC quit — but a clattering noise led me to contact my friend who owns a garage for advice. He told me that unlike my old 1999 Accord, the Civic and most other cars these days run the AC off of a serpentine belt that also powers the alternator and water pump (if any of the above info is wrong, it’s my fault, not Marc’s). In other words, I could get stranded, quickly. So, I was forced to get a new compressor to the tune of $1,300 due — in large part, I understand — to environmental regs and lousy refrigerant that meets such regs.
Among other things, the current refrigerant doesn’t interact well with lubrication, according to the guy where I took my Civic, thus slowly starving the bearings. That presumably led to my AC’s demise at (relatively) low mileage. Several questions:
- Is there anything a person can do to try to prolong the life of these crummy compressor-refrigerant combinations? How much additional life can we contemplate? And did I reduce the life of the AC — which I only use June, July, and August, and often not that much — by turning it on and off several times in a typical 10 mile drive?
- Are there are contemporary cars which keep the AC functionally separate from the other belt components so that one could keep driving after the AC goes?
- Are there AC systems in contemporary cars that are distinctly more durable and cheaper to replace? (In my case: $800 parts, $500 labor.) The guy at the shop I took the thing to gave me a long laundry list of cars that go through compressors quickly, including some of the more reliable makes.
- Is there anything better on the horizon? If I still have the car four years from now, I’d love to have something more reliable installed — before the new one goes bad on me.
- What other car parts are lousy because quality of technology hasn’t caught up with regulation?
I’m gonna try to distill this down to these discussion points.
- I doubt this question is relevant to most vehicles, as we’ve discussed before that Civics like yours have pretty crummy A/C systems and that’s not par for the course.
- As a proper Lincoln-Mercury Fanboi, I thought every car had a serpentine belt shortly after the Ford 5.0-liter V8 transitioned to sequential fuel injection. Having this technology for decades in a city that’s hard on A/C compressors means you need not fear being stranded from a bad compressor. (Especially if the A/C compressor clutch didn’t fail.) This is very much a non-issue, but do buy a spare belt and keep it with the spare tire!
- Finding data on which cars have more durable A/C systems is tough, as I doubt everything from Consumer Reports’ Harvey Balls to analyses that neglect to include improved parts with new part numbers solve a consumer’s concern. Though I was slammed for the latter previously, I believe in the phrase “past performance does not guarantee future results.” Nothing in life is guaranteed.
- Aside from smaller windshields (cab backward design), auto-tinting windows, or a new magic refrigerant coming to market, I doubt our HVAC systems can get any better. It’s unfortunate that your Civic is cursed with a mediocre system, but I reckon most of the B&B is fine with modern motoring’s climate control.
- You better help me out on that one, Best and Brightest.
- One thing you said raised a red flag: you paid how much to get a new compressor installed? Honda sells its parts for about $650 (full retail?). Your $800 parts/$500 labor cost stings a bit.
[Image: American Honda]
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