Piston Slap: Condensing Honda's Hot Air? (Part II)

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. What other car parts are lousy because quality of technology hasn’t caught up with regulation?

Thanks Sajeev!

Sajeev answers:

I’m gonna try to distill this down to these discussion points.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. You better help me out on that one, Best and Brightest.
  6. 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]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry … but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • George10 George10 on Feb 20, 2016

    2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC‏ for sale Mileage: 30,116 Body Style: SUV Exterior Color: Polar White Interior Color: Black Stock #: 4193 Interested buyer should EMAIL : ( george.e11@hotmail.com )

  • PandaBear PandaBear on Feb 22, 2016

    Bypass the compressor clutch (pull the relay) and it won't kill your belt and leave you stranded. AC should have pressor sensor inside to turn the thing off if the charge is too low or too high, and there should have been an on off button. Just don't turn it on or use windshield defog and it shouldn't go on even without pulling the compressor clutch relay. Most Japanese cars use Denso compressor, if I remember right, of the same model number but different gasket / seal to control pressure and flow. Have you check rock auto or other aftermarket source for a Denso compressor and dryer? I though it should be around $200 for compressor and $20 for dryer on rock auto. Labor to charge and vacuum was $100 when I craigslist about 10 years ago, swapping parts may add another 1-2 hours, that'll probably make it about $600-800 ball park? $1300 is too much unless it is a weird defect that needs replacing everything in the system because you can't find what's wrong.