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Old 09-28-2006, 02:42 PM   #1
d4rkf1ber
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Question A/C Problems - '99 SL2

Need help troubleshooting A/C problems on a '99 SL2. I am NOT planning on doing the work myself, however I like to try to get a good handle on things before I ask others to do it for me, mainly for personal growth/knowledge and to not be suckered into unneeded things like many pro's try to do to you.

Ok, so the problem is that A/C is not getting or staying cool while car is not moving. Just started yesterday. While car is moving A/C feels fine.

Today I popped the hood and looked and listend. I noticed that the belt to the A/C compressor is tight and turning fine. I hear a noise though sounds like the fan over the radiator is making a noice, kinda sounds like plastic touching plastic when it is spinning, not bad just noticeable but obviously not right. Anyway, that was about it. So I just watched and listened for a while as the car ran in park under the carport.

Then I start noticing the compressor turning off which seems to coincide with the fan over the radiator turning off. The belt portion of the compressor always spins of course since its tied to the serpentine belt. I am unfamiliar with cars and how things work so forgive me here. As I am watching I noticed that there is a part of the compressor that spins but can also stop spinning, did not realize this until I saw it slow down and stop. Just thought it spun originally because its right there where the serpentine belt is.

Anyway, when this thing slows down and stops, the fan over the radiator does as well. Not sure how or why they are tied together but they are.

It happend rather frequently as I watched it. I know if a compressor is bad or going bad it will obviously affect the A/C cooling. But since a compressor is a tad expensive, I want to make sure nothing else could be affecting it or its performance. Also curious what controls when it is engaged or not? Since it works fine while driving there is a part of me that thinks the compressor might be ok, otherwise the A/C would not cool no matter what.

Who knows, seeking any advice or input before I head over to a pro.

Thanks!

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Old 09-28-2006, 02:56 PM   #2
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Default Re: A/C Problems - '99 SL2

You're freon is probably just a little low. So, you probably have a small leak somewhere. Most shops will probably put some UV dyed freon in there and tell you to come back when it stops cooling again and they'll be able to find the leak.

The fan and A/C are associated. The fan will come on whenever the A/C compressor is running to pull air through the A/C condenser. Thus providing you with cooler air.

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Old 09-28-2006, 03:25 PM   #3
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Default Re: A/C Problems - '99 SL2

Low freon would be great if thats all it is. Wonder why or how low freon seems to cause such an affect only while the car is not moving? Moving and it feels fine. Without knowing how any of this works I just would have guessed that low freon would cause the same lack of cooler air even while moving?

Also, any insight into what controls whether the compressor is on or not? Again just guessing here but if the compressor coming on means the cooling process begins, which in some way it does since without it being on means your not going to get cool air, I would guess it is controlled via a thermostat maybe? So if it is controlled via a thermostat, and the car is obviously not getting cold and air coming out the vents is not cold, then why would the compressor be going on and off so much? I would think it would not turn off until the thermostat had a reading in which indicated it was ok to turn off now?

Again I dont know anything about this stuff, only using common sense or at least my version of common sense to try to figure things out, and that is not always a good thing. :-)

Thanks for the response!

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Old 09-28-2006, 03:53 PM   #4
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Default Re: A/C Problems - '99 SL2

The compressor going off and on is being controlled by a pressure switch that is there to protect your compressor. Too little freon will hurt the compressor, so will too much. The pressure switch will stop the compressor from running when there is either too much pressure or not enough. I never said that all you need is freon. If your freon is low, it got out somehow and that leak needs to be fixed. However, many times a freon leak is very slow and can't easily be found. So, they put a UV dye in and when it leaks out, it'll leave a visual indication of where the leak is.

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Old 09-28-2006, 05:40 PM   #5
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Default Re: A/C Problems - '99 SL2

Well after further testing and driving it appears to be the fan over the radiator portion of the car. I sat in the driveway with the car running in drive, and the parking brake on. After a while not only was the A/C not staying cool but the engine temperature started going up. The engine temperature needle never goes to the mid way point, even on the hotest day here in south louisiana and this time it went past the middle point.

I immediately got out of the car and checked under the hood. The fan is turning, but that noise I mentioned earlier is worst and the fan is wobbly and does not seem to be moving as it really should.

I know enough to know that cars run cooler while actually moving due to the air flow then when they sit still and then you depend on the fan to do the work. So it makes sense from an engine perspective that things were cooler while driving and not so when stuck in traffic, however I guess I am not getting the association between that fan and the A/C despite the obvious fact they are tied together.

Guess I am going see how much it costs to replace that fan, it kinda looks do able on my own, but getting access to a couple of things does not look easy at all.

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Old 09-28-2006, 07:13 PM   #6
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Default Re: A/C Problems - '99 SL2

The a/c will extract heat from the interior of the car and send it to the condenser coil, in front of the radiator, adding to the heat from the radiator. The radiator fan must be on to either pull air through both condenser and radiator coils or blow through them both to keep a constant airflow. Normally when the a/c is on the radiator fan stays on regardless of whether you adjust for cold, medium, or hot air. The dual heat loads coming from the a/c and radiator leaves the fan on. When the a/c is off there is only the radiator to cool off and then only when water temperatures are at, say 200 degrees F., the fan turns on to cool the radiator until a lower temperature is reached whereupon the fan is switched off automatically. In this situation the fan is controlled by the ECM whose input is the engine coolant temperature sensor. The automatic fan control circuit.

The a/c running creates an extra heat load where the ECM bypasses the normal automatic radiator cooling circuit and leaves the fan on. There isn't any thermostatic control for the a/c to turn off for temperature control as you may have suspected but something else is turning off the a/c. That something else was pointed out in the previous post related to a possible refrigerant leak that created an abnormal condition-the cycling of the compressor running and then not running that you observed under the hood. Normal air conditioning will have the compressor running constantly. For a person that doesn't know much about air conditioning you certainly are observant enough to carefully describe your situation clearly. What appears to be the a/c running one moment and then not running is due to the possible lower pressure of the refrigerant that a pressure switch detects as too low to allow the a/c to continue thereby turning off the a/c and turning it back on as if there were a thermostat controlling the a/c. Not so as this isn't a normal situation but you were concerned enough to notice a less than normal cooling of the a/c system to look under the hood. You just happened upon the beginnings of a failing a/c system most would not have noticed until much later when a total absence of cooling has taken place. As an aside, some vehicles do/did have a thermostatic temperature control that indeed turns off the compressor just as you described but for one reason or another this fell out of favor. I believe our Saturns don't have this feature in favor of leaving the compressor running full time while improvements in the design of modern compressors requires less power to run continuously. To this end the blend door (in the center dash console) and the heater coil through either a lever or electronic temperature control adjusts for the amount of cold/hot air or anything in-between. The electronic temperature control is what I have in my L300 and called Auto-Temperature Control when I leave it on or revert to manual mode to leave the a/c off. Leaving it on only controls the blend door to mix the hot air from the heater coil and the cold air from the evaporator coil. It won't turn off the a/c, as in turning off the compressor.

Replacing the fan may help but that is a separate issue since you state that the fan is making a rubbing sound and doesn't appear to run correctly. Most everyone here will tell you that since the fan runs when commanded to without the a/c on and runs the instant you switch on the a/c the fan is working correctly. The replacement may be warranted due to the age of your car. If after you have the fan replaced and you still have an a/c problem take the car to a known good a/c shop for diagnosis. And for more info go to http://ackits.com to learn about car a/c. You can also read A/C Basics in the miscellaneous tech section.

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Old 09-28-2006, 10:34 PM   #7
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Default Re: A/C Problems - '99 SL2

Here is the latest, along with my new knowledge and lessons learned.

So I could not find a place to do the freon today, and I do want to get it done ASAP. However, the radiator fan really bothered me after seeing the engine heat up so much.

Being the mechanical newbie that I am as well as the computer geek, I did a few things. First this forum, read and read the fan issue. People seemed to think it is a simple task to replace so I decided to go to Autozone and do this myself.

Bought the fan motor and a Haynes book on the Saturn S series. Read the section on replacing this thing and well hit the first stumbling block. It said there were two bolts holding the assembly to the radiator. I found the one in the picture on the drivers side but probably spent nearly 45 minutes trying to reach my hand into every place I could to find this second one the book said was there.

Couldn't find it so I was getting aggravated. Shrugged it off and went to walmart to pick up a tool set, have no tools at all, told you I was a newbie! Picked up some radiator fluid while I was there because I happend to notice it was a little low, just a smidgen honestly but since i was dealing with an engine over heating problem wasn't going to chance anything.

So I get home and look for the second bolt again, still can't find it. Came back to the forum and searched and read some more and sure enough I find a post where someone tells someone else how easy it is and there is only one bolt so that was all I needed to know. :-)

Went back out there and followed the directions in the manual except for when I get to the part to remove the one bolt. The manual makes it sound SOOOOOO easy. And you look at the picture and sure enough looks very easy. However there is no way in hell to get to the bolt. I look at the picture some more and notice how nice they have it, they happen to have removed the big old hose sitting in the way of getting to the bolt, but they dont' mention anything about removing this hose.

I look it over again and again, notice it is attached to the radiator and start to squeeze it and it just felt like a hose with nothing in it. I read the part in the manual about replacing the radiator and disconnecting the hose, not so much for directions on how to but I was just not sure if it was safe to do. I decide to go ahead and disconnect it and move it up a little out the way. Well hello radiator fluid! Apparently you can't tell there is a liquid in a hose by squeezing it. :-(

So I lost some fluid but decide to move on, happy I bought that radiator fluid 50/50 mix that says it is safe for all cars and fluid type. What do I know.

Anyway, I can now get to the bolt! Yeah got it off and then had to wrestle a good 30+ mins with trying to get that damn housing out of there. Stupid manual says "lift up on the passenger side first and blah blah slides right out" my butt!

Anyway, got it out finally. The rest was easy. Replaced the motor, got it all back together with no problems. Added the radiator fluid back to the cold fill line. Took a deep breathe and started her up.

Left her in drive with the parking brake on for some time, the temp gauge never went past the 1/4 mark and the AC stayed nice and cool the whole time! Whoo hoooo

Went go drive around just to test and sure enough stayed nice and cool no matter what, both the engine and the AC.

Now I am not discounting the information given to me about the freon as I said, I do still want to do that and will ASAP. But this fan issue seemed to be a major part of the problem and also part of another it seems. So I am thankful I got that resolved for now.

Appreciate this forum and the help provided, it has been a huge learning experience and I have only just discovered it about 5-6 hours ago I guess.

Thanks again!

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Old 09-29-2006, 05:21 AM   #8
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Default Re: A/C Problems - '99 SL2

Nice fix! You can forget about a low refrigerant symptom for now as long as the fan was the original culprit that gave indications of a failing a/c system. Seems to me, from what transpired, that since you're cooling adequately at idle and not losing cooling at stops as before the opposite a/c symptom occurred. When the fan doesn't provide airflow at idle when the a/c is on, the outside temperatures are hot and humid, the refrigerant pressures rises too high and the same pressure switch detects this as overloading the compressor and turns it off. It fits the cycling scenario you described especially when you state that its still hot out enough to run a/c where you are. The a/c works at highway speed as you've noticed before because there's forced airflow through both condenser and radiator coils negating the need for the fan. You've managed to lick two problems by simply replacing the fan. Hope you stay cool the rest of the season.

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