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A/C Compressor and A/C Condenser: The Primary Differences

ac compressor_ac condenser
It’s hot outside. You get in the car and start the engine. It’s too hot to put the windows down – it’s definitely an air conditioner-type day. You press the A/C button and, within seconds, cold air is blowing throughout your car. Not even a minute later, your entire car cabin is cool & comfortable.

Kind of like magic, huh? Not really. Your car’s air conditioning system runs on a few heat transfer principles, the perfect amount of refrigerant and some good old fashioned science. Air conditioning is available in almost every new car nowadays, and it’s hard to believe that it used to be a luxury. If you purchased a car back in the 1980s, A/C wasn’t a standard feature, especially on fuel-efficient compact cars. If you wanted to cool off back then, you put the windows down (most likely with a handle; power windows were also uncommon) and hit the highway, hoping to do at least 55 MPH. And if you happened to be stuck in traffic…well, you prepared for the oncoming sweltering sweat session. Ahh, the good ol’ days (of stick-to-your-back shirts, armpit stains & other joyful relics from yesteryear).

Even though air conditioning is in practically every car on the road, it’s still misunderstood. Most people aren’t aware of their A/C system’s basic components and operation. And air conditioning is one of those car functions taken for granted, right up to the minute it doesn’t work. That said, this blog will focus on the two main components of an auto air conditioning system: the compressor and condenser. We’ll look at each of their roles in putting cold air into your car, and also examine the differences between each.


First, a brief primer on what your typical A/C system does:


1.Refrigerant is compressed, which increases the refrigerant temperature.

2.Refrigerant travels through the condenser, where the cooling process begins. This is a key step in the process. This is when the gas refrigerant is transformed into liquid refrigerant.

3.Refrigerant is transferred to receiver for filtering. Dirt, dust and other pollutants are removed from refrigerant.

4.After receiver, refrigerant goes to expansion valve, diminishing both temperature and pressure.

5.Finally, the evaporator takes processed refrigerant to cool, dehumidified state, which is ready for your car’s interior.

6.Blower system distributes refrigerant to cool off your car.

AC Compressor

AC Compressor

Steps 1 & 2 get the whole process going. Perhaps the two most important parts of your car’s A/C system, the compressor and condenser are critical for initial refrigerant processing. Without those two parts, your car’s air conditioning system would never pump out cold, dry air.

The main difference between the compressor and condenser is indicated by their names, respectively. In a nutshell, the compressor compresses and the condenser condenses. They’re processing the exact same thing: the A/C refrigerant. But their roles are entirely unique.

The compressor “squeezes” the gas. Essentially, the refrigerant is pressed flat in order to prepare for step #2. Consider the A/C compressor as the ultimate preparer. It gets the refrigerant ready for the multi-step process of ultimately making your car cool. Keep in mind, the refrigerant is a gas as it travels through the compressor – still a gas, yet slightly altered in order to be made into liquid vapor. That’s where the condenser comes into play.

Think of the condenser as a true transformer. It actually changes the gas refrigerant into a liquid, which is used throughout the A/C system to eventually produce cold air. The condenser is responsible for taking the pressurized gas from the compressor and changing it into a liquid vapor. It’s this same vapor that, once it goes through all the required filtering and cooling processes, is used as your automobile’s air conditioning.

AC Condenser

AC Condenser

While the compressor and condenser are separate components with different jobs to do, they work in unison to help your car’s A/C system produce cold air. Because they’re located next to each other and are the initial components of your air conditioning system, this “dynamic duo” is sometimes regarded as the same exact part! Interestingly enough, many people think the compressor does the condenser’s job, and vice versa. This is a common misconception that only adds to the mystery that often surrounds A/C systems. If you start thinking of air conditioning as an efficient method to transform (and transfer) gas refrigerant into a more usable form (cool liquid vapor), it makes more sense. The process seems complicated at first, but once you break each step out and see how they relate to each other (especially the condenser and compressor), it’s easy to comprehend an A/C system. And with better knowledge at your disposal, you’re more likely to diagnose an air conditioning problem from the outset. That’s extremely helpful – and a great time saver, too!

Now that you’re aware of how compressors and condensers vary, maybe you’d like to take on an A/C project. Taking your car into the shop for air conditioning repairs can be expensive. If one O-ring or seal goes bad on your compressor, it’s a pricy process to figure out what’s wrong. And once the problem is diagnosed, labor costs can skyrocket. One smart solution: get your compressor or condenser from BuyAutoParts.com. With the best selection of A/C parts online (or anywhere else), you’ll have the necessary tools to do the job yourself.

Save money and enjoy a personal sense of accomplishment with BuyAutoParts.com. We carry high-demand, high-end condensers and compressors, all built to OEM specifications yet affordably priced for excellent value. At BAP, we realize you’re ready to invest in yourself. Our customers provide the can-do attitude and skills – we provide the best auto parts available, backed by the best customer service in the business.

To speak with a BuyAutoParts.com specialist about A/C parts, please call (888) 907-7225. We can help you select and order a condenser, compressor, evaporator coil or other essential air conditioning component. When it comes to quality A/C accessories, we are proud to be your preferred project partner.

Written by Dara Greaney

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