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How Automotive AC Works

It’s funny how some of us take our car’s air conditioning for granted. When it’s hot outside, we just click the “AC” button and turn the fan setting to “MAX” – without ever giving it a second thought. The Evaporator, AC Condenser and everything else do their jobs, and everything’s OK. The only time we really think about how everything works is when it doesn’t work. We’ve compiled this graphic to show exactly what happens when your air conditioning system is up and running. It’s not quite magic – a lot of science is involved – but the dynamic interplay between all the components (AC Compressor, Condenser, Drier and other key players) is pretty cool (actually cold!) to consider.



To simplify the AC system, we’ve divided up the fluid flow into four distinct categories. A car’s AC system distributes refrigerant throughout the different components, which fluctuates between high & low pressure, and also in liquid & gas forms. Based off that fact alone, you probably figure the AC system is a busy, somewhat complicated system. But it’s not as complicated as you think. Let’s look at each component individually.


The AC Compressor is the leadoff hitter, the true catalyst of a car’s AC system.

The first “fluid transformation” occurs when the high pressure gas from the AC Compressor enters the Condenser.

The Receiver-Drier also acts as a system-wide filter.

We’re almost there; the Expansion Valve prepares the low-pressure liquid for its final step.

Finally, the Evaporator sends the cold air into the car cabin.

And that’s a wrap! From the important, initial stages of the AC Compressor the whole way to the Evaporator – see it’s actually a fairly simple process, once you know how everything works together.

Written by Dara Greaney

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