How Often Should a Car AC Compressor Cycle on and Off


When it gets hot outside, you turn on your air conditioner to lower the temperature inside your car. Basically, that’s what an AC compressor does. However, unlike in your car, an AC compressor is vital for modern electrical devices like refrigerators and air conditioners.

How Often Should a Car AC Compressor Cycle on and Off

An AC compressor–also known as a condenser or condensing unit–is a machine that converts processed mechanical energy into cold liquids or gases (condensation). It draws heat away from outdoor cooling coils and transfers them to refrigerant vapor, releasing its heat into the surrounding environment.

A compressor is driven by either an electric motor or engine within a device such as a refrigerator or air conditioning unit. In this article, I will discuss “how often a car AC compressor should cycle on and off.”

Qualities of a Good Car AC Compressor?

The AC compressor is the most important part of your car’s air conditioning system. It controls the cooling process, and compressors are really complex machines. A good quality AC compressor can run for years without any problem, but if it fails in the middle of summer, you will not enjoy that very much because all the other parts won’t function properly.

So, what makes AC compressors special? They need to be durable and reliable so that you have had a cool car for many years. They need to have some additional features like control valves, thermal protectors, pressure switches, etc., to improve how efficiently they do their job. That’s why when you go shopping for an AC compressor, you should know what kind of functions you want to have and what kind of features your car needs.

Here are the main qualities you should know about AC compressors:

  • How much power do they need?  How much air can they move through their cooling fins per minute (CFM)? A compressor with high CFM is better for a convertible or other cars that spend a lot of time driving on high-speed roads. A compressor of at least 4500 CFM is recommended for normal highway driving.  
  • Do I want to have options like delay start or different fan speeds? Some compressors will have adjustable settings depending on your preferences. For instance, if you don’t use the air conditioner during cold weather, it would be good to have an option to turn the compressor off.
  • Do I need a condenser coil protector? A good car AC compressor will have an integrated thermal protector to protect the refrigerant from overheating. It will also prevent you from destroying your coil and motor if you ever leave something on in the car while it’s running. This model is usually more expensive, but it’s recommended if you like to have a fully protected system.
Ac Compressor

How Often Should a Car AC Compressor Cycle On and Off?

Fan cycling on an AC system is a big topic among car owners and enthusiasts, but few know how to assess the issue properly. Most people – including mechanics – tend to focus on the symptoms of fan cycling rather than the root cause. Let’s discuss why you see your car air conditioning compressor cycle on and off, what causes it, and how you can avoid it in the future.

When your auto air conditioner turns on, the first thing that happens is your engine starts running. This draws the high-pressure refrigerant from the engine through an intake manifold into a surge tank (also known as an accumulator).

The surge tank controls pressures within components of the A/C system by “surging” excess refrigerant back into the compressor so it doesn’t overheat. Once the system reaches a certain pressure threshold, the air conditioning clutch engages, and the engine begins driving your car’s A/C compressor through an electric or hydraulic connection.

Many factors go into when this happens in your vehicle: ambient temperature, humidity level, cabin temperature setting (on manual systems), etc. However, one thing that has a bigger impact than all of them is whenever you run another load on your vehicle simultaneously – specifically if you have your headlights on.

This is because whenever your headlights are on, they send much more current through the same electrical wiring as the air conditioning clutch. This is because the constant load of the heavy-duty headlight bulb has a greater effect on voltage than any other single factor.

Now you know why your car compressor cycles on and off every time you turn on your headlights, but what can be done about it?  Well, first of all, if your trailer lights or high beams already cause cycling issues, switching to LEDs will significantly reduce that problem since LEDs draw so little power.

Next, consider upgrading both your alternator and battery cables to larger gauges to minimize voltage drops while there is extra current being drawn by additional accessories. This will also help if you’re having problems with voltage dropping under load. Finally, you may also want to have your alternator and charging system checked by a mechanic since that’s where the biggest current leakage will occur.

Lastly, remember that the easiest way to solve the problem is to turn off your headlights when running your air conditioner. This might not be possible for safety reasons while driving at night or on dark roads, but whenever parked, it should be no issue at all. There’s no need to waste money replacing parts if you don’t have to – do what comes naturally!

How to Clean a Car AC Compressor?

Step 1:

Find the belts and pulleys of your car’s AC compressor. You may need to take apart some parts to find it. Do not use compressed air on any part of the system because it is corrosive and may damage O-rings.

Find the Belts and Pulleys

There are also aftermarket special tools that can be used for cleaning the compressors, so do check them out if you have one available. In addition, avoid spraying water directly on the unit unless instructed by a professional to do so. Spray only at the intake grills instead, letting water flow through without immediately contacting other components inside.

Step 2:

Spray the entire AC compressor assembly with your special cleaner. Let it sit for a while, then scrub it using a brush to remove any accumulated dirt, sludge, or other impurities in the system. Then rinse everything thoroughly under fresh water and leave the parts to air dry before assembling them back in their places.

Step 3:

Inspect belts, pulleys, and other parts of your car’s air conditioning system. Check for signs of excessive wear or damage, which may be caused by faulty installation, loose belt tensioning, improper alignment, accident damage, etc.; disassemble part(s) to inspect further if necessary…

Step 4:

If you have found some evidence of serious problems with one or more components, seek the opinion of a professional mechanic as soon as possible. Use your diagnostic tools to learn more about the problem and check if there are any other components in need of service or replacement…

Seek the Opinion of a Professional

Step 5:

If you have no evidence that the system has been damaged and there is no sound coming from it, then you can now begin to reassemble the car’s AC compressor back in its place. For this kind of repair work, special wrenches and spanners with magnetic shafts are essential.

How Often Should I Clean My Car AC Compressor?

On average, a compressor should be cleaned every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. The compressor is cleaning itself (and not you) because it’s just like your refrigerator at home. When you go out of town, do you clean the fridge? No…you turn off the power. Unfortunately, if you leave food in there and don’t turn off the power, sometimes things rot before you get back. The same holds for vehicles with air conditioning systems.

The last thing any vehicle manufacturer wants is having someone driving around with their AC on a hot day and have something start rotting inside their system! So they built a self-cleaning cycle into all vehicle AC compressors so that they shut themselves off when it gets dirty enough or overheats.

Built a Self-cleaning Cycle

Once a compressor is allowed to cool down completely (which can take anywhere from two hours up to twenty-four, depending on how much work the AC had been doing), it will start right back up automatically and clean itself as long as you don’t turn the system off.

As long as you continue using your AC, the cycle will repeat until either all of the dirt has been removed or until there isn’t enough freon left in the system for it to work efficiently anymore. The only exception to this rule is if a vehicle has been sitting for an extended period of time.

In that case (especially in hot climates), moisture is not uncommon to build up inside the air conditioner system, which can prevent the compressor from starting back up. To fix this issue, it’s best to take the vehicle for a short drive, say five minutes or so. Then, when you get back home, wait at least thirty minutes before trying to use the AC again and see if that helps.


If you want to save money and take good care of your car’s AC compressor, cleaning it is one of the best ways to accomplish that goal. The actual maintenance work will go by much quicker than you might think once you get used to using the right tools for the job.

Of course, a lot more can be done when it comes to replacing or upgrading certain parts to prevent malfunctioning before it occurs. I hope this article has been beneficial for learning “how often should a car AC compressor cycle on and off”. Thank you, and have a nice day!

Jennifer Branett
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