How to troubleshoot your A/C Electrical system

Tech Tips from Red Dot

On any vehicle, and virtually any system, electrical problems are among the hardest to troubleshoot. If you suspect an electrical problem with the A/C system, here’s a two-stage inspection routine that virtually anyone can do with no special tools or skills:

1. Inspect Electrical Connections

As you perform a visual inspection under the hood (cab) and/or at the rooftop condenser, take a moment to check all electrical connections both visually and by feel. Make sure all leads and wires are properly supported and securely connected, and that there’s no corrosion or grime on the leads or connectors.

2. Check Electrical Current Flow and Device Functions

Perform the following steps to check current flow and electrical device functions:

  • Turn on the ignition. 
  • Turn on the A/C system. This will power the thermostat and clutch. If it does not come on, use the A/C mode switch to check the leads to the switch. You should hear a “click” from the thermostat and hear the clutch drive plate “snap” against the clutch pulley. 
  • Check fuses. If all the connections are clean and tight and there’s still a failure, check the fuses in-cab as well as in-line.
  • Check A/C clutch engagement. Since you can’t see and may not hear the clutch engage, get out and look at the clutch. If it’s engaged, you will see that the drive plate is against the pulley and not slightly spaced from it. If you aren’t sure the clutch is engaged, look for the lead wire connector near the clutch. Break and close that connection. The clutch will disengage and engage again.
  • Test blower speed operation. Some systems have a common switch that turns on the air conditioner and powers the blower motor. Test blower speed operation by adjusting this or the separate blower control switch. Feeling the air flow from the ducts or note blower sound (speed) changes.
  • Inspect roof-mounted condensers. Don’t forget to inspect roof-mounted condensers and A/C units for dirt and debris. Be sure the condenser fan(s) are working properly and all parts and electrical connections are securely fastened. The roof-mounted condenser fans may come on when the system is turned on. Like the thermostat and most clutches, the normal on-off cycling action can not be observed until the engine is running with the A/C system on.

Once your visual inspection is complete, talk to a qualified A/C technician about what you found. Your troubleshooting efforts will be rewarded with a speedier repair and perhaps a lower repair bill.