Common Causes of Compressor Failure in HVAC Equipment

Compressor failure can occur in any type of HVAC equipment that uses refrigerant, including air conditioners, heat pumps, and ductless air conditioning systems. Many times, the first consideration made is to change out the compressor. While this is often necessary, there can be other system factors that caused the compressor to fail. In this article, we will explore the issues that can cause compressor failure in an HVAC system.

While there are two main issues that can cause compressor failure – lubrication issues and slugging, there are a few other problems that can cause an air conditioner, heat pump, or ductless compressor failure as well. By checking to see if these concerns are at play, a technician may be able to avoid a similar compressor failure with the replacement compressor.


The Two Main Causes of Compressor Failure

• Lubrication Issues: Lack of lubrication in a compressor occurs when refrigerant does not boil in the systems evaporator, moves through the suction line, and then enters the compressor. The refrigerant thins the oil, causing it to lose its lubricious properties. From there, rods, bearings, and surfaces within the compressor wear down, and eventually seize.

Slugging: Slugging occurs when liquid, such as oil or refrigerant, is forced through the suction line and enters the compressor. As a compressor is not a pump, but rather moves vapor, the liquid entering the system can cause a host of problems with the compressor, including broken valves, rods, or head gaskets.


Other Causes of Compressor Failure

Contactor Issues: Symptoms of contactor problems are noises, such as humming and chattering, especially if the AC does not power on. If you notice any of these noises while servicing the AC unit, it’s likely that the contactor is failing.

• System Leaks: Refrigerant leaks in the system can be an issue, because eventually the refrigerant will run out and cause a strain on the compressor as it attempts to pump refrigerant through the system. It’s best to not simply add more refrigerant if it’s found to be low, but thoroughly search for leaks in the system.

Dirty Evaporators: Dirty evaporators can lead to refrigerant passing into the compressor as a liquid, which leads to slugging as described above. When this happens, you’ll likely see a breakdown of compressor components such as valves, rods, and head gaskets.

Dirty Filters: It seems like a simple DIY task, but very often a dirty filter is the guilty party when it comes to compressor failure. Dirty filters cause the equipment to have to work much harder, inevitably leading to compressor problems. Offering maintenance and helping customers learn how to change the filter on their own are ways you can help prevent this issue from occurring.

Dirty Condensers: According to the ACHR News, dirty condenser coils are one of the biggest problems with found with refrigeration and air conditioning systems. That’s because once the condenser gets dirty, it does not reject heat well. The system then has to work much harder to do the same job, leading to a dramatic reduction in efficiency, and eventual component breakdown – including the compressor.

Wrong Refrigerant: The wrong type of refrigerant can cause a lot of problems for compressors. First, most compressors are built to work with specific types of refrigerants, such as Freon or Puron. And because refrigerants are different weights, the wrong type of refrigerant being added to a system can cause the inner components of a compressor to break down.


How can compressor failure be avoided?

As you’ve seen above, compressor failure is often a “dirty” word; meaning, a dirty system can often lead to compressor failure. Fortunately, there are things technicians and homeowners alike can do to help keep their compressors – and their whole air conditioning systems – running effectively and efficiently. Learn more below about keeping your compressor healthy.

For the technician: As a technician, one of the best things you can do for your customers in general is to encourage them to get annual maintenance on their air conditioning equipment. As you know, part of preventive maintenance includes a thorough system cleaning with the appropriate chemicals and cleaners, lubrication with oils that have been specially designed for HVAC systems, and diagnostics to make sure the air conditioning system is working properly. These diagnostics can help uncover any potential refrigerant leaks, any coil or filter problems, and can keep small problems from becoming larger ones.

For the client: Help your clients understand the importance of annual maintenance. Explain to them how a dirty system can lead to failure of expensive components, such as compressors. And, provide them with helpful hints and DIY suggestions that they can do to help keep their air conditioning system safe, such as making sure dirty filters are cleaned or replaced, keeping any debris or overgrowth away from the outdoor AC unit, and keeping the air conditioning unit properly covered during the winter months, or those times when the system is not in use.

What if I need to replace a compressor?

It’s likely that at some point, you’ll need to replace a compressor for a client. If that need arises, you should know that you can find the replacement compressors you need at your local Carrier®/Bryant® Distribution Center. There, you’ll find a complete lineup of quality compressors, including brands like Carlyle, Copeland®, Goldstar®, and many, many more. And, we have the tools available to help you cross-reference the system you’re working on and the appropriate compressor for the job, so you’ll always have the right product when you need it.

No matter what OEM equipment you’re using we have the HVAC compressor you're looking for. Simply provide us with the manufacturer’s part number, or information like capacity, voltage, phase, refrigerant and type (reciprocating, scroll or rotary), and we will be able to easily find the replacement compressor you need. Plus, we have all the compressor system components you need to get the job done. You can find your local Carrier/Bryant Distribution Center by using our convenient distributor locator. We’ll have the compressor you need, as well as all the products that can help you prevent compressor failure in your clients’ equipment, too.