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Should I Replace the Compressor or the Whole Unit?

While the average air conditioner has a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, your compressor can have other ideas. Since your compressor is supposed to last the lifetime of your unit, when it calls it quits — it's a big bummer. AC compressor replacement can be costly. So depending on the age and condition of your unit, you could save more money and enjoy a more comfortable home if you replace your AC unit entirely.

Factors to Consider

Air conditioners work best when they’re reaching their full potential. If your unit is having trouble just going through the motions, it may be time to consider whether you should fix the problem or replace the whole unit.

First, you need to know whether the compressor failure was mechanical or electrical. An electrical failure, or burnout as it is called, is more serious. A burnout failure is when there is an electrical short of the compressor motor windings. This event creates acid and carbon within the refrigerant system. It is very difficult and costly to correct. The compressor burnout cleanup procedure can easily add $2,500 to the cost of replacing the compressor. System replacement is the best choice if a compressor burnout has occurred.

A mechanical failure, on the other hand, means that the internal parts of the compressor no longer allow it to pump refrigerant. The compressor replacement, in this case, will not require extensive work.

Time is of the Essence

As your system ages, parts tend to break down, work at slower speeds, and operate at diminished capacity. If your AC unit is older than 10 years, it’s likely you’ll experience problems with other parts as time goes on, so this is a good point to consider a full replacement. After all, compressor installation and replacement is costly and may not buy you much more time.

Manufacturer Warranty

The average manufacturer warranty on your AC compressor is 10 years. That means if your compressor is under 10 years old, the cost of labor, refrigerant, and miscellaneous materials are the only fees you’ll likely have to pay to replace it. If your compressor is still under warranty, consider replacement. Otherwise, if a compressor is no longer under warranty, the cost for the compressor, labor, refrigerant, drier, and miscellaneous materials will cost $3,000-$4,000.

System Efficiency

Systems count on every part doing its job perfectly: when some parts move quickly while others lag, it can lead to high utility bills, inability to cool the home, increased humidity, and noise levels. While your shiny new compressor might be working at full speed, other parts of your system could run at a slower pace, leading to malfunctions and less efficiency.

Final Take

A compressor replacement isn’t always an obvious choice. Since the cost can be over 50% of the price to replace your whole system, there’s more to consider before moving forward. Take a close look at your AC, consider your warranties, and make a call based on your best judgment.

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