August 10

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3L Diesel AC Condenser



Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Vancouver's best auto service experience. And we're talking cars. How are you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So today we're talking about a 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee that had some kind of air conditioning problem. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah, so this vehicle had actually been to our shop a little while ago, the air conditioning wasn't working. So we did some testing and diagnosis as we do and found that there was a leak from a pressure hose located from the compressor.

We replaced that, recharged the system, everything seemed to be fine, and then it came back and it wasn't working again. So we had to kind of back to first of all re inspecting our work and found that there was no leak from that hose, which is good, but there was obviously something else going on with the system. So further diagnosis needed.

Mark: So, in a way, this is, in a lot of our podcasts, we've done this for 10 years. Over time, I've noticed that AC issues are probably the thing that you can't always nail down the first time. Is that accurate? 

Bernie: Absolutely. I remember going to a seminar about 20 years ago that Snap on Tools put on with this guy from the States, and he said, before I do any air conditioning, this is a shop owner, he said, before I do any air conditioning repairs on any vehicle, I have this one page disclaimer that I get every customer to read before that I even start the work. I've never done that, probably should, but, you know, that's the kind of way air conditioning is. 

And the reason why is that it's I mean, air conditioning is like a refrigerator is basically a refrigerator put into your car, but it's under much harsher circumstances. It has to deal with the heat of the engine compartment. It has to deal with freezing cold temperatures in the winter. If you live in a cold place or blistering heat. Things that you don't deal with it with a refrigerator plus vibrations and bouncing. And then most of the components, a good portion are actually hidden from view. So you can't see them. 

So things like leaks are often very difficult to find. We have leak detection tools, but often they don't work. We can talk a little bit more about leak detection in a minute, but you know, it's just very difficult to find a lot of leaks and things will happen under certain conditions. 

So air conditioning can be really tricky. And all we can do is start with what we know and what we see. And most of the time it'll fix it, but probably 20% of the time it doesn't do it. And there's further leaks. So sometimes it takes, you know, I hate to say it like two or three kicks at the can to fix one and then there's another one and another one and then it's done. 

Mark: So the testing and diagnosis that you're doing to try and find where it's leaking in a new place or in a hidden place. What did you find? 

Bernie: Yeah. So we found the condenser was leaking. Now the air conditioning condenser, that's like a radiator in front. It actually sits in front of the radiator on every car. It's basically the radiator that radiates the heat of the system out into the atmosphere. Takes the heat from the vehicle. So that's not an uncommon leakage problem. And we do inspect it. If it isn't installed in the vehicle already, we add UV dye to the refrigerant oil and that dye's basically under a special ultraviolet light, it shines like a lime green colour. And it's very easy to pick out even the minutest leak. It really helps.

So otherwise, there will often be a light film of oil where there's a leak. So anyways, at this point, we re inspected everything and we found a small leak coming from the condenser at the bottom. But it was buried in a way we couldn't see. I mean, we did inspect it before, but it was very, very difficult to see. So we did find that. And that was the next thing we repaired. And that's what we fixed in this particular round. 

But there are certain things that are impossible to see, like the evaporator, which is under the dash inside a closed box, and that's impossible to see. And that's often a process of elimination type of repair.

And it's certainly not something where we go. Well, we think it's the evaporator because it could be a couple of thousand dollars in labor just to pull the dash out, take it apart. Oh, that wasn't it. We don't want to do that kind of thing, but sometimes it comes down to it. But we'll only do that when it's a very educated guess.

And the other tool we have is a refrigerant. It's an electronic leak detector. We actually have two of them. It's my least favourite tool because I expect it would work really well. And there are things that cause it to beep, it makes a beeping sound when it detects refrigerant. And so when it works, it's good. But sometimes it'll beep for no reason, and then there's no refrigerant in the area. 

So it's like, it's one of those tools it's hard to trust all the time. But, nonetheless, we have it. It works some of the time. So the thing with air conditioning is it's good to have an arsenal of different tools. We can also add high pressure nitrogen to the system. And sometimes that'll force a leak to show up. There's lots of different things. But we do a lot to try to find it. 

Mark: So when you're talking about that leak detector, I'm thinking, oh, that's just like a stud finder. 

Bernie: Yeah, it's kind of like a stud finder. Actually, stud finders are way more accurate though, because you can kind of go back. And I think with the leak, it's good that you mentioned that, because with the leak detector, it's kind of like, you know, what I find is it's like kind of going back to the spot again and if it just goes beep, you go, okay, great. There it is. It's like, no, wait a minute. Let's just really verify and make sure we're not getting a false signal here. You know, it's weird, but these things apparently will pick up like 1 molecule of refrigerant in a million or something like that. But also if there happens to be a molecule of oil vapour floating past it. It'll also make it. I don't know exactly what it all picks up, but it's not the most satisfying tool. I keep searching for the ultimate one and I haven't found it yet.

Mark: It'll be an AI powered thing. 

Bernie: Yeah, it'll be AI. Of course. We're in the AI era and we'll watch this video five or 10 years from now. And then there'll be some new technological craze, but I don't know. Maybe AI will do it. 

Mark: So what's involved in replacing the condenser then on the AC condenser on this? 

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3L Diesel AC Condenser

 Bernie: Yeah, let's have a look at a couple of pictures. So there's our Jeep diesel, off road, good decent vehicle.

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3L Diesel AC Condenser

 There's the condenser. So here we're looking with the hood up. Here's the front view. So we've got quite a few radiators here, although the only real radiator is, I'm sliding my mouse pointer back and forth. You can only see a sort of edge of it here. This is a radiator support here where the hood will latch down as well. The main radiators... there are four radiators? Yeah, there's four of them. There might even be a fifth one here. Yeah, it's an intercooled diesel. So this thing right here at the front, this is the intercooler for the diesel turbo. And any vehicle that has a turbo, has an intercooler, but they don't always sit in front of the vehicle like this. But on this diesel, they do. 

This I think is a transmission cooler, but it could be an oil or power steering cooler. And then you've got the AC condenser here. So you can see this part, there's not much visibility on this piece. You can see a little bit at the top and then from underneath when you remove some covers and shields, which we did originally never saw a leak. You can see a little bit of it underneath there, and we were able to see a small leak from the underside. I'll just show you a quick shot of the actual with the condenser out. 

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3L Diesel AC Condenser

 Mark: So was the leak showing up in the condenser partly because of the repair that you've done prior? 

Bernie: Well, it's possible, but probably not. It was probably leaking before as well. You can have 2 leaks. It's hard to say which one, you know, the only thing I can say is that the leak from that hose was the most apparent leak. And you know, we did look around at the rest of the system and found nothing, but it might be that after we repaired that, this started leaking, it's hard to know. 

Mark: Or leaking more so that it was more apparent. 

Bernie: Leaking more so it was apparent. There may not have been any UV dyed oil in the system beforehand, although most vehicles come equipped with it, but some don't. Like I say, equipped, like at the factory, they actually put UV dyed oil and some do and some don't. Anyways, so this is the edge of the condenser and you can see this oily film here. I don't have my UV light on it, but this is sort of an indication of where the leak was. This is up the side of the condenser, so it's not even really at the exact bottom.

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3L Diesel AC Condenser

And this is another view of the bottom corner and you can see a sort of an oily film here as well. 

Mark: So you wouldn't see up the side with all those radiators stacked together in the front of the vehicle until you actually took the radiator out. 

Bernie: Exactly, but we were actually able to look up. I mean, you can kind of see up it sometimes, but yeah, it's very difficult to see into it. But again, you can see a sort of black, oily film here. And that's another leak there too. So, you know, it often takes a while. 

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3L Diesel AC Condenser

So this is the view with actually all those radiators removed. So this is the actual engine radiator. This is where the AC hose is attached to the condenser over here. So that's kind of a view of everything removed. So you're asking what kind of a job .It was a fair bit of work. And also the front bumper cover has to come off because there's a couple of bolts. It wasn't well thought out to remove the stuff. So the bumper cover has to be removed to get a couple of bolts from the bottom. 

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3L Diesel AC Condenser

And one last shot. This is a picture of us recharging the system. So we have a R134A, which is a common refrigerant. Although there's actually a new refrigerant R1234YF. It's the new refrigerant less global warming. This refrigerant R134A was a replacement for R12. This doesn't wreck the ozone layer, but it will put a lot of CO2 equivalent gases up into the atmosphere. So it's been replaced with a new refrigerant, which is very, very, very expensive compared to this stuff.

Probably will come down in price as it gets more used. But anyways, this uses the 134. So after we do the repairs, we put the system into a deep vacuum, which sucks it down. And that's another test we do and make sure it doesn't fail, but many times it'll pass that vacuum test and there'll still be a leak, but it's another test. So we do that and then vacuum all the air out of the system and then recharge it.

Mark: Wow. So that's a lot of work. And how did it all work after all this round of repairs? 

Bernie: Yeah. It worked fantastic. And it's been a, it's been two or three weeks since we did the actual job. Haven't heard back yet. So I think it's good. You know, that was a very obvious leak. We found two. You know, the chances of there being more is kind of minimal. But you know, it can happen.

I was going to say, you know, about leaks, like finding tricky leaks. For many years, I had a Suburban but a few years into owning it, the air conditioning stopped working and I saw on the top corner of the condenser, there's this little area that looked like it may have had a leak. Put my refrigerant detector there, the electronic thing that goes beep. It wouldn't beep. So okay, well, whatever it is, it's obviously not that much of a leak. I cleaned it with brake clean, blew it off. It was like spotless. I'm going, okay, I'm sure that in a couple of weeks, I'll see a leak. 

Actually even had a podcast planned around it or video or podcast. Month goes by you can't see anything. 2 months. Nothing. Air conditioning still keeps working. And then about, I don't know, 2 or 3 years later, it stopped again. You can see a tiny little bit of oil there, but again, not enough. And I don't know. I went through it for a few years. And then eventually, it finally got to the point where the condenser was leaking bad enough I could find it. But that's after like seven or eight years of doing a refill every couple of years and not finding any other leaks and tearing my hair out, getting annoyed. And finally, it showed up. 

So sometimes, you know, it takes a while to it, you know, I think in retrospect, I probably should have gone, okay, that's a leak. Throw a condenser in and it probably would have not had a problem, but you know, sometimes it takes time and money to do it. Even if I can do it myself, it takes time and money. And I don't waste my time or with customers, we don't waste their money. 

Mark: So how often is it a case with vehicles where you'll have stacked radiators in such like 4 or even 5 sets of radiators like this?

Bernie: Well, any diesel light truck will have them. I'm thinking of an F350 diesel. I had one, popped the hood, I think there's eight of them. 

Oh, my God. 

There's an engine radiator, there's like two cooling systems. So there's like a secondary cooling system radiator. I'm just trying to count these. There's the inter turbo intercooler, that's three. There's a power steering cooler, four. Transmission cooler, five. AC condenser, six. So maybe six. There might have been one for something else that I can't think of. 

Mark: And that just really complicates...

Bernie: I just look at that and I go, you know, you got to buy like a... 

Mark: You go like this, don't you?

Bernie: Well, you know, the good thing is they generally last a long time, but you know, like when you go to, I mean, some Ford F350s, certain models and like the radiators go bad, it's a lot of money to fix the radiator because it's like buried in there. And the radiator is enormous. Cause it's meant to, cool. A diesel engine that's hauling, you know, 25,000 pounds of weight in the back, so it can handle that. I remember looking at it, I go, wow, it's no wonder these trucks cost so much money because you're buying a lot of stuff, when you buy the truck, it's like five or six radiators. 

But this Jeep again, it's a diesel. If it wasn't the diesel, it would at least wouldn't have the intercooler radiator there. So it would have one less cooler.

Mark: How are these diesel Jeep Grand Cherokees for reliability? 

Bernie: They're pretty good, but that is the three litre Mercedes diesel. We've talked a lot about them and there are a lot of issues with them. If you search our podcast list, you'll find a lot of issues. They tend to last a long time. They're pretty durable and they're tough. If you want to haul some good weight, they're rated much higher than a gasoline engine for towing. 

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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