June 6

2008 Lexus RX350, AC Evaporator Repair



Mark: Hi, it's Mark from Remarkable Speaking. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 24 time winners of best auto repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. And we're talking cars. How are you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing well. 

Mark: So today's victim is a little bit of an older vehicle, 2008 Lexus RX350 with AC issues. What was going on with this car? 

Bernie: Yeah, it's funny, you say 2008 being older, sometimes think, gee, that's not a very old car, but as time marches on every model year gets older. So yeah, this is a bit of an older car. So this vehicle came to our shop with some air conditioning concerns. The air conditioning wasn't working.

And we'd previously repaired this vehicle a couple of times over the last few months. What we'd found previously was that there were some leaks from the Schrader valves where you fill the the fill ports. We basically charged it. Then you could see refrigerant leaking out.

So we replaced the Schrader valves. A couple of months later, vehicle came back. It had leaked out the refrigerant. We changed one of the Schrader valves, retested it, found that was still leaking. So we figured that the actual pipe or the valve screws in there was something wrong with it.

So we replaced that pipe, retested it, everything was good. Recharged it. Sent in the car on its way. And then a couple months later it came back again. And so we retested everything again, found that that Schrader valve was good. Suspected one of the other ones wasn't working properly. Changed that verified it was good. Put it under nitrogen pressure overnight, and you can see the pressure was dropping slowly. So we had a leak somewhere and we had to spend a great deal of time looking which we'd already done, found no visible leaks. And so at that point we concluded it has to be the evaporator core.

Mark: So that's a lot of back and forth and I'm sure upset for the customer, but also really challenging for you guys to find something that's I don't know, like Sherlock Holmes clue kind of level of detective work to find where the leak is. Is it always like this with AC systems? 

Bernie: Not always. I mean, for example, we had a Jeep this week that had some green liquid leaking out of it. And the condenser, which is at the front of the vehicle, which is like a radiator. It was very evident. We look up and there's a bunch of oil that's leaked out. Perfect. Diagnosis done. Not a simple fix, but you know, fixed, verified, done. And so those are the nice leaks, but thing with air conditioning.

And the reason I like to say this in this podcast is that it can be really tricky to find a problem and you really need to be patient and trust the people you're dealing with. As long as you're dealing with a good shop, just trust that sometimes it's a process. We fix the obvious things. The evaporator is you're going to see some pictures here, is a huge job.

You have to rip the whole instrument panel and dash apart just to get to the evaporator core. So it's not something you want to go, oh yeah, it's the evaporator. And you know, several thousand dollars later find, oh, it wasn't the evaporator after all. So I really liked to be cautious and fix the obvious things.

Even if it's a bit frustrating. It's not, you know, not often a lack of competency, it's just the design of air conditioning systems. There's so many hidden components. It's hard to find leaks sometimes. So does that answer your question? 

Mark: Sure. So let's go through. Let’s see some pictures of this.

Bernie: So as I said you know, process of elimination, we decided the evaporator core was the likely cause, but we let the customer know, by the way, this is still a speculative repair, like we don't know a hundred percent till we take it apart. So I'm going to share a different photo here.

2008 Lexus RX350, AC Evaporator Repair

It's the actual, the evaporator. The good news is we did find the evaporator's leaking.

2008 Lexus RX350, AC Evaporator Repair

So this is what an evaporator core looks like. And if you look over in the left here, you can see where I'm sort of moving my mouse, there's a bit of a stain here. There's also a stain here. So these are definite, absolutely verifiable leaks. So it was good to see.  

2008 Lexus RX350, AC Evaporator Repair

There's a closeup and you can kind of see a little bit of the yellowish greenish colour of the UV dye. So that verifies a hundred percent of the core was leaking, which was relieving. Since I was the one who diagnosed it, I felt like a bit of a schmuck, but, you know. So here's what goes on.

2008 Lexus RX350, AC Evaporator Repair

So this is kind of looking into the driver's door with the instrument panel of the vehicle off. This is inside the car. This is inside the car. So the driver's seat is down where I'm kind of swirling my mouse pointer. Now this is where your legs would be. The pedals are down around here where the most point are swirling around and that's the steering column, which is completely detached, lying on the floor.

So this is what's behind your dash and you know, I mean, a Lexus is a luxury vehicle, so it's got some fancier items, but just take a minute to appreciate just all the stuff that's behind your dash that, you know, when you're buying a Lexus or any car for that matter, even if it's a bottom end car, I'll say Kia, even though they're they're well-built cars, you know, this is a lot of what you have behind your dash. Now, the evaporator core and the heater core, sit in these boxes back here. So this has to be removed and we'll get into the next picture with that removed. 

And the view with the heater boxes out. So this is how far we have to go to basically get the evaporator core out of the vehicle.

2008 Lexus RX350, AC Evaporator Repair
2008 Lexus RX350, AC Evaporator Repair

A last view of the under-hood view. A number of components have to be removed as well. \ These are the AC pipes here, the heater hoses connect over here and the wiper linkage has been removed. The front cowling has been removed. A number of, being a Lexus they have plastic covers that go all around under the hood if you can see where my mouse is pointing to kind of neaten everything up. So it doesn't look so much like a messy engine. So yeah, a lot of stuff has to be removed and re-installed to to do this job. Which is why we don't take it lightly. There we go. Picture show for the day. 

Mark: So part of your diagnosis, you mentioned this, the green was a UV dye that you put in. Is that something that you put into track where there might be leaks? 

Bernie: It is. We install it also. A lot of vehicles, most vehicles come from the factory with that dye installed. They never used to, but probably in the last 20 years, probably every vehicle that's built has that dye in there. It's just the best way to find air conditioning leaks. But of course, with the evaporators you can see, it's hidden inside a box and you can't see it. The only time I've ever had an evaporator where I've actually seen it, there's an old BMW and the evaporator was leaking so badly. It was actually dripping out of the drain. So every AC system has a drain vent because water condenses on the evaporator and it drips down. So again, if you see liquid forming under your vehicle on a hot day. It's usually water. It's dripping out of your AC system. So it has this vent. 

And fortunately, when in doing the diagnosis, I was actually able to access the vent I looked inside. But it, again, the vent doesn't always get right to the AC system and we have tools and equipment and we call a sniffer, but it's basically an electronic refrigerant detector. When we hook it up, you know, we can move around different components to the AC system. And it'll beep if it detects any AC refrigerant molecules. But you know, this one, it's a touch and go kind of tool, not my favourite, unless you have a very large leak and it's really obvious. There was a few beeps that went off with this tool, but not enough for me to go. Yeah, it's the evaporator for sure. I wish they were better, but they're, you know, just one of the items in our toolbox. But the UV dye as you mentioned, is the best thing. 

Mark: And you have to wear glasses. It's kind of like the, you know, the cut and slice kind of shows with the doctors looking for people with the special lights and seeing the blood all over. You're seeing UV dye dripping. 

Bernie: Well, here's two things about it. Usually in an AC system, because it's so concentrated, usually by the time it leaks, you can actually see the dye without special glasses. But normally we have yellow glasses with a purple UV light. It's like a purple coloured UV light.

And then it just glows like a super bright greenish yellowish colour. So then it's really obvious. And that actually helps pick out the really subtle leaks. Sometimes because the leak is just barely visible. So with the glasses it helps. 

But again, you have to see the piece. So the evaporators hidden inside the box, you have to take the whole thing apart, many hours of work. And you know, just to verify whether you've actually hit the diagnosis on the head. And so the other thing I'll say, that I do look at too, is I look online to see whether this is a common problem or not.

We have certain data information where it will have common repairs. The evaporator core wasn't really, there was a couple of mentions of them, but these aren't the most common vehicles. And sometimes in the luxury car market, the information is not shared so widely because a lot of people go to the dealerships to have them repaired.

And so they, you know, they don't put their stuff out, but independent shops often do so. So I like to do a little online research and go, how common of a problem is this? Because if it is common, then it helps with our diagnostic conclusions. If many cars have it, then it's pretty safe to say, you know what your car probably does too. 

Mark: So I guess next you put everything back together and started recharging things and see what's going on. Is it working without leaks? 

Bernie: Yeah it worked fine. And I guess time will tell. I mean, the thing with AC is it takes time. You know, there might be another leak in this system, but we've really gone over this thing front to back, but there are pipes that are hidden there. We can't see the backside of the condenser, the compressor which we looked at, top and bottom. Sometimes it'll leak very tiny, you have very tiny little leaks in AC systems.

So, I mean, I'd be surprised if it came back for anything because we found a conclusive leak, but you never know. And that can be frustrating for us and the customers because we like to fix it right the first time. We don't want the vehicle to come back. 

Mark: Yeah. How often do you find evaporator leaks?

Bernie: Not too often, fortunately, but we do fix it a number of them. But yeah, it's not too often, and fortunately, because it is the worst place for an AC leak from a diagnostic perspective and also from a repair cost perspective. 

Mark: So this Lexus is, like I said, at the start 2008, getting on a bit, is it still a worthwhile car to repair at this level? 

Bernie: I think so. They're good cars. I mean, they do hold their value quite well, too. And they're well-built, I mean, it's a Toyota product, it's always my benchmark of quality in vehicles and you know, these are really well built. So I think they're worth fixing, we even have some that have pretty high mileage and they're still good cars. They still keep working well. 

Mark: There you go. If you're looking for service for your Lexus in Vancouver, BC, Canada, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can book online at pawlikautomotive.com. You can also give them a phone call and talk it over (604) 327-7112. You have to book ahead. They're always busy. Or you can check out the YouTube channel. Pawlik Auto Repair, close to a thousand if not more than a thousand videos on there. We've been doing this for over 10 years now. All makes and models and types of repairs, every week for a long time. Or all that's on the blog, on the website and you have written stuff you can read. So if you don't want to watch us blather away, you can just read yourself to sleep. Thanks, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thanks Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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