September 22

BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair



Mark: Hi, it's Mark from Top Local. We're here with Bernie Pawlik Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 22 time winners of best auto repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. How are you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Well, with an introduction like that, I certainly couldn't feel bad. 

Mark: So we're going to talk about a 2015 BMW 335i, that had an AC problem. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: So the vehicle came to our shop. The air conditioning was not blowing cold air it was warm, so, needed some work.

Mark: So commonly did you just recharge it? 

Bernie: No. You know, sometimes we do but it really depends on the circumstances. We always, at the very least do a visual inspection, if not a full system diagnosis to figure out why it's not working. Now if the air conditioning is working, but it's not quite as cold as it should be.

Then sometimes recharging is an okay thing to do. But if there's no cold air whatsoever, then the system's leaked all its refrigerant out, or it's got an electrical problem, and that really does need to be diagnosed. In the case of this vehicle, we were quickly able to find the issue with this thing and that was, the condenser was leaking.

Mark: So was that an obvious leak? 

Bernie: It was actually obvious. And that's why I say it was kind of quickly found. I'll actually share a screen because we have lots of pictures to show today. 

So there's the condenser as removed from the BMW. And if you look here, it's a type of radiator. If you look at the bottom, it's all stained black here. This is all leaked out oil. An air conditioning system is basically the refrigerant, which is a chemical that creates the cold air. And there's oil in there to lubricate the compressor. And this is leaked out oil. So this is perfect evidence of a leak in the system. So that's why I say there's an obvious leak. We replaced the condenser and went from there. 

Mark: So is this the only way you find AC leaks?

Bernie:  No, we actually have a number of different methods. The visual inspection of course is the first thing we do. And sometimes things are not that obvious. So I'm going to go through a few of the tools and pieces that we use to find an AC leak. We'll start with this one. 

BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair
BMW 335i, Air Conditioner Repair

This is a top of a tank of nitrogen gas. It's basically a huge tank full of nitrogen. I don't know the full pressure in this tank. It's an awful lot. But we can pump up 3-400 PSI of pressure into the system and we can pump that into the low and high side of the air conditioning system and find leaks. It's not often the system will ever get up to that kind of pressure. So any leak is usually obvious to find. Now, sometimes it isn't. Air conditioning can be really tricky and that's why I'm showing you all these things.

But this is one of the tools we use. Nitrogen gas is inert. It doesn't do anything to the environment or it doesn't wreck the system. It's not explosive. It just provides pressure. And then we can find leaks from there. Now, with that kind of pressure, if there's a little bit of refrigerant in the system, then we can, if it's a bad leak, it'll start hissing.

But if  it's a very minimal leak, which a lot of them are. They're very slow leaks and tricky to find. There are other methods we can use. One of them is this tool here. This is a refrigerant detector and this doesn't necessarily require nitrogen, but this is an electronic detector and we can move this little tip, this little probe around. This is like a flexible head piece, and we can move this around to various spots in the system. And it makes a beeping sound. If it detects our 134 R12 refrigerant, well R12 is almost extinct, fortunately, but any AC refrigerant, it'll start beeping like crazy. These lights will go from this little light here to all, all of them will light up.

It's not my favourite tool. It seems like a good idea in theory. But for some reason it just doesn't really find the leaks that often. And sometimes it'll actually go off falsely. But if there is a definite noticeable leak, it'll definitely confirm that something's there. So there was one of the tools. 

The other one I've used, this is an ultrasonic leak detector. It basically picks up ultrasounds. So these are frequencies, our ears don't hear. And it's an electronic device. So it magnifies the sound. That's the right word to use for sound. I'll go with it.  So we have headphones on here. And this probe here is basically to listen, to sounds in a single pickup little hisses of air.

And I recently used this, I have a Suburban that's had an AC leak for a while. It started to get worse and I could actually hear a hissing sound when it was under nitrogen pressure from two spots in the condenser. So that confirmed the leak. And then I was able to verify the leak with the next thing we're going to talk about, which is UV dye. 

So this is a UV light. It basically creates like a purple colour ultraviolet light, and you generally use yellow glasses and we put a dye into the AC system. A lot of cars actually come charged, AC system comes charged with a UV dye right from the factory. Some do some don't. We can add it pretty easily and then any leaks, show up, and I'll show a picture of how that looks.

Just to go back here, this is actually an AC condenser out of my Suburban. If you look here, you can see a little bit of a stain here, not like the BMW where it was completely covered, but there is a little bit of a stain here. Not obvious to the eye, that it's a, you know, not a hundred percent confirmation because sometimes you can get oil at sprays up or some oil that sprays from elsewhere on the car that creates a leak. But that, you know, to me, I was going at it's pretty obvious and I'd already verified there was a leak coming from some of these tubes by that ultrasonic leak detector.

But the next step, took it out, this is what the UV light looks like without the yellow glasses. It basically just shines a purple light. Now with our eyeballs, I can actually see a green glow, the camera doesn't pick it up quite that well, but I do have a picture here. It's a little dark, but if you look carefully in this area, you'll see a green glow. This is a camera shot through those yellow glasses. And that's the absolute evidence that we need that there's AC oil that's leaked out of the system. So that is definitely one of the best tools for sure. 

 Little diagram of how the air conditioning system works. The condenser's the piece on the front, there's a lot of parts and components to AC, but the condenser's like the radiator and the front, then there's the evaporator, which is the, like the radiator on the inside that generates the cold air. 

There's a compressor that compresses the chemical, and there's various states of high pressure gas, high pressure liquid, low pressure gas, low pressure liquid. We won't get into that, but it changes state a lot. And that's how conditioning kind of works, and we're back.

Mark:  So in this case was the condenser the only thing you replaced?

Bernie: Yeah. So in this case, the condenser was the only piece we replaced. I will talk a little more about diagnostic. So of course, sometimes there's the obvious leaks. We look and we see, Hey, There's an obvious leak, but we still take the time to look over the whole system as much as we can see.

Now, actually just getting back to the picture, a lot of these components are really hard to find on a car. There are numerous pipes and hoses that kind of run in areas that you can't see. They're hidden. The evaporators, they're really tricky. The really tricky piece. The evaporators inside a closed box, inside the vehicle under the dash. Sometimes it can take, you know, more than a day's labour to remove the condenser and sometimes even a couple of days where the work to actually take the whole dash apart to change the condenser. And you can't see it. 

Mark: The evaporator you mean.

Bernie: The evaporator, sorry. Yeah, the evaporator. I just get those confused for some reason. Anyway yeah, the evaporator, it can be on most cars hugely time consuming. There's the odd one where you can actually see it. But, I won't even talk about which cars those are and they're extremely rare. But most of the time you can't see it and it's a lot of work to find it. So, you only change this as a last resort when you can't find anything else. But my point is that there's a lot of places where leaks are hard to find and taking the time to look for them is really worthwhile. 

We had a Jaguar last week I looked at, the air conditioning was blowing warm air. Put it up on a hoist, the compressor sits right at the bottom of the engine, really easy to see. And it was very obvious. There was like oil leaked all over it. Put the UV glasses on. You can see the green coloured stain, like actual drips of oil. Okay, great. There's the problem. But you know, we do charge our clients to do a thorough service and an inspection. So I pulled some covers off the bottom of the engine. I figured, well, I'm going to have a look at the compressor, sorry, the condenser and just see whether, you know, see whether there's possibly some leaks there. The thing again, with the condenser, a lot of it is hidden too.

It's not so easy to see, even though it is in front of the radiator, there are brackets, pieces, you know, there's stuff in the way, but I looked underneath and sure enough found a leak from one side of the condenser. Similar to that one I just showed you on, on the Suburban. 

So, it's good to take the extra time to look through things. But with that being said, even then we found two leaks, there could still be other things. And we won't know about them till we actually fix what we know, put the system back together and see how it works. So it's good to know that as a consumer, that sometimes when an air conditioning leak is found, it may not be everything.

Mark: So if you had just fixed that compressor leak, would that have solved the problem for the customer?

Bernie:  On the Jaguar? 

Mark: Yeah. 

Bernie: Well, it would of solved some of it, but it would have leaked out again because there was a second leak. Now how long that leak would take, it was smaller than the compressor for sure.

But you know, it could have leaked out in a few days. It could have leaked out in a few months, but nonetheless it's better if you fix it. And it doesn't leak out again for say forever, you know. An AC is a sealed system by the way. So it should never need to be recharged, but sometimes it can develop a very tiny little leak or seep, and you know, over a period of it, you know, if you have to recharge it every three to five years. That's probably not a bad thing, but you know, it should never leak. 

Mark: So there's many shops that have signs out front talking about recharging your AC system for so many dollars. That doesn't seem like it's a very effective service. 

Bernie: Not really. I think it really needs to be looked at on an as needed basis. So for instance, if your air conditioning is working, but it's not quite as cool as it should be, that's probably not a bad service to do. You know, evacuate it out, recharge it with refresh refrigerant. It might be a little bit low. It may have a tiny leak. That's probably not a bad service, but if it's not working, it needs to be diagnosed. It's plain and simple. It's kind of like changing oil on an engine that has a severe knocking noise. It really needs to be fixed. So if your air conditioning's not working, don't don't think, Oh, I'll just get it recharged. It needs to be diagnosed and sometimes recharging it is, you know, sometimes when we look over system and we go, Hey, we can't find a leak anywhere. Sometimes putting a partial charge into the system and seeing what happens and just seeing how it lasts is sometimes the most effective thing to do. But again, if you're just coming in as a service, kind of like an, an oil change for your AC, it's really not that effective.

Mark: So was the condenser, let's go back to the BMW. Was the condenser, the only part that you replaced on the BMW? 

Bernie: On the BMW it was. Actually I'm going to just look at another picture. What an unimportant piece to fix often when you have a major leak is the receiver dryer or the accumulator. It depends on the system. There are slightly different component, but they both serve the same function. They have a filter inside of it. And, that filter has a thing called a desiccant in it. It absorbs moisture. A moisture is a bad thing to have inside an air conditioning system. And any time there's a leak where air could get in moisture gets in to. So it's important to replace that. 

Sometimes it's prohibitively expensive because it's part of the condenser these days. But fortunately for the BMW, the dryer, which sits over here is actually part of the condenser. So, fortunately this got to kind of two for one, the dryer got changed at the same time. But that's the only other component. Now if I was changing a compressor, or an evaporator, I don't know, I'd necessarily recommend to the customer let's change the condenser as well. Because with the dryer built in that would add an awful lot of extra costs. So if it's a separated component, which it is a lot of vehicles that dryers an important thing to replace. 

Mark: And how did the BMW 335i I work after the repair?

Bernie: It was good, nice and cold inside and just like you want, it's hot in Vancouver these days. At least it wasn't until today. So air conditioning is very, air conditioner has been very welcome for the last couple of weeks. You know, it's funny around here because the air conditioning you don't really need it, at least for coolness, that often in the year, but it's nice to have it. Other places like Southern California, it's pretty much a year round requirement, unless you like really hot air.

Mark: Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. You can reach them at (604) 327-7112 to look after your BMW or any of your air conditioning problems. You have to call and book ahead they're busy. (604) 327-7112 or from the website You can book from there. You can call them from there. You can check out hundreds of videos on all makes and models of cars, all types of repairs for the last eight years, actually. As well Pawlik Auto Repair on YouTube. And thank you so much for watching or listening on podcast. We appreciate it. And leave us a review, whatever you like, if you like what we're laying down and give us a review. We'd appreciate that. Thanks Bernie. 

Bernie: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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