The Toyota A/C

The A/C in our RAV4 quit working a few weeks ago (we discovered it during a winter heat wave in January). Turns out that the condenser sprung a leak, and won’t hold refrigerant. A new one is $278 from AutoZone. I’ve been looking at the manual, trying to work up the gumption to replace it. I called a local shop to get a quote on labor, and he told me they’re not doing A/C work right now, because they think discharging the system is too risky for lungs, but when they start doing it again, it would be about $600, including recharging it. Fortunately, it’s a cool, rainy week, and repairing it isn’t urgent, even with our planned trip up the coast this weekend.

15 thoughts on “The Toyota A/C”

  1. Check out youtube, too. There’s a lot of common car repair videos on there now. I don’t know if this applies to your model year, but this was the first hit for “replace ac condenser toyota rav4”.

    She doesn’t actually show the assembly/disassembly, so there could be difficult spots, but there seem to be a whole bunch of other videos of the same thing you could look at.

    It doesn’t seem particularly hard compared to the idiotic stuff like “you have to remove the intake manifold to change the spark plugs” that sometimes happen.

    1. I looked at a lot of videos, including that one. She only shows the easiest part, after the grill and bumper cover have been removed. I went out and bought a Haynes for the car yesterday, and it does look like a pain in the ass.

  2. If it’s been empty for a while, you … may need a new compressor, too.

    They don’t like being empty, and the coolant system contains the lubricant oil, too.

    1. Don’t know how long it’s been, but we only noticed it in January. If it needs a compressor, too, we’ll deal with that after we replace the condenser. They’re separate jobs.

  3. If you go the shop route, get a different shop; if you’ve got a leak, it’s discharged already.

    I’ve never replaced an AC condenser on a Toyota, so please take this with a large dose of salt, but I have done it a couple of times on other makes and styles. How hard it is IMHO depends mainly on access; it’s hard if it’s buried in the nose and you have to take out a load of stuff to get to it, or easy if it’s accessible. SUV’s tend to have more room and access under the hood, so I’m hoping you’ve got an easy job.

    Suggestion; if you don’t have one already, get yourself a ratcheting socket driver with a hinged head. They have them cheap at Harbor Freight (I got a set of 3 short handle ones for about $6) and they are worth their weight in gold for this kind of work.

    For recharging it, you can get an A/C recharge kit for under $30 (often well under). Just be VERY sure you’re using the right kind of coolant to what you had (it should say near the AC fill port or somewhere under the hood, and in the manual). It’s probably going to be R-134, especially if 1996 or younger, but make absolutely certain. Make sure to get one with a good gauge; overfilling the AC is a great way to make it howl like a banshee, with the added bonus of possibly wrecking your compressor.

    1. How hard it is IMHO depends mainly on access; it’s hard if it’s buried in the nose and you have to take out a load of stuff to get to it, or easy if it’s accessible.

      That is exactly the problem. Looking at the Haynes manual, most of the labor is getting to it.

  4. Before you can recharge you have to evacuate the system with a vacuum pump. You also need to account for the lubricant that leaked out and replace it. Unless you have the tools, in which case this discussion wouldn’t be taking place, I’d look for a better shop.

    If they needed to discharge the system, they are required to use a reclamation rig to keep it out of the atmosphere. Don’t see any lung issues there.

    Replacing the condenser should simple but as you say, there might be a lot of pieces between you and it. You might find a shop that would recharge it after you replaced the condenser yourself. It sort of depends how much you like puzzles.

    1. Well, Pepboys tried to recharge it, which is how they knew to tell me that it needed replacing…

      I’m not opposed to puzzles, but this isn’t a puzzle. The manual indicates that it’s a PITA (including draining the cooling system, and what do you do with that output?). In my younger days, when I fixed cars for a living…

      1. There are enough people that do this for fun, you have to decide if your one of them. I did it enough from necessity that it doesn’t bother me too much that I don’t have a place to do much more than add a quart of oil any more. I’m between big bills right now so my feelings might be different the next time I get handed one.

        The real problem is finding someone that can fix something besides the completely obvious like brakes with out replacing half a dozen functional parts and still have the problem.

  5. Rand, that shop is full of crap. Most well-equipped shops have coolant recovery systems. They don’t vent out to the atmosphere like the home mechanic. However, I’ve destroyed the ozone a number of times doing my own AC work, just don’t stand downwind. That’s assuming it even has any coolant left.

    Just be glad it’s not the evap coil. Taking a dashboard apart is a real bitch.

  6. Just pretend you’re 16 years old again and cars aren’t supposed to have A/C or electric windows or shoulder belts. If it starts reliably, it’s great.

  7. Reminds me of changing the serpentine belt in my 1995 Saturn SL-1. Jack up right front quarter. Remove right front wheel. Remove right front fender well panel…

Comments are closed.