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Not to be sneezed at... is your air conditioning doing you more harm than good?

As the mercury rises, the global warming debate gathers pace, the pollen reaches sneeze levels, and you reach for the air con switch, it’s worth taking a moment to consider – might this be doing me more harm than good?
If your air conditioning or climate control system only gets to stretch its legs when the sun comes out, quite apart from not functioning as efficiently as it might, it could be home to mould and fungi-loving bacteria. When vented into the sealed passenger cabin these create poor air quality, unpleasant whiffs and car sickness, even flu like symptoms to those with sensitive respiratory conditions such as asthma.
And what about the pollen filter? Many drivers are unaware that their vehicle, even if without air conditioning, is fitted with a pollen or cabin filter which requires changing at least once a year. When not working efficiently, these too could exacerbate hay fever and allergies.

Air con or climate control – what’s the difference?

Gone are the days when the only way to stay cool on a sticky day was to wind the windows down. Air conditioning or climate control are now fitted as standard on the majority of new vehicles, domestic and commercial – so, even on an average day, the air temperature within the vehicle can be regulated to suit, making for a more comfortable drive.
Automotive air conditioning has come a long way since its birth in the 1940s. Modern systems employ computerised temperature control, and environmental concerns about the ozone layer now govern the refrigerants used.
Air conditioning works by pumping refrigerant gas at high pressure around a sealed system. This condenses and evaporates, causing a cooling effect in one of the system components, through which air is then directed to the cabin air vents. The cooling process also removes moisture from the air, along with contaminants such as dust or pollen. The excess moisture is then drained out through the bottom of the vehicle.
Climate control systems are a more recent innovation. Whereas air conditioning is more likely to be used only on very warm days, climate control gives all year round benefits. The system effectively controls both air conditioning and heating, providing cool dry air in summer and warm humidified air in winter, with mist-free windows. Typically, you set your desired temperature and the computer takes care of the rest – deciding from which vents to blow air and at what fan speed – saving you the trouble of fiddling with switches, vents and temperature gauges.

What can go wrong?

Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that air conditioning systems are switched on for at least ten minutes once a month in order to prevent damage due to lack of lubrication. A faulty air conditioning system can be expensive to repair and often the problem is a direct result of lack of use through the winter months. Climate control systems, by their nature, will tend to be used all year round but, if not used continuously, these too should be given a brief run on a cold setting at least once a week.
AYCEN recommend you have your air conditioning checked out every year. The advent of the longer service interval, and a growing reliance on the ‘intelligent’ car telling you when it needs a service, means many potential problems are overlooked until too late. It’s a message we like to drive home. Far better to nip these things in the bud before they become a costly inconvenience.
But how to read the warning signs? The air may not cool – or warm – as efficiently as before, and you may find your fuel consumption goes up as the unit works harder to compensate. Although, incidentally, this increases anyway with the use of air conditioning. Lack of maintenance and low gas levels can allow moisture in, causing internal damage and saturating moisture sensitive parts. Excess condensation, which normally runs off from the evaporator and out of the vehicle, can gather in the bottom of the ducting, becoming stagnant – ideal breeding ground for those bacterial spores.
Can we fix it? In a word, yes. There are six major components in an air conditioning system, every one of them completely replaceable. Problems such as nasty odours and potential bacterial growth can be addressed with chemical cleaners to remove the mould and fungi from the evaporator and kill any bacteria. And if the ducting tube is blocked, it can be cleared to prevent water collecting.

Pollen filters

Pollen filters come in two forms – the standard filter, which helps prevent dust, pollen and other particles from entering the vehicle, and the carbon filter which also filters potentially harmful gases and odours. If you suffer with hay fever, or are prone to respiratory allergies, an efficient pollen filter is vital to your comfort and well being.
The filters would normally be replaced at service but – and we’re back to that extended service interval – this is worth checking on an annual basis. A blocked or dirty pollen filter puts unnecessary strain on your ventilation system, reducing the air flow in your vehicle.
Take care of the air quality in your car and you’ll be taking care of your health. Call us on 084 5050 4040 to arrange an air conditioning or pollen filter check up.

Added: May 24 2007

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