Should You Replace A Compressor Or The Whole AC Unit?

Ossiana Tepfenhart
by Ossiana Tepfenhart

You are currently dealing with one of the worst problems an air conditioning unit can have: a bad compressor. It’s been diagnosed, your repairman confirmed it, and you are upset. You should be. It’s a pricey repair, no matter what type of AC unit you own! Right now, you have to figure out the answer to a pressing finance question. Should you replace your compressor, or just buy a new unit altogether?

Though professional repair companies often advise people to buy a new unit, replacing your compressor could make financial sense. If your AC unit is relatively new, doesn’t have many problems, or is still covered by a warranty, you should consider replacing it. Of course, if the price for replacement is very high, buying a new unit may be the better option.

No one wants to buy a new AC unit out of the blue. It’s true. However, you need to weigh both options before you make a decision. Your wallet will thank you if you do…

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What Are My Options?

When your AC compressor starts malfunctioning, many are unaware of the choices available to them. In fact, there are four options when your AC compressor unexpectedly stops working:

  • Replace just the compressor.
  • Replace the entire outside unit, known as the condensing unit.
  • Replace the condensing unit and the indoor evaporator coil.
  • Purchase a new AC.

Why Do Professional Repairmen Warn Against Replacing A Compressor?

Repairmen are the guys who have seen it all and done it all. Most of the time, they are the ones who have to get called back for repeated service calls on the same unit, simply because the unit’s on its last legs. Many people don’t want to replace an AC unit unless they absolutely have to, to the point where they may not realize it’s time.

With that said, there are several reasons why most repairmen warn against replacing a compressor and suggest buying a new unit. The most common reasons include the following:

  • Once the compressor goes, most other parts start to follow suit. A compressor that’s been dying is a bad sign. In most cases, running your AC unit while the compressor was dying will cause additional damage to the rest of the unit. Even if it’s not too bad right now, it can still eat away at your unit’s ability to function. Rather than pay for more repairs later, it’s often cheaper to just replace everything preventively.
  • Your AC unit is old, very old. Compressors usually die as a result of wear and tear. You might already have struggled with your conditioner freezing up or having clunky noises. If your unit is over 10 years old, your compressor’s failure is the unit’s proverbial white flag. It’s just time to update and upgrade your unit.
  • It may cost less than trying to keep it up. Sometimes, replacing the unit is only marginally more expensive than getting the unit repaired. If this is the case, the overall cost of fixes will outweigh replacement. An air compressor costs a lot of money. So, why not go with the new model?
  • The warranty has expired and the price of the repair will put you under serious duress. Warranties are there to save you serious money on a product that shouldn’t break down. If your warranty ran out, the price of repairs will skyrocket. Getting repairs financed isn’t always easy. This can lead to it being easier to finance a new model.

What’s The Verdict?

Your compressor is the heart of your AC unit, and without it, it won’t work. Sadly, if your compressor blew out, chances are that you probably have more HAVE problems than you think you do. With most air conditioning units, it makes more sense to replace the entire unit than it does to replace the coil.

If your repairman or HVAC tech tells you it’s time to replace your unit, please listen to them. It will save you more money in the long run than repairing or replacing the compressor.

When Replacing The AC Unit’s Compressor Make Sense

While most repairmen will advocate for a full AC unit replacement, there are a couple of moments where it legitimately makes more sense to get the compressor replaced than to buy a new unit. If any of the following things ring true, a replacement may make sense:

  • The repairman notes that your air conditioning unit doesn’t appear to have any additional damage. Sometimes compressors just die. If that’s what happened, you might have lucked out with a highly replacement-worthy situation.
  • It would cost more than twice as much to replace your AC unit compressor. If you have a very high-end air conditioning unit, then you may have a price ticket that rests upwards of $4,000 for a full new unit. In many cases, a compressor will only be a fourth of this price or so, which may make replacement a financially-sound option.
  • Your air conditioning unit is only a couple of years old. If your AC unit is not too old, it wouldn’t make much sense to get a brand new one just because the compressor went bad. At this point, you should expect your unit to last 10 to 15 years. If your unit’s only two years old, it’s most likely a fluke.
  • The unit’s parts are still under warranty. If your parts are still under warranty, replacing the unit altogether is a financially foolish move. This could literally save you thousands of dollars!

How Long Will My AC Unit’s Warranty Cover A Bad Compressor?

Every single brand will have a warranty that covers your compressor, at least for a little while. How long you can expect your compressor to be covered under warranty will vary greatly from model to model. Very low-end models will have a warranty that spans only three to five years after the unit has been purchased, but that’s more of the exception rather than the rule.

The most common lifespan of an AC unit’s warranty will be about 10 years. Whether or not all 10 of those years will involve compressor coverage will rely on which model you choose as well as the company’s policy. Most companies will make a point of covering the compressor, but only for a portion of the full warranty.

If you have a very high-end model, then you may have a lifetime warranty on your compressor.

What Should You Do If You Want To Use Your AC Unit’s Warranty To Fix Your Compressor?

The very first thing you should do is get your owner’s manual and see if your warranty is still open for use. If it is, then call up the manufacturer’s customer service line, and let them get you in touch with their warranty department. From there, the warranty department will ask you questions. Answer them, and then let them help you book an appointment with a company-approved repairman.

Worried that you’ll have to go without AC for a while? Too bad. You still need to wait for your appointment. Do not try to fix the compressor on your own, because you may actually void your warranty if you choose to do so.

Does A Warranty Cover Both Parts And Labor On A Compressor?

Once again, this all depends on what your model’s specific warranty will cover. Each warranty is different. Most warranties that are doled out with air conditioning units will only cover the replacement parts, not the labor. So, in most cases, you will still have to spring for labor costs for your replacement. Even so, that’s still a massive money saver on your end.

If you take a look at your owner’s manual or your warranty paperwork, you’ll be able to tell what will be covered. If you have an ultra-high-end warranty and AC unit model, you probably will be able to get both labor and parts covered. In some very rare cases, you can get the entire unit replaced as part of the warranty.

Can you Replace Only the Outdoor Unit?

Your air conditioner consists of two main components: the indoor unit, called the evaporator unit, and the outdoor unit, known as the condensing unit. These two units are two peas in a pod, supplementing each other. Since they are the two parts in a two-part matched system, replacing one but not the other can lead to some issues, including:

  • Drop in efficiency. It’s highly likely that the new unit will be more efficient than the old. As a result, the efficiency is bound to drop overall.
  • Premature failure. Mismatched units can create unwanted pressure on one or both of the units, which can lead to premature failure in either or both.
  • No warranty. When you mismatch systems, you present a whole host of issues. For this reason, the manufacturer may choose not to extend the warranty if you choose to replace the condenser unit but not the evaporator unit.

How to Decide Whether to Replace Compressor or Whole AC Unit

If you’re still unsure whether replacing just entire AC unit or just the compressor is the better course of action for your situation, consider the following:

  • Age of your air conditioner. If your air conditioner is between 15 and 20 years old, your best bet is to purchase a new one. This has to do with the fact that getting spare parts can be very difficult, as technology changes so frequently. Plus, newer technology is more energy efficient, so you’ll likely enjoy savings on your utility bills to offset the cost of the new unit.
  • Get a second opinion first. While contractors will generally give you the most feasible and viable solution, it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion. Unfortunately, there are some people out there who will advise you to replace your entire AC unit to make easy money, even if your compressor still has some life left in it.
  • Determine the warranty and conditions. The best case scenario would be finding out that your compressor is still under warranty, meaning you won’t have to pay to have it replaced. You’ll only be responsible for the cost of labor.
  • Compare costs. Consider the total costs involved in replacement, as well as labor and installation, with the price of a new AC unit and installation. Then, determine which suits your budget best. If the difference is minimal, it’s always wise to purchase a new air conditioner over just replacing the compressor.

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Related Questions

How long should your AC compressor last?

If you regularly maintain your unit and make a point of keeping things clean inside, you should expect your air conditioning unit’s compressor to last a minimum of 12 to 15 years. More upscale models may have a typical lifespan of 20 years.Most warranties will cover your compressor for at least half of its lifespan at the very least. If your compressor lasts less than 12 years, it’s safe to assume that your unit probably isn’t very high quality. Many manufacturers would go so far as to replace that second compressor. The same could be said if you have an HVAC company that replaced it, only to have the new model die a week later.

How often should you have to replace your AC compressor?

Most air conditioning units will never need to have a compressor replaced. Compressors are one of those components that really shouldn’t ever break. If you do get a broken compressor, you should only have to replace it once in the entire lifespan of your unit. If your unit needs to get a compressor replaced more than once, then you have a serious problem.

Can an AC compressor be repaired?

While it is possible to repair your compressor rather than replace it, the truth is that it’s rarely a good idea. If anything, it’s actually a good way to throw away money. The repairs done on a compressor rarely ever hold for the duration of your unit’s life. Even when they do hold, the repairs themselves are often just as expensive as getting the compressor replaced.Considering how much of a risk it is of having to re-repair your compressor, it’s best to just replace it. At times, repairs aren’t even actually possible. So there’s rarely a good reason to try this.

Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

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