Mechanic can't find AC leak

timxpx

Senior member
Dec 1, 2004
237
0
76
After reading the thread on AC recharging I felt inspired to ask everyone for advice since not only is the community knowledgeable, you guys genuinely enjoy discussing maintenance.

I have a 1998 Ford Contour base model. Last year when it started to get warmer I noticed that the air conditioner stopped pushing cold air. I took it to my family's mechanic and from what I understand, there was a leak and he ran a dye through the system to find it, except he couldn't.

He recommended taking it to another shop where they would be more capable with fixing an AC.

I went to a local Mieneke and they said that another diagnostic would cost somewhere in the $180 range from what I remember. On top of that, I have no idea what parts or labor would cost.

At that point last summer I was on the verge of graduating from college, so I was pretty broke - I sucked it up and drove with the windows down all summer. I drove the car every day up until February when I bought a new car.

What would my options be for repairing/replacing the AC and what are rough estimates as to the costs?

Should I:
-shop around at junk yards to see if I can steal the unit out of another Contour/Mercury Mystique, and then ask the family mechanic to replace it
-go to another retail auto shop (Mieneke, Strauss, Pep Boys, STS), bite the bullet, and pay for the estimate and subsequent service
-buy a repair manual and try to do it with some friends help, because hey, it's a learning experience
-assume I don't have any good ideas, and follow someones advice here?

I bought a new car in February, but I feel like I'm abusing it with mileage (I hit 9,300 miles this morning) so I think it's a good time to get "Connie" on the road again full time. The car has 126,000 miles, somewhat new tires, and the original clutch which feels like it's still got life in it.

The insurance is paid for the year on the Contour so it won't hurt to have it running again. It also does not need to pass inspection until October of 2008.

Thanks in advance to everyone who chimes in.
 

boomerang

Lifer
Jun 19, 2000
18,890
642
126
Option 2.

Option 1 - Another unit? Compressor, Condenser, Evaporator, Dryer, Lines, etc., etc. You don't know which is leaking. There may not even be a leak. There are switches and relays involved too.

Option 3 - Fuggedaboutit! Do you have access to gages and a vacuum pump? Does anyone know how to diagnose an electrical problem? Do you have an accurate scale to measure the refrigerant you put back in after evacuating the system?

Take it to the pros.
 

timxpx

Senior member
Dec 1, 2004
237
0
76
noted, thanks!

is it worth trying bottled leak sealers before getting an estimate?

Maxi Seal Leak Sealer


i'm also scouring contour forums looking to see what steps other people have taken / what they've spent.

i believe the book value of my car is something like $600, so i definately don't want to spend more than it's worth.
 

Zenmervolt

Elite member
Oct 22, 2000
24,512
21
81
A base '98 Contour with 126,000 miles is worth a little over $1,500 in "fair" condition, and about $2,000 in "good" condition. Most cars that have been decently maintained fall into the "good" category.

Diagnosing A/C yourself can be a pain and if you start replacing parts willy-nilly there's a good chance you can screw something up if you're not already reasonably familiar with how to repair a vehicle. I would recommend either biting the bullet and paying to have the work done or sucking it up and driving the car without A/C.

ZV
 

Pacfanweb

Lifer
Jan 2, 2000
13,149
57
91
You don't go to the muffler shop (Meineke) to get A/C work done. You don't go to Pep Boys, either. Neither those shops could fix a sandwich, much less a hard-to-find A/C concern.

If the mechanic put dye in the system and still can't find the leak, odds are that the evaporator is the leak....that's the only place you can't see.

Have you looked in the phone book to see if there's a local shop that specializes in A/C? If not, I'd at least go to a reputable independent shop. I'd stay away from any sort of chain shop with this type of concern.

Either the dealership or an A/C shop is the way to go. And forget replacing the entire system from a junkyard unit. That isn't even an option that would make sense, even if someone was going to do it for free.
 

NTB

Diamond Member
Mar 26, 2001
5,179
0
0
I had a similar issue with a '00 Pontiac Sunfire. Took it to the shop and they checked it for leaks, but they didn't find any, so they added coolant and pressurized the system. The cool air lasted all of 2 days. Took it back to the shop, and they said that there was one part they couldn't get to without ripping the dashboard out. Can't remember what the particular part was. They said it would be time-consuming and expensive to fix, so I put up with it for a year or so and just recently went out and purchased a new vehicle. I prefered to put the money toward that than limping and older car along for a little longer.

Nathan
 

Pacfanweb

Lifer
Jan 2, 2000
13,149
57
91
Originally posted by: NTB
I had a similar issue with a '00 Pontiac Sunfire. Took it to the shop and they checked it for leaks, but they didn't find any, so they added coolant and pressurized the system. The cool air lasted all of 2 days. Took it back to the shop, and they said that there was one part they couldn't get to without ripping the dashboard out. Can't remember what the particular part was. They said it would be time-consuming and expensive to fix, so I put up with it for a year or so and just recently went out and purchased a new vehicle. I prefered to put the money toward that than limping and older car along for a little longer.

Nathan
That would have been the evaporator.
 

NTB

Diamond Member
Mar 26, 2001
5,179
0
0
Originally posted by: Pacfanweb
<div class="FTQUOTE"><begin quote>Originally posted by: NTB
I had a similar issue with a '00 Pontiac Sunfire. Took it to the shop and they checked it for leaks, but they didn't find any, so they added coolant and pressurized the system. The cool air lasted all of 2 days. Took it back to the shop, and they said that there was one part they couldn't get to without ripping the dashboard out. Can't remember what the particular part was. They said it would be time-consuming and expensive to fix, so I put up with it for a year or so and just recently went out and purchased a new vehicle. I prefered to put the money toward that than limping and older car along for a little longer.

Nathan</end quote></div>
That would have been the evaporator.

That's it. Thanks :)

Nathan
 

thedarkwolf

Diamond Member
Oct 13, 1999
8,999
109
106
Option 6 recharged it every year or two when enough leaks out to be a problem and forget about it.
 

timxpx

Senior member
Dec 1, 2004
237
0
76
thanks zv and pac! i've been asking around to see what local mechanics my friends have been going to and seeing if they've had a/c experience. right now its looking like a friend of a friend has a shop thats about 2 hours away from me and he won't jerk me around as far as money goes.

taking it to a dealership kind of worries me as far as pricing, but i feel like they'd have the most insight towards fixing the problem.

nathan - i bought an '07 civic si in february- the reason why i want to put money back into the contour is to keep the mileage down on the new car.
 

amdskip

Lifer
Jan 6, 2001
22,530
13
81
I would find a local shop that specializes in air conditioning (there should be one) and they will know exactly where to fix the leak at.
 

Sluggo

Lifer
Jun 12, 2000
15,488
5
81
<div class="FTQUOTE"><begin quote>Originally posted by: NTB
I had a similar issue with a '00 Pontiac Sunfire. Took it to the shop and they checked it for leaks, but they didn't find any, so they added coolant and pressurized the system. The cool air lasted all of 2 days. Took it back to the shop, and they said that there was one part they couldn't get to without ripping the dashboard out. Can't remember what the particular part was. They said it would be time-consuming and expensive to fix, so I put up with it for a year or so and just recently went out and purchased a new vehicle. I prefered to put the money toward that than limping and older car along for a little longer.

Nathan</end quote></div>

He wasnt kidding. I had to replace the heater core on my wife's Expedition a couple of months back. The heater core resides right next to the evaporator on most newer cars. Below are pics of my 6 hour adventure into the depths of dashboardville.

Getting started

Halfway home

The elusive heater core The heater core is the black box right next to the evaporator, which is the silver box.