How Long Does An AC Compressor Last?

Copeland Compressor Cutaway

The short answer is that your AC Compressor should last 10 – 15 years. This includes the refrigerant. Your AC is only as good as its components.

Learning what crucial parts it contains can keep your AC running efficiently for many years to come, and knowing how to maintain these parts will help you do so even more effectively.

Your Air Conditioning Compressor

When imagining an AC compressor’s job in an HVAC system, it is useful to use the human body as an analogy.

In simple terms, the compressor in an AC unit is what the heart is to our bodies.

Without it, the whole system will cease to function immediately.

Just like a human heart, you will need to ensure that the compressor is in good working order if you want the system to continue to function in the long term.

If your compressor is overworked, you will find that it will break down and needs replacing often.

However, if you regularly maintain and service your unit, you can significantly extend its life expectancy and ensure that it remains functional well into its later years.

The cost of replacing your air conditioner compressor is equivalent to more than a third of your system’s overall replacement cost.

So it’s important to take care of it. 

What Does a Compressor Do?

ac compressor cycle

The compressor in an AC is the part of the system that increases the pressure and temperature of the vapor refrigerant in the system.

The compressor increases the pressure of the refrigerant gas in order to make the pressure difference that causes the refrigerant to flow around the system.

An adequate supply of pressurized refrigerant (sometimes known as cooling gas) is necessary for the heat exchange that takes place in the coils of indoor and outdoor AC units.

Without this pressurized refrigerant gas, an AC system will be incapable of producing cold air.

What is the Average Lifespan of an AC Compressor?

The typical lifespan of an AC compressor is between 10 and 15 years while your HVAC system as a whole should last 15 to 20 years.

However, this lifespan can be extended or shortened depending on how well your system is maintained, the type of operating conditions, and the location of the AC outdoor unit.

Some signs that you may need to replace your compressor include refrigerant leaksunusual noises when the AC is turned on, and/or sporadic cooling.

If you notice any of these signs, you should call a licensed HVAC professional right away to diagnose the problem before it becomes more serious and costly to repair.

Factors That Affect Compressor Life Expectancy

There are several factors that may cause an air conditioner compressor to break down over time:

1. Maintenance and Servicing

AC Maintenance

The principal factor determining whether your compressor carries on working as it gets older is adequate upkeep and proper maintenance.

You, as a homeowner, can take specific actions to look after a compressor’s health.

Then, you should check the refrigerant lines and the insulation that covers them to ensure they are in good condition.

While you are doing this, you can check the drain lines for blockages, pouring a bleach solution down them to clean them.

Finally, clean the unit’s exterior regularly with a garden hose to remove any dirt that will naturally accumulate over time.

First, you should ensure that it receives adequate airflow by removing any foliage or debris that collects around the unit and might obstruct the fan.

You will need to check and change the air filter regularly since a blocked or clogged filter can also force the compressor to work harder than it needs and can lead to a frozen evaporator or condensing coil.

A clean evaporator coil is also essential to the efficiency of your air conditioner or heat pump.

This is also a great way to improve the energy efficiency of your AC. 

🛑 NOTE: If your AC is struggling with start-up, your unit may require a hard start kit.

This helps reduce electricity used during start up and the start-up period. It also has the added benefit of prolonging the life of your compressor.

2. Overuse/ Underuse of the AC Compressor

Overuse of an AC can shorten how long an AC compressor can last

It will come as no surprise that extremely heavy AC use will cause compressor wear and tear that will often shorten its life span.

However, many people do not realize that underuse can be almost as damaging for a compressor.

compressor contains a motor and a series of pistons that work to move the refrigerant around the refrigerant lines.

Like any motor, underuse can result in the moving parts inside seizing up and stopping working.

It is a good idea to turn your AC on now and again, even though the colder months, to ensure that this does not happen.

Another easy way to prevent a compressor motor from seizing up is to keep it topped up with oil.

Make sure you use the right type of compressor oil when you go to top it up.

3. Refrigerant Leak

AC Refrigerant Check

Your AC compressor cannot perform its job if the system is not charged with the right amount of refrigerant.

The compressor, heat exchanger, refrigerant lines, and refrigerant form a closed system, and in an ideal world, you should not have to top it up with more refrigerant. 

In case you were wondering, a Heat Pump compressor works exactly the same as an AC compressor.

Heat Pump has the ability to reverse its heat transfer and act as an AC and heater at the same time. 

So, how long does the refrigerant last in your AC? 

The truth is that, barring damage to the refrigerant lines, which results in leaks, the refrigerant will last as long as the unit keeps functioning.

However, if your system starts to leak for whatever reason, this may indicate that you have a problem with your refrigerant lines.

In this case, you may need to call in a trained HVAC professional to repair or replace the lines and recharge your system with Freon.

4. Wrong Sized Unit

Packaged HVAC installation

The unit’s size, compared with the space it is required to cool, can have a significant impact on the compressor’s lifespan.

If a unit is too small, the compressor will have to work extra hard to generate enough cold air to cool the space.

However, if the unit is too large, it will be forced to cycle rapidly to avoid overcooling the space, again putting extra strain on the compressor.

To ensure that your unit is the correct size, you should have a professional HVAC technician perform a Manual J calculation before buying to calculate the BTUs your unit will need to produce.

What to Do If You Need a New Compressor

Phyxter Approved Logo on Service Truck

AC compressors do not last forever.

No matter how well you maintain your air conditioning systems, there will more than likely be a time when issues will lead to a compressor failure.

It is advisable to replace a compressor well before your system stops working entirely since running an AC with a worn-out compressor puts undue stress on the other components in the unit, potentially causing them to need replacing sooner than they should need to be.

When you need to replace your compressor, you should waste no time calling in a professional HVAC contractor.

It is inadvisable to attempt a fix on your own with the requisite level of training and experience because specialist knowledge and tools are required to fit the new compressor and charge the system again with refrigerant.

Phyxter Home Services has you covered. We have professional HVAC Technicians trained and experienced in all types of air conditioners and climate control systems.

Check out our page on AC Services for more information or a free estimate from professionals in your area. So don’t wait until your home turns into a sweat box.

Contact Phyxter Home Services today. 

Dealing with other common AC problems? Check out: Top 18 Common AC Problems and Solutions

Russell Jones

Russell, a native Australian and VP of Operations at Phyxter Home Services, is also part-owner of Vernon Air Conditioning, Plumbing, and Electrical Services. When he's not busy with work projects and renovations, Russell enjoys putting his vast knowledge of home improvement to good use by sharing his tips and tricks.

About our blog

Phyxter (pronounced Fix-ter) is a national home services brand specializing in Residential HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing solutions.

Phyxter is laser-focused on writing the best articles and guides to empower homeowners to get the best out of their homes.

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