E36 (1993+) A/C Condenser Replacement & System Recharging Procedure
It is illegal to vent R-134a in to the atmosphere. If your car has residual R-134a in the system, you must take the car in to have it professionally evacuated. Legalities aside, R-134a is toxic! Wear gloves and eye protection when dealing with this stuff. Note, this procedure is for R-134a cars only! This means 93+ E36s. I am not responsible for anything. Below is an account of how I did it and it may not work for you …
Ok, disclaimers aside – this job is easy. I mean really easy. Just be careful. There are a lot of steps though …
I bought my ’93 E36 with a busted condenser as diagnosed by a dealer. Didn’t care at the time, Sandy Hago has great weather (especially where I live) . Anyway, I saw a condenser on ebay and decided to pick it up. A couple months later, I was ready …
If your system has pressure in it, get it evacuated professionally. There are many shops that will do this and even tell you where your leak is (they use a die and a black light). My car had no pressure in it, so this step didn’t apply to me.
STUFF YOU’LL NEED:
1. A/C condenser (used, oem doesn’t really matter that much). Expect to pay less than $150. Dealer price is $450+
2. A/C receiver/dryer (oem). Ebay has ‘em for about $45. Dealer price is $125+.
3. Gaskets. Refer to the following picture for which ones. Caution! The ETK is wrong (at least for my car) on this. The dealer was also wrong. Overbuy if you must. About $40 (I know, what a rip). I ended up getting 4 #6s and 4 8s.
4. Manifold Gauge set for R-134a. Should have a blue gauge and hose (low pressure), red gauge and hose (hi pressure) and yellow hose (refrigerant supply/vacuum). About $75-$100.
5. Vacuum pump (oil based preferred). Don’t know where to get one. Maybe it can be rented. I borrowed one from a friend. They run for $250 I hear.
6. 3 cans (12oz) of R-134a and 1 can (8.5oz) of refrigerant oil. Available at any parts store. Total cost = $40.
7. Usual set of tools – Philips screwdrivers, hex sockets, ratchet.
8. six pack. I hate American beer, Rolling Rock is an exception though.
Total (if you buy everything) = $(150+45+40+100+250+40+10) = ~ $640.
Total (if you know someone with a pump and manifold (or rent)) = $(150+45+40+40+10)= ~ $290
Total (if you’re lucky like me ) = $(85+$40+$25+$30+10) = $190 (ebay – condenser/receiver-dryer, friend had the pump and manifold, gaskets – I know the parts guy at the dealership, kragen sale on R-134a and oil)
Total (dealership) = $1000+ !!!
1. Check for existing pressure
a. Lift the hood and hang the manifold on the hood latch (roughly eye level).
b. Make sure that all valves (hi, low and ref/vac) are closed.
c. Plug the low side (blue) in to the low side port. The ports are of different sizes, so you really can’t go wrong here.
d. If you see pressure (not vacuum), take it to a shop to get it evacuated.
e. If you see vacuum, you may not have a leak (or a very slow one). End here and just either recharge with refrigerant or add some stop-leak type additive.
2. Do a leak test (only if you have zero vacuum)
a. With the set up in step 1, connect the high side as well.
b. Plug in your vacuum and turn it on based on pump instructions.
c. Open the ref/vac valve and the low side and high side valves.
d. You should see a vacuum starting to form (the needle on the gauge will go below zero).
e. Let it run for 5mins, and then shut off the blue valve, the red valve, the ref/vac valve and the pump.
f. Come back after 5mins and check if you’ve lost any vacuum. If you have, you need to find the leak. Take it to a shop. The steps below are only if your leak is in the condenser unit.
3. Raise the front end of the car up on ramps. You need to do this because the condenser comes out from the bottom of the car. Chock the rear wheels and use your handbrake. Safety disclaimer applies here.
4. Remove the bumper
a. Using a flat head screwdriver with tape on the ends, carefully remove the trim pieces as indicated. The longer of the two trim pieces that wraps around the side of the bumper is first pried from the front and then “pulled” forward. It’ll come out easily. If you’re putting too much force, get a beer and try again … ‘cause you’re about to bust something.
b. Go under the car and remove 8 screws (mine were hex 8mm) from under the left and right brake ducts. Maybe you’re missing some, I don’t care – just think and remove.
c. Remove the brake ducts from the bumper.
d. Remove the fogs. Don’t just pull the connector! Once that bumper comes off and you set it down, the last thing you want is some neighbor kid coming and kicking your bumper around just to scratch/damage your $100 fogs! Ask me how I know!
e. Remove one screw on each side in the front wheel well (left and right side). Look at the picture.
f. Remove the four hex nuts (13mm) in the front under the trim pieces you removed earlier. The bumper is about to come off!
g. Slide off the bumper carefully. The splash guards in the front wheel wells may need to be tortured a bit (you’ll know what I mean). Once you’re done, you should have something like this.
5. Remove the plastic shroud covering your radiator. Four screws (hex 8mm I think) and two plastic push expander thingys.
6. Remove the two screws holding your condenser in. Different years may have different procedures here. Just pick up a Bentley.
7. Remove the fours hex screws (8mm) holding the auxiliary fan. Don’t let it fall to the ground! Remove the wiring harness and set this thing aside.
8. Remove the plastic shroud behind the auxiliary fan. A bit tricky here. There are two hex screws you should be able to see through the kidney grills. Use an extension to get to these ones.
9. Remove the splash guard (4 philips screws for me) under the auxiliary fan.
10. Remove the plastic shroud.
11. Remove the A/C lines to the left of the condenser. These are allen screws. They may be a bit tight. Once you unscrew them, plug the lines with something to prevent anything from getting in.
12. Maneuver things a bit and pull the condenser out of the car from underneath. Make sure your new condenser/used/oem one has the same mounting points (visually you’ll see this). My 93 condenser looked quite different from the one I picked up from ebay but the mounting points were the same – so I didn’t care.
13. Put new gaskets on the pipes leading to the condenser. Use gasket #8 for the pipe leading to the receiver/dryer and gasket #6 for the pipe leading to the compressor.
14. Remove the AC lines at the firewall where you plug in your manifold. Replace both gaskets with gasket #6 (For my car, the ETK indicates to use gasket #7. This was WRONG. Even the dealer didn’t have this right). Re-attach the AC lines.
15. Remove the AC lines at the compressor. Replace them with gasket #6 for the line leading from the firewall to the compressor and gasket #8 for the line from the compressor to the condenser.
16. Put in your new condenser. Installation was the opposite of removal. Re-attach the AC lines.
17. Replace the Receiver/Dryer
a. Whenever you replace any AC component, you must replace the receiver dryer since it has been exposed to air. Do this last as you want to minimize it’s exposure to air.
b. The Receiver/Dryer is located behind the right headlight. There are two 8mm hex bolts holding it in.
c. Remove the AC lines first and replace the gaskets with gasket #8 (for both).
d. Remove the old receiver/dryer and replace with the new one. Re-attach.
e. Open the plugs on the new receiver/dryer and quickly re-attach the AC lines.
18. I replaced all my gaskets in the engine bay. I did not go thru the trouble of opening up the dash and removing the expansion valve or the evap. Do whatever you want. You need 4 gasket #6s and 4 gasket #8s.
19. Re-install/Re-attach everything back. Installation is the opposite of removal.
20. Re-test leak: repeat step 2. If you’ve done everything correctly, you shouldn’t lose vacuum at all. Congratulations!
1. Make sure there’s enough oil in the vacuum pump.
2. Turn on the pump, open the red and blue and yellow valves.
3. Run the pump for at least 30mins! I ran mine for an hour. This will get rid of air of course and any other moisture in the system.
4. Wear gloves and eye protection.
5. Wear gloves and eye protection.
6. Wear gloves and eye protection!
7. Shut off all valves and then the pump (this may differ depending upon the pump instructions – just follow those). You should read about 30Hg of vacuum.
8. Connect the can of oil (8.5 oz) to the ref. line on the manifold. Hold it upside-down and open the low valve and the ref. line valve and the valve on the can itself. NEVER charge from the high side.
9. The system pressure should increase and your can of oil will empty out (almost empty out). Shake it a little bit to “help” it.
10. Close all valves and remove the oil can from the ref. line.
11. Turn on the car, turn on the A/C and put the blower on its lowest setting. Let the car idle for 5mins so that pressures equalize thru the entire system.
12. Turn your blower on hi. Connect a can of refrigerant to the ref. line on the manifold and open its valve. Open the yellow and blue (low side) valves on the manifold. NEVER charge from the high side!
13. The system pressure will rise and the can will empty out. It will also get very cold!
14. Check your vents, the air should be getting colder. Good job!
15. Once the can is empty (shake it if you must), shut all valves and repeat step 12 with the next can. My car used about 7oz of oil and 2.5 cans of ref.
16. Once done, shut all valves. Turn off the car. Carefully remove the lines. The red line (high side) will have some pressure in it. Keep those goggles and gloves on!
17. Take the car for a spin, you’re done!
Awesome write up. Thanks.
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awesome post.. i just replaced my condenser last week and it was a lot simpler than I had thought.. I searched all over and found no DIY on replacing a condenser so I just winged it.... wish I had this DIY last week! I wish I could do the a/c recharge myself too but I don't have any of the equipment so I gotta shell out $120 for the a/c system check and refill anyways good write up... you should have this listed on the DIY website
2011 328i X-Drive~Mercedes ML55 AMG~2000 E320~1998 Chevrolet Corvette~2001 BMW 740iL
your diy was great! its about time. how much will the shop diagnose for a/c problems like condenser leak? evacuate?
thanks for the comments.
the shop will typically charge you b/w $60 and $120 to check your system and pinpoint a leak. I haven't done this myself, but with equipment listed in the DIY, purchase some UV dye in a can (kragen has this). Draw a vacuum and let the system slurp up some of the dye (wear eye protection). turn off the lights and walk your A/C lines/connections, condenser, compressor, clutch (A/C), evap, expansion valve, recv/dryer with a "black light". You'll see a really strong glow where there's a leak ...
This weekend in the Bimmer w/o working AC made this project TOP PRIORITY for me. I'm curious if there is a good source for metric AC-friendly O-Rings, like this standard sized set available from JC Whitney...
200 pc 134a ORing Assortment
If that link doesn't work, just search for "oring" at their main site and you should see a listing for their large kits.
Anyway, I have two german cars to refresh, so I figure $22 for every oring for both of them with about 180 orings left over is better than $40 for a total of 6 orings, enough for one car.
Anyone have a hookup on a metric 134a oring supplier? I contacted McMaster Carr, no luck. They recommended PTFE or FEP for the oring material, but didn't carry metric sizes for these. Could I just stretch/squish the standard sizes in the JCW kit enough to work for me?
Also, I need a new AC compressor for a 93 325i, preferably local to Detroit MI. Anyone have one?
Anybody find out a solution yet to the kit??Originally Posted by gielamonster
Here's one source - ACkits.comOriginally Posted by wheresmym3
2001 530i/5 S+P CDV delete/Akebono ceramic pads/M5 SSK/RedLine MTL/M5 rear sway bar
BMWCCA Member #337964
I replaced my condenser just this last weekend. Thats a great DIY. I was able to replace mine without removing the bumper at all.
First, I unbolted the high and low side lines from the condenser.
Then I unplugged the fan, removed the four bolts holding the fan/shroud assembly, then just lowered it out from the bottom. I had to jack up the front slightly to get enough clearance.
After that remove the remaining two bolts on top holding the condenser in and slide it out the bottom as well.
Worked well for me. The only problem I had was the brackets on the new condenser needed a little tweaking to line up properly. Not a big deal though.
Only sucky part, was having to pay to have the system evacuated, and re-charged at a shop due to lack of that kind of equipment.
Awesome...thanks!Originally Posted by Steve530
What's the pressure supposed to read on the low pressure side when full??
mine reads about 30lbs on the low side.
Thanks...just bought a can of refrigerant with oil and sealer in it with a gauge attached. Filled to 30-35lbs. Works good now...just hope there are no leaks!! I will recheck pressure after a few uses.Originally Posted by axroh
I just found out today that my parents have 4 bottles of r134a and the manifold needed to do the a/c charge just sitting in their garage. I almost went and paid someone to do this job. Oh man this rocks.
Finally finished my compressor replacement and vac/fill job last night. The best thing about this job is the incredible payoff you get when you're done. How many other repair jobs on the car will give you such noticeable and WONDERFUL results. I love air conditioning!
I'll upload my pictures later tonight.
Here are some notes while they're fresh on my mind:
- My compressor bolts were a PITA in more ways than one. 1 broke off in the steel sleeve. Tried drilling it out for an hour or two, made a 2mm deep cone-crater, decided to use 3/4 fasteners!
- Those 6mm allen bolts can be really friggin stuck. What ended up working for me was to slip a 7mm 1/4" drive deep socket over the end, then stick a 12" long pry bar/pin in the end of the socket. "DIY 6mm allen head breaker bar"
- I wanted to slightly undercharge it to start, then top up if need be, but I think I might have slightly overcharged it. It was about 35-40 psi low, but only 150 psi high. But the air is plenty cold enough for now. I'll check it again in a few days.
- I was able to borrow an industrial-grade electric vaccum pump and the dual guage manifold set. Using them was very easy. The guy I borrowed the tools from said the difference between the electric pump verses one of those compressed air-powered "pumps" is night and day. He also said the best the compressed air pumps can pull is about 27-28 inHg. The electric one I used last night pulled it down to a solid 30 inHg, which is darn near outer-space levels of vaccum. If you can rent/borrow an electric pump, I'd say go that route.
- Orings are super cheap, and very easy to change. I ended up buying a 240 piece assortment for $20, as I have 3-4 cars I need to replace them on. Also, my car DID use a "#7" oring where Axroh's did not, at one of the connections at the firewall. Luckily I had the assorment, otherwise I would've been making a 2am run to the parts store. Also, I don't think its worth ordering the assorments online, I think most parts stores carry them at pretty much the same price. Maybe only order online if you want the BMW specific kit, but even then you might get hosed with this #7/#6 discrepancy. I definitely wouldn't recommend buying the orings at the dealer, the parts store orings are 100% up to the job, and about 1/1000th the price.
Last thing is I ended up getting two receiver/driers by mistake. So I have one brand new one, never opened or exposed to air, still has the vaccum plugs in place and wrapped in the shrink wrap. If anyone needs one, I'll send it out for $35 shipped anywhere in the US. It should fit all E36s, but to be sure, compare yours to the picture I'll post up later tonight.
Are specific gaskets AND o-rings required to do this, or are they the same thing?
I just need to find a friend with a vacuum pump and I'm going to try this myself.
2 weeks and still blowing cold. Too cold actually, or rather, the weather is cool enough now that I pretty much don't need it. Kindof a bummer. The other day I could see my breath with the AC blowing at my face. I decided to point it at the windshield at that point...
Anyways, yes Erik, you need specific orings for replacement. There are no gaskets in the AC system plumbing. The orings must be compatible with AC-systems. They're usually made of something called HNBR and are green in color. I only used 8 orings (left the two inside the passenger compartment unchanged). But I bought a 200+ assortment from the local parts store for about $20. Figured it'd be easier than trying to get super small quanities of specific sizes for not much more money. Plus now I should have enough orings to reseal every car I own for the next 30 years.
These are the only pictures I took while I was doing the work, sorry...
Where did you buy the kit? How much did it cost? ThanksOriginally Posted by wheresmym3
Hi everyone, i have 2 questions:
is it true when you have too much pressure the compressor will cycle on and off frequently? just had the car serviced in a brazilian dealer and have notticed this ever since it returned but they say it is normal.
on really hot days (100F) the a/c is not cold enough on traffic eventhough it get much better on highway and it works wonderfully at night... could a bad heater valve be the problem? it is a 12 year old E36 and i have never replaced that...
I did not realise that the DYE test need a black light to see it till I read this DIY. I thought you'll see straight the yellow dye coming out from leaks.
I had my A/C recharged/regassed few weeks ago simply my A/C is not blowing cold air anymore. I know there's a leak somewhere because I was told for you to loose pressure or gas/freon in your A/C - leak is the main culprit.
My A/C is working fine now 'at the moment'..cold air coming out from vents. but my questions is,
Would you still be able to 'see' the leak if the DYE test was done 3 weeks ago using black light? That freakin mobile A/C mechanic did the DYE test but never used a uv or black light to check for leaks. I was watching what he is doing then and ask what the yellow thing for but did not ask how you'll test it.
If I can't see any DYE now that 3 weeks have passed, how should I do the leak test now that my A/C is recharged again?
It's true you may see the dye coming out from your leak point. The fact that its dark in there and the fact that most dyes are florescent makes the use of a black light even more informative.
I used a dye from kragen (auto parts store here in the US) once that left a powder residue even after a couple of months. That might be a hint for you.
Otherwise, take it to a professional to get it inspected. There are many points of failure, most common being the condenser followed by the compressor. A good way to test it is to have them evacuate the whole system (don't just let the refrigerant let go in the air) and pull vacuum to 29-30Hg for 10-15mins. Take the car home and wait a day. Go back and see if you still have about 29Hg. If you don't, you have a confirmed leak, and now the trick would be to find it. A dye test helps for those components in the engine compartment, but if your evap is leaking, that would be harder to diagnose (and replace since its behind the dash).
But it sounds like your cold air may be intermittent - maybe he didn't charge it enough? without knowing the pressures, its hard to diagnose. Post the pressures here (hi side and lo side) and I can try to help out. Just for reference, while the AC is running full blast, you should see about 180-220psi on the hi side and about 30-45psi on the low side. If you're hovering around 21psi on the low side, the compressor will kick on and off and hence you'll get that intermittent cooling feel. Generally an indication that your low on refrigerant. If you don't get the full 180-220psi on the hi side, generally means that your compressor may be shot, and is having a hard time compressing the gas.
Sorry for all the info, let me know how it goes.
much props a great DIY