How to Survive This Summer Without Your Car’s A/C


air conditioner in car

If you’ve ever driven down an endless stretch of interstate and heard the last bubbling cries of a dying air conditioner and needed a quick cooling fix, or if you’ve ever been too broke (or the car was too old and not worth investing in) to fix your A/C, and you know that the air outside is all but suffocating, then you know the panic, regret, and resignation of a summer without your car’s A/C. It sucks.

Fortunately, we’ve scoured the web for the very best #carhacks for everyone suffering through un-cooled car air this summer. Whether you just have a few days with non-functioning air conditioning until you can bring your car into the shop, or you’re looking at the entire summer with no A/C, we hope these tips help.

car ac in summer

The Best Products for the Car A/C-less:

  • Icy Breeze Portable Air Conditioner provides environmentally-friendly air that’s up to 35 degrees cooler than the real air temperature. They actually market the system as comparable to automobile air conditioners—it’s the perfect swap!
  • Windshield shade—park facing the sun when you’re using one of these, that way, less light enters through the side and rear windows.
  • Window tint reflects up to 78% of the sun’s heat, helping ensure that your car never gets too hot in the first place.
  • Seat covers save bare legs and arms and keep your body cooler.
  • Car covers (for when you’re parked, of course) prevent your car from overheating.
  • Portable 12-volt fan, for the visor or dash, plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter. But note, some states don’t allow fans on dashboards, so be sure check ahead of time.
IcyBreeze Portable Air Conditioner & Cooler
Photo credit: Uncrate.com

DIY Tips for the Industrious

Products are great, but there are some DIY cooling car hacks that are just as effective at keeping your temperature from rising (and bonus: they’re either cheap or free!).

  • Sit on a towel if you have leather seats. We know it’s old fashioned, but it works.
  • Keep a cooler with ice water and a hand towel in the car. A slightly damp towel on the back of your neck (or even your head, if you’re not worried about your ‘do) can work cooling wonders. A spray-bottle with cold water works great, too.
  • The best offense is a good defense: park in the shade and drive during the cooler parts of the day whenever possible.

vintage car summer

Bonus: How to Fix your Own Car’s A/C

If your formerly icy cold vents start blowing only hot air, there are a few DIY steps you can take to see if you can get the system back up and running, even if you aren’t that mechanically inclined:

  • Check the cabin air filter: if it looks black and gunky, it’s time for a new one.
  • Check the condenser, mounted in front of the radiator. If it’s clogged, cleaning it might get your A/C pumping again. All you’ll need is a garden hose and some engine cleaner.
  • Check the cooling fan on your car. If your car’s A/C is electric, then when the A/C is on, the fan should be moving, and if it isn’t, check the cooling fan relay, which is usually mounted near the fan. Look for corrosion and burnt connectors. If your car uses a mechanical fan, it should rev when the engine does (you’ll have to keep the hood open and have a partner do the revving while you look). If not, you’ll need to have it repaired.
  • Make sure the compressor belt is turning with the engine, and when the A/C is on, the center part of the compressor should turn with the belt. If it doesn’t, check the pressure switch for corrosion. Often unplugging it and then plugging it back in will fix the problem.

(For visuals and further detail, check out RockAuto Auto Parts’ video)

If none of these fixes help, you probably need a professional.

Hot Car Safety Tips:

This summer, remember that parked cars can quickly become dangerous for vulnerable passengers (like children, the elderly, and pets)—never leave them unattended in a vehicle on a summer day, even if it’s not sweltering, and even if it’s just for a minute.

And finally, always remember to avoid metal parts in a hot car, like the seatbelt buckles—and don’t let your kids touch the buckles, either!

Do you have any tips for those of us without our car’s A/C this summer? Tell us in the comments!