Most Reliable Central Air Conditioning Systems

The brands most likely to keep you cool season after season

Last updated: March 2016

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Installing or replacing a central air conditioning system is one of a homeowner’s biggest expenses so you’ll want to get it right the first time. It’s not practical for Consumer Reports to test central air conditioning systems because there are so many variables, including a home's size and design, how the system is installed, and construction of the ductwork. Instead, we estimate the reliability of major brands on the market by asking our readers about their experiences with the systems they bought and installed. Choosing a brand with a lower failure rate will help boost your chances of getting an air conditioning system that will last for years.

In our most recent survey, 16,247 of our subscribers told us about the central air conditioning system they purchased between 2008 and 2015. Because systems with heat pumps are used for cooling for more months of the year than conventional systems—7 months vs. 5 months—we analyzed the data for each type separately. This year we also asked our subscribers how satisfied they are with the central air system they purchased, the cost of their most expensive repair, and which parts broke. Here’s what we found.

Conventional Air Conditioning Systems

Conventional central air conditioning systems are more common in regions with greater temperature swings such as the northeast and are used a median of five months a year. In our survey, American Standard was more reliable than half of the eight other brands we analyzed, while Amana was more repair-prone than half the other brands.

Satisfaction. In general, we expect most owners of a central air system to be highly satisfied with the reliability of their system by the fifth year of ownership, regardless of the brand. Still, owners of American Standard systems are also the most likely to be highly satisfied with the reliability of their A/C system by the fifth year of ownership, while owners of Goodman systems are at the bottom of that list.

Parts that break. By the fifth year of ownership, evaporator coils and controls are the parts most likely to require repair. On a brand level, York’s evaporator coils are among the least reliable and Goodman’s blowers are somewhat more repair-prone than most other brands.

Repair costs. When we asked subscribers to tell us the cost of their most expensive repair we found a wide range. Rheem units had a median repair cost of $207 and Goodman wasn’t too far behind at $183. The least expensive brand to repair was Amana, at $133, closely followed by Lennox at $135 and Bryant at $137. We didn’t have enough repair cost data on conventional A/C systems from American Standard or York to comment on them.

Air Conditioning Systems With Heat Pumps

Heat pump A/Cs are common in regions with moderate heating and cooling needs. During the cooling season, heat pumps move warm air from your cool house outside. During the heating season, they do they opposite. Systems with heat pumps are typically in use for cooling for a median of seven months a year. In our survey, American Standard and Bryant were among the more reliable brands and York and Goodman were more prone to breakage, with about half of their units experiencing a serious problem by the fifth year of ownership.

Satisfaction. Reports of satisfaction lined up with reliability, with owners of American Standard and Bryant being the most likely to be satisfied with their system after owning it for five years. Owners of systems by Goodman and York are the least likely to be satisfied. In general, we expect most owners of a central air system to be highly satisfied with the reliability of their system by the fifth year of ownership, regardless of the brand.

Parts that break. After five years of use, evaporator coils, controls, and compressors are the most likely parts to break. On a brand level, Bryant’s evaporator coils are the most reliable of any heat pump brand. As for evaporator coils, those from systems made by American Standard, Trane, Carrier, and Lennox are more reliable than those from Goodman, York, Ruud, Amana, and Rheem. York’s heat pump blowers are less reliable than those of other brands.

Repair costs. The range of the most expensive repair costs paid for A/C systems with heat pumps is greater than the repair costs for conventional systems. Ruud is the most expensive system to repair with a median repair cost of $231. That is more than $30 above the next most expensive brands, York and Rheem, at $198 each. The least expensive brand to repair is Bryant with a median cost of $127.

Keep Your A/C System Humming

Even if you buy the most reliable air conditioning system, it can let you down if you don’t keep it up.

Keep it clean. Be sure hedges and plants are at least 2 feet away from the outside unit. Clean grills and filters monthly. Clear debris and dirt from condenser coils and check for blockages in the drain pipe.

Seal and insulate ducts. Up to 30 to 40 percent of energy can escape through leaks or when ducts aren't insulated.  Sealing them will keep you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Seasonal checks. Once a year have a licensed professional change all filters, clean and flush the coils, drain the pan and drainage system, and vacuum the blower compartments. The contractor should also check that the system is properly charged with refrigerant, that there are no leaks, and that all mechanical components are working properly.

More Details

Overall, the median brand failure rate is 24 percent for conventional A/C systems and 40 percent for A/C systems with heat pumps. To see the reliability rates for all 10 brands— Amana, American Standard, Bryant, Carrier, Goodman, Lennox, Rheem, Ruud, Trane, and York—log-in or subscribe.

Not interested in central air? Then check our full Ratings and recommendations of window and portable air conditioners.

—Mary H.J. Farrell

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