The air conditioning on/off button for a car

Car air conditioning reduces humidity and keeps drivers cool while they drive, but wear and tear eventually catches up with these climate systems.

Problems such as a refrigerant leak, blower motor malfunction, and faulty condenser can all need repairs. Such problems creep up eventually as cars age, but a recent Consumer Reports analysis found that there are 10 models that have issues far too often, and too soon—some needed repair before 20,000 miles.

Most of the problematic cars in the list below had significant failure rates in the first five years from production, and the likelihood of problems occurring ranged from one in five to one in 10. Those are terrible odds for a system that can be expensive to fix.

The good news at least is that these problems won’t leave you stranded like other issues we covered previously that require a new head gasket, transmission replacement, and even an engine rebuild.  

“Air conditioning problems range from easy to repair to requiring significant trouble-shooting and skill to fix,” says John Ibbotson, Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic. “Drivers naturally dread AC problems because they invariably happen when you most want the cool air, and the costs to repair can easily top $1,000. But some problems, if caught early enough, don't cost nearly that much.”

MORE ON CAR MAINTENANCE AND RELIABILITY

These days, it is reasonable to expect an air conditioning system to be dependable for 100,000 miles or more. However, these 10 cars and SUVs show significant risks at half that mileage. It is notable that some survey respondents told us that they had recurring problems out of warranty.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a used car to buy, with reliability being chief among them. By looking at Consumer Reports’ reliability ratings, you can see how cars compare against their peers. There is an overall reliability rating and ratings for 17 trouble spots on each car we cover. These trouble spots reveal where problems are more likely to be expensive and debilitating. The ratings below can serve as a warning that owners should be especially vigilant to reduce any potential repair costs and vehicle downtime.

The 10 highlighted models are presented below in rank order, starting with the one with the greatest climate-system-related problem rate among CR members. We include the model year with the greatest problems (and when applicable, a range of years affected by this problem) and the typical mileage range when the problem occurs.

Long-term car ownership is a great way to reduce your transportation costs, rather than buy a replacement car every few years. The key to going the distance is starting with a good, reliable car and properly maintaining it, per the directions in the owner’s manual. Consumer Reports always recommends shoppers consult the reliability ratings, based on our large-scale member surveys, to predict the models that have better odds of being trouble-free. You'll find detailed data on the car model pages.  

2016 Mazda CX-3

2016 Mazda CX-3 is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2016 Mazda CX-3
Model years affected:
2016
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 22,000-49,000


2013 GMC Acadia

2013 GMC Acadia is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2013 GMC Acadia
Model years affected:
2012-2016
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 45,000-85,000 


2015 Chevrolet Traverse

2015 Chevrolet Traverse is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2015 Chevrolet Traverse
Model years affected:
2012-2015
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 25,000-55,000 


2012 Buick Enclave

2012 Buick Enclave is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2012 Buick Enclave
Model years affected:
2012-2015
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 69,000-106,000 


2016 Ford Mustang

2016 Ford Mustang is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2016 Ford Mustang
Model years affected:
 2015-2016
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 16,000-34,000


2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
Model years affected:
2013-2014
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 62,000-99,000


2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia
Typical mileage when problem occurs:
15,000-30,000 


2012 Volkswagen Jetta

2012 Volkswagen Jetta is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2012 Volkswagen Jetta
Typical mileage when problem occurs:
56,000-127,000 


2015 Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon are among the SUVs that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2015 Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 
62,000-87,000


2016 Tesla Model X

2016 Tesla Model X is among the cars that are most likely to have air conditioning problems

2016 Tesla Model X
Typical mileage when problem occurs: 
23,000-46,000