Will Low Freon Damage a Compressor? (Easy Explained)

Will Low Freon Damage a Compressor

Have you ever wondered if low freon will damage your compressor? Look no more. We´ve got you covered.

You may find your AC is not cooling like it used to and making some strange sounds in the process. You may find your system is vibrating and shuddering when it starts, and your electricity bills are steadily climbing.

Chances are good that your freon is low, which spells bad news for your AC compressor. 

Low freon will damage your compressor and the internal components of your AC. Your compressor is designed to handle a specific refrigerant charge, and if the freon is too low, the compressor will be placed under strain and eventually fail.

Compressors also need the lubricating oil contained in the freon to run smoothly and prevent friction.

Understanding how your AC system works is the first step in tacking your low freon levels. It would be best if you made an informed decision whether it is better to repair or replace your freon-based system.

Here are some tips for diagnosing low freon and fixing the problem before it damages your compressor. 

How Does Low Freon Affect a Compressor?

People often misunderstand the role of freon in a cooling system as being a form of fuel such as gasoline in a car that gets used up over time.

Freon is not a fuel and should remain at its factory set charge or level through the lifetime of your AC system.

The refrigerant moves between gas and liquid states absorbing heat through evaporation and releasing heat through condensation in a closed system without losing volume. 

However, should your AC system have a freon leak and the charge of the refrigerant drop, your AC system will be susceptible to internal damage and failure.

If your freon levels are too low, your compressor will not be able to operate properly.


Air conditioner compressors are known as vapor compressors because they compress gas in its vapor state. 

Any liquid that enters the compressor will result in reduced efficiency and may cause damage to the compressor’s internal components.

Compressors also need oil to operate smoothly, and when the refrigerant leaks, so do the lubrication oil, leading to damage and potential burnout. 

Read also: What Type of Freon Goes In RV Air Conditioner? // R-22 Refrigerant

How Does an AC Compressor Work?

Your compressor functions as the heart of your AC system and is responsible for pumping refrigerant throughout the unit. Refrigerants such as freon cool down the warm air your AC absorbs in your home, and these gasses need the machinery of a compressor to perform their cooling function.

The compressor draws in refrigerant in a 100 % vapor state and compresses the gas into a superheated and high-pressure state, moving the freon into the various areas of the AC system.

A drop in volume of refrigerant causes a corresponding decrease in pressure which affects the operation of your compressor, causing harm to the internal components of your AC. 

How an A/C Compressor Works >> Check out the video below:

How Does Freon Work? 

Freon is the trademark of E. I du Pont de Nemours ; Company is the name of a group of gasses and liquids frequently containing chlorine, hydrogen, or bromine.

Freons are types of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)that are odorless, colorless, and non-flammable. 

R-22 is commonly used as a refrigerant in older AC units as the US Department of Energy halted production and import of freon based since 1995.

R-22 is the short name for the compound CHCIF2 or monochlorodifluoromethane, which, although highly stable, has been implicated in ozone depletion and environmental damage. 

“Although the freon gets cycled continuously, in a properly operating system, the freon should last the lifespan of the AC system, sometimes up to 20 years.”

The manufacturer specified refrigerant amount is called a system charge, and a system is undercharged when the refrigerant levels drop below the specified factory set levels. 

Don’t Get Scammed: Bad AC compressor or Freon pressure >> Check out the video below:

Signs of an Undercharged System (Low Freon)

Your Compressor Has Trouble Starting

In a properly charged system, your refrigerant also functions to cool the electric motor. Low freon levels may cause your motor to overheat, preventing the compressor from starting or causing ‘hard starts.’

When your compressor has a hard start, you will notice shaking and shuddering when turning on your AC system. 

Read also: Can You Use A Portable Air Conditioner in an RV or Camper?

Lubrication Loss

As your compressor runs, oil circulates along with the refrigerant keeping the movements smooth and preventing friction between components.

If your freon is leaking, the oil will leak with it, causing your compressor to fail.

Although it is difficult to tell if your system lubrication is low, one should listen out for grinding sounds to warn of lubrication loss. 

Your Circuit Breakers Trip

Low freon levels cause your compressor to work harder than usual, putting a strain on your electrical system.

This strain may result in a tripped circuit breaker on the power line that connects with your AC system. If you find your circuit breakers constantly tripping, a faulty compressor is a probable cause.

Read also: What is a Non-ducted RV Air Conditioner? (Ducted vs. Non-ducted)

Strange Sounds in Your AC 

Damage caused by a low refrigerant charge will usually result in unusual clunking or rattling noises from your AC.

These sounds may be accompanied by increased vibration and ‘juddering’ sounds from the unit that indicates electrical failure in the compressor.

If your AC emits grinding or screeching sounds continuously through its cycle, you should switch off the system and seek professional advice. 

Read also: This Is Why Your RV Air Conditioner Is So Loud – [Do This First]

Your AC System is Blowing Warm Air

If your condenser seems to be running, warm air coming out of your AC system is a symptom of compression failure.

When your compressor can no longer properly pump the refrigerant through the AC system will result in a lack of cooling power. 

Often freon leaks start small and gradually increase in size over time, so a gradual loss of cooling may indicate leakage in your system.

Refrigerant leaks cause strain on your compressor operation as the system loses charge decreasing your AC performance. 

What Damage Can Low Freon Levels Cause?

It is essential to remain vigilant to signs of an undercharged system, as the damage caused by freon leakages may extend beyond just constantly system repairs.

If you ignore lowered freon levels, you may encounter several problems, including:

  • System damage occurs when your AC system tries to compensate for decreased freon levels by running longer to reach your preset temperature. The increased pressure within the system may damage other components and eventually cause your compressor to fail. 
  • A system with low freon levels results in Increased energy consumption as your system works harder to achieve its set temperatures. Your system will use a substantial amount more energy to run an undercharged system.
  • Freon leaks pose some health concerns, although typically, respiratory damage only occurs with high volumes of inhaled freon.
  • Freon is an environmentally destructive source of ozone-depleting chemicles and should be contained safely within a closed system. 

How to Restore Freon levels

It is vital that you consult a professional when attempting to refill the freon levels of your AC. Your freon should not dissipate in an adequately closed AC system, so it is essential to find where the leakage occurred.

Refilling your freon without addressing the problem will be costly, and the freon will leak out again. 

Your AC technician will conduct a leak detection test via nitrogen or electronic testing. At the same time, you should perform maintenance on your system and properly clean the components of your AC before you replace your freon.

Once your leakage has been repaired, and your system is clean, follow these basic steps:

Step #1: Ensure you select the correct refrigerant for your AC system. Placing the incorrect refrigerant can cause damage to your unit and physical harm to yourself.

Your system should have the information on the cabinet itself, or you may consult the manufacturer’s guide. 

Step #2: Wear protective gear and handle the gas with caution. Safety goggles and thick gloves are necessary to protect yourself from the freon, and you must take care not to inhale the gas directly.

 Freon may cause burns on exposed skin, so should the freon come in contact with your skin, rinse it immediately and seek medical attention.

Step #3: Hire a professional to recharge your freon as it is a potentially dangerous undertaking if you do not have technical expertise.

If you decide to refill the freon yourself, you may proceed as follows:

  • Switch your AC off at the thermostat and breaker
  •  Attach the refrigerant gauges to your AC valve connections. The gauge with the blue hose connects to the low-pressure valve on the left, and the red high-pressure valve connects to the right side. Leave the center line empty for the moment.
  • Run your AC for 15 minutes to stabilize your refrigerant gauge readings
  • Attach the yellow hose to the refrigerant canister valve and attach the other end to the middle valve connection on the gauge. Swist the spout at the bottom of the canister to open the gas.
  • Open the blue valve on the left of the unit and release the gas for a few seconds before closing. Repeat the process allowing small amounts of freon in at a time until you reach your intended subcooling temperature.
  • You will usually find the target subcooling temperature on the outdoor unit rating plate. Once you have reached the temperature, shut off the valve.
  • Once you have turned off the valve, disconnect the gauge hoses and shut off the refrigerant at the canister base. Since the AC is already running, there is no need to restart the system.
  • Perform another leak test to ensure that there is no more leakage of freon in your system. You may purchase an electronic leak detection test or hire an AC technician to perform a thorough test.

Should I Refill or Replace?

As governmental policies are phasing out freon and freon-based systems are, the cost of freon has increased as one may only reclaim freon from it from stock produced before 1995.

Besides the environmental impact, the scarcity of freon will make it increasingly costly to recharge your AC.

If your system is near the end of its lifespan, it makes sense to replace the unit, as repairs and refills may cost a pretty penny.

Homeguide lists the cost between $180 to $600 for older AC units using R22 Freon, and the price will rise further in the future. 

Ultimately the decision rests on your individual circumstance, the extent of the damage, and the cost of repairs. An HVAC specialist will be able to guide you on the best options for your particular AC system. 

Read also: RV Propane Refill Near Me – Stations & Locations [UPDATED]


Low freon levels are an issue that you should address as a matter of urgency. Avoid quick fixes and ensure you address the cause and not just the symptoms of a freon leakage.

Experts advise homeowners to consult a professional AC technician rather than attempting to fix their AC units themselves.

 Attempts at repair may cause further damage and harm to themselves and others. If you follow the safety protocol, you should have your home cool in no time. 




Mike Gilmour

Hi, I'm Mike, co-founder, and editor of RV and Playa. My passion is traveling (with my RV) and enjoying the day at the beach (Playa)! Well, I originally created this blog as a way to share what I've learned by experimenting with the RV lifestyle, and I want to help others develop in life through new skills and opportunities.

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