Saturday, June 2, 2018

Fixing Ford AC Head Controller Vacuum Problem

The AC on my land yacht (2009 Mercury Grand Marquis) has been in the fritz for a while. Last winter, it gradually stopped switching from max AC/recirculate (a necessary in Vegas), then got stuck on norm AC until it rested on Defrost/Floor. I was able to fix it with some basic troubleshooting, YouTube sleuthing, and two bucks in o-rings.

This shaky yet informative video by Ian Smith helped me diagnose it as a problem with vacuum only. The AC itself was fine. It blows cool air all day long. It just did so at the windshield. It couldn't be the blend-door actuator.

The same video showed me how to diagnose the vacuum problems. The black hose providing vacuum from the engine seemed fine: I was getting 20 inches of vacuum with the car turned on when I hooked up a bleed pump with a gauge (mine came from Harbor Freight, shown in the video). To test the actuators, all I had to do was hook a 'jumper' pipe from black to the other pipes. Each one seemed to hold air, and the actuators sprang to life once again. For the first time in a year, I had cold air blowing from the vents. The problem couldn't be in the lines. I pulled the controller head for a closer look.

The head itself is a bunch of electronics, a control panel, and one removable plate with four solenoids. The vacuum hoses come into this through a manifold, and the head controls trigger the solenoids to route vacuum from the black hose to the others. This triggers different actuators under the dash. Something was amiss in the manifold.

I returned to YouTube looking for rebuild instructions. I found this extremely helpful video from a Chicago mechanic. The solenoids contain an o-ring that dries out, wears out, and loses the ability to hold vacuum. I obtained close to the recommended o-rings from Lowes (#36, 5/16 OD, 3/16 ID, 1/16 thickness) as I was not willing to wait for Amazon. A little Oatey silicone lubricant made the tight squeeze work a little better. I found I had to seat the solenoid heads at least once before total reassembly. It was too difficult to do so at the end and fight with the other small parts at the same time. 45 minutes later, I had full control of my AC restored.

I can't believe it was this simple to fix the controller. I think I was intimidated by the AC (having spent $1500 last year to have the dealer redo the whole system from seals to refrigerant). I didn't want to break anything. A few targeted troubleshooting steps helped assuage any fears of irreparable harm, and now I have a comfortable cabin once again.

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