Car vibrates when idle and AC is on – causes and fixes
Vibrations are normal in cars due to the rotation of moving parts in the engine, like the connecting rods, camshaft, and valve springs. But, a car’s vibration should be gentle to the point it’s slightly negligible.
There is always an underlying problem when the vibration of a car changes to a slightly violent theme. Auto mechanics use car vibrations to get feedback on what is happening with the vehicle. So, certain vibrations may be signs of a defective tire, a broken motor mount, or faulty brakes.
If your car vibrates when idle with the AC on, it may be time to change your spark plugs or fuel injector or stop idling your engine for too long. This article covers why cars vibrate when idle when the air conditioner is on and the implication of driving with such vibrations.
Why does your car vibrate when idle?
Rough idling of a car is not a pleasant driver’s experience. When it happens, you can tell that something is wrong with the car engine or the vehicle itself.
Generally, you should expect engine problems, poor fuel economy, and poor performance from a car that vibrates when idle. These signs vary with the underlying cause of the vibration, and below are possible causes of your car vibrations when idle.
Clogged air filters
Air filters collect a lot of tiny filth while you cruise around. Over time, this filth gets enough to reduce the airflow the vehicle needs to burn fuel drastically. Therefore, when the car idles, not enough air gets through the little pores left in the air filter to the combustion chamber.
The consequence of this shortage of air is vibrating feedback as the car tries to stay on. If too much dirt clogs the air filters, the vehicle may stop running while idling.
Bad motor mounts
Motor mounts or engine mounts secure the engine and transmission to the subframe. They absorb shock and vibrations, helping give you comfort and masking the motion of the engine within.
When motor mounts go wrong or are damaged, they cannot mask those vibrations anymore, especially when the vehicle is idling. Awful cases feel like rattling vibrations.
Before you can conclude that your case is that of a bad motor mount, you should first listen to the car and check for other signs. A lousy motor mount will generate noise and produce engine moving sounds, and you should replace bad motor mounts.
Damaged timing belt
The timing belt synchronizes the rotation of the crankshaft and the camshaft. Drivers prefer it over the timing chain for less noise and vibrations, high mechanical efficiency (close to 98%), low maintenance, no slipping, and accurate timing.
Over time, the timing belt loses its efficiency to wear. However, many other factors, like debris, misalignment, and excessive load, can affect it. When faulty, the timing belt cannot mute the vibrations as before, making them very noticeable when the car is running but idle.
Dirty fuel injectors
A dirty fuel injector reduces the quantity of fuel getting into the intake manifold. You can know when your fuel injectors are dirty through your car’s behavior when idle. A vehicle with dirty fuel injectors will vibrate and shake much when idle.
Faulty spark plugs
Spark plugs are the trigger for combustion in a car’s engine. They generate power for the vehicle by giving the spark for igniting the fuel-air mixture in the combustion chamber.
A faulty spark plug impacts negatively on the fuel combustion process. When a car with spark problems is idle, it gives off a vibration which is never a good sign.
Defective fuel intake
The intake manifold is a system of passages that convey the fuel-air mixture to the engine’s intake valves. Problems with the intake manifold deliver a bad performance and can cause the engine to misfire. When idle, a vehicle with such issues would vibrate conspicuously.
Why does my car vibrate when the AC is on?
On the other hand, AC compressors are usually to blame when a car vibrates when the air conditioner is on. They stress the engine causing it to shake when the air conditioner is on. Bad spark plugs and fuel injectors are widespread reasons for such stress.
Some other causes of vibrations when the AC is on are:
Every vehicle has a weight it should not surpass for it to be able to function correctly. The air conditioning unit has plenty of weight on its own; adding excessive external weight will strain the engine, which gives off the not pleasant vibrations as warnings of distress.
Obstruction in the AC system
Debris in the air conditioning system becomes a severe obstruction in a sufficient quantity, and such a block will make a car shake visibly when the air conditioner is on. The debris can be from external or internal sources and is most common when the compressor is faulty and broken.
Bad cooling fan
The cooling fan pulls cooling air from the car’s surroundings through the radiator. It is most useful at low speeds or when the car is idling as the vehicle does not have the luxury of air rushing through the grills. A faulty cooling fan would leave the vehicle shaking and give a loud whirring noise.
Why does my car vibrate when idle and AC is on?
Comparing the causes of car vibrations above, below are the most common reasons why your car vibrates when it is idle and the air conditioner is on.
Faulty motor mounts.
Since motor mounts are what secures the engine, the transmission, and the subframe together, any fault it develops will cause your car to vibrate and rattle. Therefore, when idling, your car would shake, and the vibrations would only worsen when the air conditioner is switched on.
Aside from the normal wear and tear, motor mounts can give off this problem when they are not correctly mounted. Sometimes, your auto mechanic may miss a step while returning the motor mount after a repair. If you notice this situation right after a repair session, you should take it back and have it thoroughly checked for loose coupling.
Car running idly for too long
When your vehicle idles for too long, the engine drags, eventually causing the engine to stall, and the car vibrates with it. In such conditions, the air conditioner (when on) increases the drag and can cause excessive vehicle shaking.
So, instead of keeping your car idle for a long time, switch it off while you wait in the car. The air conditioner will not work then, but it’s better to roll the windows down or stay under a shade than stress your engine.
Old spark plugs
Ideally, you should replace your spark plugs after 80,000 miles of usage. An early indicator of failing spark plugs is vibrations when the car is idle. Switching on the air conditioner makes the vibrations worse as the engine is not getting enough triggers in the combustion chamber.
It would be best if you replace your spark plugs on an average of three to four years. In the case of a damaged spark plug, you should change it as soon as possible to avoid further damage to the engine.
Faulty fuel injectors
A faulty fuel injector will leave the engine fuel deficient. Leaving your car idle with faulty fuel injectors will have the vehicle vibrating as it struggles with the limited fuel available from the injector. Switching on the air conditioner increases the vibrations.
The best action to take with faulty fuel injectors is to replace them. However, if the fault stems from dirt, you should get a professional to clean it.
Can you drive a car that vibrates when idle and AC is on?
Yes, you can drive a car that vibrates when idle and AC is on, but it is not recommended. Since the underlying causes of vibration for an idle car with the air conditioner can lead to something severe when ignored, you should take the car for repairs before continuing to use it.
The repair cost depends on the problem and how long the car has had it. It can be as low as $16 (replacing spark plugs yourself) or $496 (engine mount replacement). The most expensive replacement is fuel injectors, which may cost as much as $850.
Early repair is cheaper and less stressful. Taking your car to the auto mechanic when the symptoms of a vibrating car escalate to something more severe, like fast wear and engine failure and will cost you a lot for repairs and replacements.
All cars vibrate, but it is a big problem when the vibrations become violent. A car shaking when idle and the AC is on implies that the spark plugs need replacement, the motor mounts are faulty or not correctly connected, your fuel injectors are clogged or faulty, or you left your car idle until the engine dragged.
Whatever the case, you should endeavor to treat any slight difference in vibration quickly to avoid more significant problems from building in the background.