If one side of your vehicle isn’t getting hot or cold (or either) air, chances are high it’s the AC actuator. Also known as an HVAC door actuator, these small motors fit into doors on either side of the vehicle to control vents and therefore airflow.
In most cars, you have one on the driver and one on the passenger side, but you might have as many as four in luxury cars.
When yours goes out, the average cost of replacing an AC actuator is $150-$350, including $50-$150 in parts and about two hours of labor – or around $200 depending on where you go. Of course, costs vary, and some higher-end actuators may cost as much as $350.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of AC actuator replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|Supplier||AC Actuator Cost||Labor|
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How Much Does AC Actuator Replacement Cost?*
In most cases, the largest part of replacing a blend actuator is the cost of labor.
That’s because you normally have to take apart the dash or the door to replace the part. Depending on your vehicle, that can be a simple or very complex job.
Therefore, in most cases, the cost of replacing an AC actuator heavily depends on the make and model of vehicle. For example, the following chart details common estimates for different vehicles.
|Vehicle||AC Actuator Cost||Labor Cost|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (July 2022). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
AC Actuator Replacement Cost Factors
If you’re having issues with your heat and air, the actuators are one of the most likely culprits. These tiny motors sit in the doors and behind the dash to control airflow to the vents.
However, the cost of replacement will vary based on factors like the make and model of your vehicle, which actuator you’re replacing, and the local cost of labor.
Location of the Actuator
The location of the HVAC actuator will heavily impact the cost of labor.
Here, the passenger-side actuator is nearly always the cheapest to replace. That’s because it can be easily accessed through the glove box cover – meaning you’ll spend a minimum amount of time accessing it.
The driver-side actuator is normally under the service panel beneath the steering wheel, however, that will take more time to get off.
And, if you have rear passenger actuators, you might have to take apart the doors to access them. That can take considerably more time.
Number of Actuators
Replacing one actuator will normally cost $15-$150 in parts and $150-$200 in labor.
If you replace more actuators at once, it will normally stay within that range per actuator. That’s because every AC actuator is in a different place, and your mechanic won’t save time by doing all the work at once.
So, if more than one has gone out, you’re looking at a hefty job.
Cost of the Part
In most cases, you can get an original equipment manufacturer AC actuator for around $120-$150. However, you can also often opt for aftermarket parts, some of which cost under $10.
Here, it’s important to note that cheap parts may not have the same longevity of OEM parts.
Other aftermarket parts are intended to improve performance and may actually cost significantly more than the original. Therefore, you’ll have plenty of options to shop around and pick parts that work for your budget.
Cost of Labor
Nationally, you’ll pay an average rate of $80 per hour for a mechanic technician’s labor. Realistically, that ranges from $15 for a low-end or mom-and-pop shop to $210+.
Many chain shops like Midas and YourMechanic start at around $94.99 but do increase costs based on location and local demand.
In most cases, replacing the actuator will take 1-2 hours depending on where it’s located.
3 Signs You Need a New AC Actuator
If your blend door actuator is going out, you’ll probably notice that airflow is inconsistent or wrong.
However, there are other signs you can look for.
1. Noises from the Actuator
If your actuator is clicking, clanking, knocking, or whirring, it’s a good time to replace it.
Here, you’ll normally notice these sounds coming from the dashboard, just below or behind the vents. Squeaking, droning, fast or slow clicking, etc., are all bad signs.
And, if you hear them more when you turn up the AC or change the temperature, it’s very likely to be the actuator.
However, there are multiple things that can click in your ventilation including fans. If you aren’t sure, go to your mechanic and ask for a diagnostics check.
2. Inconsistent Airflow or Temperature
If airflow is going up and down, temperature is working and then isn’t, or if temperature changes randomly when no one is adjusting the AC, it likely means you have an actuator issue.
That’s because the actuator controls the direction of the vents, allowing hot or cold air to enter the cab. When the motor is broken, the vents may randomly move as the actuator responds to signals that aren’t there.
However, this symptom could also mean your vents are stuck or even that you have loose cables connecting to the actuators.
Of course, checking that will still require all of the cost of labor of replacing the actuator, so that won’t really save you money.
3. Temperature Not Working or Wrong
If you turn your heat on and cold air comes out or if you turn the air conditioning on and heated air comes out, it’s usually a sign that the actuator is broken.
Here, you should make sure the warm or cold air isn’t just the temperature of outside air and that it’s actually cooled or heated.
In addition, if your heat doesn’t turn on or your cold air doesn’t turn on, it may mean the actuator is broken. It may also mean the vent is stuck. However, the actuator is a good first place to check.
How Do You Replace an AC Actuator? (11 Steps)
If you have time on your hands, you can normally change the AC actuator yourself with very little difficulty.
However, the exact location varies somewhat per vehicle. For example, if you have rear passenger actuators, they may be in the doors or overhead.
Therefore, it may be important to check the location and use a vehicle repair guide when removing yours.
On the other hand, the passenger-side actuator is the most common. Every vehicle has one, even when they only have one actuator. It’s also the one most often used, which means the one you’ll most likely have to replace.
Therefore, these instructions are for the passenger-side blend door actuator.
Things You’ll Need:
- Ratchet and socket set
- Flat screwdrivers
- Replacement actuator
Replacing the AC Actuator
- Find the covers on the lower dash panel around the glove box and use a flat screwdriver to pry them up. In some vehicles, there are no covers, and you’ll have to look underneath the dash and in the glove box.
- Use a screwdriver or a ratchet and socket to remove the mounting screws/bolts for the panel.
- Pry the panel up carefully and go slowly to ensure you haven’t missed any screws or bolts. Often, bolts are hidden very well so if you feel resistance, stop and double-check there’s not still a bolt in place.
- Find the blend door actuator, usually in the upper left corner, closer to the center dash.
- Turn off your engine and make sure you have the keys in your pocket. Then unplug the battery from the negative terminal.
- Find the clip on the wiring harness and use a flat screwdriver to release it. If the connector is already loose or there are loose wires, try fixing that and testing the system again. Otherwise, pull the connector out.
- Remove the mounting screws or bolts. In most cases, there are three screws around the actuator. In other cases, you might need a small socket. Then, pull the actuator free.
- Check the blend door to ensure that it turns freely. If it doesn’t, it could immediately burn out your new motor.
- Put the new actuator in place, threading the first screws by hand and then tightening them.
- Replace the wiring harness.
- Test your heat and air by plugging the battery back in and turning the vehicle on. If everything is okay, you can reinstall the dash cover.
- Recalibrate the blend door actuator based on instructions for your vehicle.
If you have to replace a mid or floor actuator, they can be harder to locate. However, you can almost always find the location by checking a repair manual for your vehicle.
Replacing your AC actuator can be intimidating, especially if you’re not even sure where yours are located. This FAQ may help.
Can I drive without an AC actuator?
Yes. The AC actuator isn’t essential to the function of your car. Instead, it controls the mixing of hot and cold air from the engine to control the temperature in the cabin.
If your actuator goes out, the passenger or driver side will have a less comfortable ride. If that’s not a problem, you don’t have to worry about fixing the issue.
What happens when your AC actuator goes out?
If the AC actuator motor goes out, the blend door or vent will stop moving. If the motor starts to go bad, it might move intermittently or only in one direction. This means you’ll get inconsistent airflow, hot or cold air, or no air at all.
Unfortunately, the symptoms do overlap a lot with other AC problems, so you may also want to check for noises, or actually test the motor before you replace it.
Do you have to recalibrate a blend door motor?
Yes, you almost always have to recalibrate a blend door motor to ensure it works in sync with the onboard computer.
In most cases, you can find the instructions for an actuator reset in your vehicle’s manual. If not, you may need a repair manual, or a code reset from your dealer.
If your hot or cold air isn’t working properly, the AC actuator is a likely culprit. These small motors easily burn out, especially if the blend doors are stuck, for example, if a pen falls into the vent. Unfortunately, the cost of replacing an AC actuator can exceed $350. You can also easily do the work yourself with simple tools to save most of the costs.
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