When we last checked in with our long-suffering '96 coupe, the car had just undergone a radiator upgrade that succeeded in dropping its warm-weather operating temperatures from a moderately terrifying 220-230 degrees (F) to an eminently manageable 180-195. Unfortunately, the Vette's electronically controlled air-conditioning system called it quits not long afterward, effectively turning the glass-roofed C4 into a solar-powered torture chamber. With the heat and humidity of summer descending upon central Florida like a damp woolen shroud, it was once again time to lurch into action.
Our first step was to contact Mid America Motorworks, a veritable one-stop shopping center for all things Corvette. Mid Am supplied us with a new A/C compressor (PN 622095, $499.99), a compressor clutch (PN 622196, $299.99), and an accumulator (PN 622192, $49.99), all of which were new, non-remanufactured units. (Note: If you're planning to undertake this job yourself, be sure to double-check that these part numbers are applicable for your model-year C4. Many of the car's A/C components were updated over the course of its 13-year production cycle.)
At a grand total of just less than $850, our replacement parts were hardly cheap, but when you consider that a typical A/C shop charges between $1,500 and $2,000 for a compressor swap, the benefits of doing the work in your garage or driveway quickly become apparent.
We should note at this point that one portion of the job-recovering the existing refrigerant-will almost certainly require the assistance of a professional with access to specialized equipment. (This wasn't an issue in our case, as all of the car's R134a had long since leaked out through the defective compressor.) Assuming your system is still charged, resist the urge to simply vent the old refrigerant into the atmosphere. It's against the law, bad for the environment, and sure to confer a metric buttload of bad juju on both you and your vehicle-no small concern when you're driving a 15- to 27-year-old C4 that's likely held together with a few dozen zip ties and couple of tubes of Krazy Glue.
Keenly aware of our own mechanical limitations, we made the short drive over to AntiVenom in Seffner, Florida, to have the work performed by a pro. Before becoming one of the Sunshine State's top GM speed tuners, AV proprietor Greg Lovell served for several years as the Corvette specialist at a Chevy dealership, so he's well equipped to tackle comparatively mundane tasks such as our A/C refurb. The job took around two hours in his capable hands; count on half a day for someone with less advanced mechanical skills. Follow along now as we cover the highlights of the job.