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Car AC Leaking Water (Causes & Fix)

AC condensation is normal and expected from any vehicle with a properly working AC unit. But when exactly does “normal” end and “problems” begin when it comes to AC water leaks? What is causing it? And how do you stop your car AC from leaking?

Your car AC may leak water for several reasons — plugged drain lines and filters, damaged components, low refrigerant levels, and even a leaking evaporator core. While some are simple to fix, others require a full rebuild or the help of a certified technician.

Here are common causes of a car AC leaking water:

  1. AC system condensation
  2. Clogged windshield cowl drain
  3. Obstructed drain channels
  4. Issues with the evaporator
  5. Dirty or restricted air filter
  6. Blocked condensate drain line
  7. Improper installation of HVAC components
  8. Low or contaminated refrigerant
  9. Outdoor temperatures
  10. Component damage

If you have experienced dealing with water leaks in the past, you may recognize some of these causes (and may even be adept at resolving them). Otherwise, continue reading, as today’s guide gives you an introduction to AC leaks and answers all the above questions (and more).

Why Is My Car AC Leaking Water?

Car Interior Air Conditioner

1. AC System Condensation

Air conditioning has become such a standard feature in most vehicles that sometimes, we forget the many factors impacting its functions. Especially in humid places, most car owners would just turn on their AC unit without putting it in recirculation mode.

Small details like this actually do affect how the unit operates and how much condensation we get as a result. So unless the situation leaves you with no other choice, you may want the AC unit to gather less air moisture when trying to cool the inside of your vehicle.

2. Clogged Windshield Cowl Drain

When an AC leak becomes too excessive, things get a bit interesting. I say this because people tend to get confused about what is causing it. An AC system condensation can become so profuse that it is capable of creating a noticeable puddle on the floor of your vehicle. Amusingly, the same result is often associated with a clogged windshield cowl.

Now a cowl leak is not easy to diagnose, especially when it gives off similar symptoms as an AC water leak. If you go to forums, you will see exchanges between vehicle owners expressing difficulty figuring out where the leak is coming from.

Some use a hose to pour water along the edges of their windshield, while others take off their cowl grille (view on Amazon) and interior pillar trims or tear down the dash panel.

Removing the dash panel can be a pain. But it usually points car owners to the problem source. However, the search for some does not necessarily end there.

Sometimes, the supposed “AC leak” can be in such an awkward place that any remedial action (for instance, sealing the leak source with polyurethane) will require removing the AC evaporator and blower housing. At this point, asking a professional mechanic for help would be a less taxing route.

3. Obstructed Drain Channels

If there is anything similar between a standard water leak and an AC water leak, it is that their problem source is often obstructed drain tubes and hoses.

Drain lines can get clogged up pretty easily, especially since sections of them are situated at the underside of the vehicle and exposed to dirt and the elements. Yes, these hoses typically have small diameters — but not small enough to deny entry of leaves, grime, and other small particles.

Luckily, these drain channels can be tidied up. I have enumerated detailed steps in a previous article.

4. Issues With the Evaporator

I cannot stress enough how crucial the role of this component is to your car’s HVAC system. So, it only makes sense that a problematic evaporator (view on Amazon) is also one of the top causes of water dripping under the car when the AC is on.

In truth, the structure of the evaporator core is largely to blame since it makes it easy (almost convenient) for leaves and other biodegradable materials to get to the evaporator and speed up rust formation on the core. The corrosion, in turn, eventually translates into a plugged drain.

When an evaporator drain gets clogged, water that is supposed to drain outside the vehicle comes back up and floods the evaporator. Once this unit becomes flooded, the water looks for a different exit point and comes out of the AC vents and onto the floor.

5. Dirty or Restricted Air Filter

In your vehicle’s AC system, the role of the cabin air filter is to augment the evaporator coils’ capability by capturing airborne particles and other pollutants as much as it can. If it is well-kept, it can effectively do this. Otherwise, it will result in the car AC leaking water or blowing hot air.

Car owners know all too well that restricted air filters create airflow problems — not to mention overstress the vehicle’s AC and electrical systems in the process.

One best practice to help prevent air filter issues from escalating further is to inspect and replace your cabin air filter every three months. This frequency is good for daily drivers but may need to increase if you do a lot of off-roading or live in places like Utah or California.

K&N Premium Cabin Air Filters (view on Amazon) are popular filter replacements for various car makes and models. However, Car Bibles recommend EP Auto Premium Cabin Air Filter (view on Amazon), Spearhead Premium Breathe Easy Cabin Filter, and FRAM Freshbreeze Cabin Air Filter as must-try alternatives.

6. Blocked Condensate Drain Line

If you notice water buildup on your car floor, then your condensate drain pipe is one of the things (if not the foremost component) you need to check. The reason being is that it is what directs water to drain outside of your vehicle.

So, if water does not exit from this drain pipe, you would naturally assume something is lodged inside, causing the water to overflow inside your cabin. Either that or the part is damaged.

Now, the thing with a condensate drain pipe is that it does not get plugged overnight. In most cases, the issue starts with a simple clog left unaddressed for a long time.

If you are prompt in locating the condensate drain hose (typically found at the rear of the engine passenger side or under/near the evaporator) and flushing it to eliminate the blockage, the situation would not reach the point of inhibited water flow. Otherwise, corrosion, algae, repeated water leaks, and AC unit damage can happen.

How to Clean the Condensate Drain Line

Jeep Wrangler Front Grills

Cleaning the condensate drain line is pretty straightforward. You only need a measuring cup, funnel, cleaning solution (either commercial or homemade), and a coat hanger, stiff brush, or screwdriver to help dislodge accumulated dirt and other forms of obstruction stuck inside.

If you do not want to risk puncturing the drain hose, a better alternative is to clean your drain line with the evaporator case at least once a month to keep the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria at bay.


Below are the steps on how to clean the condensate drain line for your guidance:

  1. Turn your AC unit off and jack up your vehicle.
  2. Clean up excess water, especially surrounding the areas you will be working on.
  3. Locate the condensate drain pipe and identify its access point.
  4. Remove the plug/cap from the pipe.
  5. Check the drain hose for blockage and remove any visible debris (without forcefully dislodging whatever is stuck) using a screwdriver or stiff brush.
  6. Pour your cleaning solution down the drain hose. When cleaning your condensate drain line, only use a commercial type or an all-natural vinegar-water mixture (1 part vinegar:4 parts water, both distilled). Never pour bleach down the drain lines, as it can damage the system.
  7. Wait for the blockage to be dissolved for about 10 minutes to an hour. After which, flush the drain pipe with your homemade solution (or just plain water).
  8. Retest the drain pipe to see if it drains properly. If not, you may have to redo steps #4 and #5 until the drain pipe is completely freed from blockage.
  9. Replace the drain plug/cap.

If you haven’t cleaned your condensate drain line in a while, you may need a wet/dry vacuum for a more aggressive approach to removing blockage from the pipes. Use duct tape to secure the vacuum hose to the end of the drain line, then suck out debris from the drain pipes for about a minute.

If this method does not suffice, revert to using a drain snake. The worst-case scenario is that you may have to rebuild the entire condensate drain line. Although this only happens when the blockage has hardened beyond the point of being salvaged through cleaning.

7. Improper Installation of HVAC Components

Blockages aside, another reason your car AC is leaking water is that your condensate drain might not be properly (or correctly) attached to your vehicle’s ventilation system.

It could happen due to misses during servicing, negligence, or lack of experience dealing with the car’s HVAC system. Whichever the case, improper installation will prevent the condensate drain from functioning the way it should — draining water outside your car.

While newbies are advised to consult a professional or certified ASE technician when correcting the installation, you do not necessarily have to do the same if you are mechanically savvy.

To ensure the drain is correctly attached to the vehicle’s ventilation system, simply locate the condensate drain hose, properly attach it to the evaporator drain, and check if the line runs to your car’s undercarriage.

Also, inspect your car’s firewall on the passenger side (right above the steering rack). Vehicle owners have reported finding a stubby plastic tube sticking out of that area (obscured by power steering lines) when trying to locate the source of the AC leak.

8. Low or Contaminated Refrigerant

Like dirty evaporator coils, refrigerant contamination or leakage causes your car’s AC unit to lose pressure. This is a big no-no for your vehicle, as its AC system is a closed, pressurized system and can only effectively circulate cool air if it remains as such.

Containing less than 28 to 32 ounces of refrigerant (or getting the latter contaminated) will inevitably lead to a drop in pressure levels and the evaporator coils freezing up.

Once this happens, the condensate drain pan will overflow and leak water that will seem to come from the AC. Thankfully, there are warning signs to tell you ahead of time if your refrigerant levels are about to run low or potentially contaminated.

These indicators include a hissing sound and your AC unit blowing warmer air than usual. When you pick up on these hints, have your AC system serviced so refrigerant levels can be refilled and damaged components repaired (if any).

Refer to my previous write-up for steps on how to recharge and evacuate your car’s AC system.

9. Outdoor Temperatures

The effect of ambient temperature on your AC unit and its propensity to leak can go two ways. Blasting air conditioning in warmer climates means the unit is getting more moisture in the air. Conversely, doing the same with outside temperatures below 60° F (15° C) causes evaporator coils to freeze.

Both scenarios will result in the car leaking water when AC is on. However, they should not stop you from using the feature when needed. Using the AC on hot days is absolutely fine, provided the AC unit is in tip-top shape and regularly serviced/inspected.

10. Component Damage

Unlike what I mentioned in this article, physical damage to AC system components is not the last thing you should check when dealing with water leaking from your car. However, I placed this item last on the list because it is what many (if not all) vehicle owners dread — incurring costs for an untimely part replacement.

The fact that your car drips water when the AC is on may not be due to a blockage in the drain lines but an actual defect to one or more of your HVAC components. For instance, a broken evaporator box could be the culprit behind those unwanted in-cabin floor puddles.

At this point, there is no course of action other than replacing the damaged components. You may be thinking of trying to save a few bucks by doing repairs instead of a part replacement.

I would not bet on it. Your car’s AC system is a sensitive and exacting system. That said, it needs components to be in perfect shape (in other words, brand new) to work seamlessly in regulating the air inside your vehicle.

Conclusion – Car AC Leaking Water 

Car Air Conditioning Close-Up

To recap, here are common causes behind your car AC leaking water:

  1. AC system condensation
  2. Clogged windshield cowl drain
  3. Obstructed drain channels
  4. Issues with the evaporator
  5. Dirty or restricted air filter
  6. Blocked condensate drain line
  7. Improper installation of HVAC components
  8. Low or contaminated refrigerant
  9. Outdoor temperatures
  10. Component damage

Ultimately, the best way to prevent AC leaks is through prevention. And by this, I mean stringently adhering to scheduled maintenance — especially HVAC maintenance performed by a certified technician.

Sure, you will need to shell out a few hundreds once in a while. But that is much better than surprise repair expenses that can go up to $1,600.

Being religious with the proper upkeep of your vehicle and its many components is also a big plus, as this increases your success in keeping AC leaks (and water leaks, in general) at bay.