How Long Should my Central Air Conditioner Last?

Your central air conditioner is by far one of the most expensive appliances in your home. In some cases a new central air system can cost you a few thousand dollars all the way up to five-thousand dollars. I don’t care who you are, that is a lot of money to face all at once. The worst thing you can do is end up purchasing a new central air conditioner too early. What if your current system still has some years in it?

That is exactly what we’re going to take a look at in this article. Just how long can a central air conditioner last? What is the average life span? When should we repair and when should we replace? Let’s take a look:

Air Conditioner Life Span

In most cases the average central air conditioner will last between ten to fifteen years. When your system reaches this age you should begin thinking about purchasing a new one, especially if you have an expensive repair come up.

Typically, if you have one repair come up on an older unit it is only a matter of time before the next one arrives. After that there are only stop-gap measures until the next repair. The cycle repeats so on and so on until you finally break down and purchase a new system.

While ten to fifteen years is a guideline you may see your air conditioner die before this if the conditioner was too small for your home. If you have a three ton system but needed a five ton for your home then your air conditioner will be working overtime to try and reach your desired temperature. This extra strain could cause premature failure of the system. The same can be said for oversized air conditioners. Instead of always running though the system will ‘short cycle.’ In other words it will turn on and off rapidly which causes excessive wear and tear and you will see premature failure like we just mentioned above.

On the other hand though, if you are studious with the maintenance and of taking the proper care of your air conditioner then you could see the system last all the way to twenty years. In some cases I have heard of systems last all the way to twenty-five years. In fact, I was looking at a house the other day that had a central system that was twenty-two years old. It was a beast and the condenser was rusted to hell, but it was still running and providing cool air. If you ensure proper maintenance is taken care of then you can extend the life of your air conditioner.

When to Replace

Now that you know the approximate failure age of air conditioners we can now begin to see when to replace your central system. Before doing anything with their air conditioner most people wait for a failure. Let’s say it’s a hot summer’s day and it’s one-hundred degrees outside. The air conditioner is working overtime trying to reach that seventy-two degrees temperature that you set. Then, at some time during the day, something on the air conditioner fails. It could be a compressor. It could be a capacitor. It could be a number of things. Whatever it is, it needs a repair.

This is where a decision needs to be made. If your system is five years old then the best option is to pay for the repair and move on. (In most cases.) However, if your air conditioner is over ten years old then it is worth seeing how much the repair is going to be.

Is the repair going to cost a few hundred, or close to a thousand? What are the chances that you are going to need another repair in the future? A lot of times once a failure occurs it is only a matter of time before another one happens. When you get that first repair bill you will need to determine if you want to patch the leaky boat or purchase a whole new boat.

If you do decide to purchase a new system there are a few benefits that you will receive. The first is that new systems come with warranties. While most companies may offer a few years warranty I have seen some offer all the way up to ten years. This warranty protects you from unexpected repairs cost down the road.

Another benefit that you’ll see is that older air conditioners lose efficiency with each passing year. So, the energy cost involved in running the same air conditioner new versus when it’s fifteen years old will be quite different. When installing a new system you will see a savings in your energy bill. (This holds especially true if you are replacing an older R-22 refrigerant system to a newer R-410A refrigerant system.)


In the end folks it is a guessing game. There is no perfect time to replace your air conditioner. The only thing that you can do is use the information that is given to you and make an educated guess. Just try not to get caught in the trap of making constant repairs to a dying unit. If you find that you are having multiple repairs a year then it may be time to scrap and replace.