With summer approaching, now is the time to make sure your AC system is in good shape to keep you cool through the coming months. And for those without central AC, it may be time to think about getting a system installed.
Installing or replacing a central air-conditioning system is a big expense, so you’ll want to get it right. That means choosing a system that will give you solid performance, year after year.
Because there are so many variables—including a home’s size and design, how the system is installed, and construction of the ductwork—Consumer Reports doesn’t test central air-conditioning systems. Instead, we estimate the reliability of major brands on the market by asking our members about their experiences with the AC systems they purchased and had installed.
This year, for the first time, our survey includes reliability and satisfaction data on two brands of ductless mini-split ACs, in addition to 23 brands of conventional central air systems.
In all, our latest central air-conditioning survey includes member data about 18,172 air-conditioning systems installed by our members between 2007 and 2022. They let us know which parts broke and what it cost to fix their AC if repairs were needed. We also asked them how likely they are to recommend their system to friends and family, and used their responses to calculate owner satisfaction ratings.
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“Choosing a brand with higher predicted reliability and better owner satisfaction will boost your chances of getting an air-conditioning system that you can depend on,” says Adam Troy, who leads surveys at for Consumer Reports.
Historically, members have expected their central air systems to last a median of 15 years. Our 2022 findings are based on central air-conditioning systems that are in use a median of five months a year. Here are the details.
Reliability and Satisfaction
Using the information provided by our members, we calculated ratings for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. Of the 25 brands captured in our survey, only Mitsubishi, a maker of ductless mini-split systems, earned an excellent mark on both measures. Seven, including mini-split brand Fujitsu, earned an excellent rating in one.
To calculate predicted reliability, we used our survey data to estimate how likely a system is to break or cease to sufficiently cool a home by the end of the eighth year. Only two brands of conventional AC systems,Armstrong and Ducane, earned an excellent reliability rating. Five brands earned a very good rating; and eleven brands, including Fujitsu, earned a midlevel rating.
In this survey, no brand earned a poor reliability rating, but five brands—Coleman, Luxaire, York, Frigidaire, and Maytag—received a rating in our second-lowest tier. People should take this into account if they’re considering buying a central AC system from one of these brands. We would typically not recommend any brand with a reliability score in our two lowest tiers, regardless of testing performance.
Our owner satisfaction rating is based on the percentage of members who say they’re extremely likely to recommend their central air brand. Six brands got an excellent rating for satisfaction, including conventional brands American Standard, Carrier, Lennox, and Trane, as well as both mini-split brands. Three others—Armstrong, Ducane and Bryant—earned very good satisfaction ratings. All other brands earned a middling rating for owner satisfaction. (None received a rating in our two lowest tiers.)
Members can check the reliability of all 25 brands in our survey.
Problems and Repairs
So what breaks most often on a central AC system? According to our survey, the evaporator coil, which resides in the indoor unit, is the part most likely to break, affecting 4 percent of owners on average. The three brands affiliated with Johnson Controls (Coleman, Luxaire, and York) stand out for having evaporator coils that are comparatively more problematic than other brands, with a problem rate of 11 percent. Armstrong, Ducane, and Payne have a better than average record for their evaporator coils.
Next in reported frequency are problems with condenser coils (in the outdoor unit), followed by blowers, compressors, and controls (excluding the thermostat). Issues with fans and valves were reported in lower numbers.
Of the central AC systems covered in our 2022 survey, we predict that 35 percent will break or experience problems by the end of the eighth year of ownership. The median cost of a repair was $280 when paid completely out of pocket, vs. a median of $5,600 to get a new system installed. However, our survey also showed that only about half of the repair work was paid out of pocket—among our members, repairs are often covered by a warranty or a service contract.
There is also some indication that, overall, owners of mini-splits report fewer problems than owners of conventional central air-conditioning systems.
Manufacturers of central air-conditioning systems recommend that owners have them serviced by a professional at least once a year, and 56 percent of our members do. Numbers drop dramatically after that, with 22 percent having their system serviced every two or three years, 7 percent reporting less than every three years, and 15 percent reporting that they never had routine maintenance.
What Members Like About Their Central ACs
We dug deeper into what our members consider when they say they are extremely likely to recommend their central AC systems to friends and family. How quietly it runs is first on the list, followed by how quickly the AC cools and how reliable it is. Comfort level, ease of use, and cooling evenly also contribute to satisfaction, but not as heavily.
At the brand level, Mitsubishi stands out for comfort, quietness and keeping each room consistently at the same temperature. Fujitsu owners also were happy about the low level of noise. Trane also stands out for quietness, while members also gave props to American Standard for even cooling.
Owners of Payne systems, however, weren’t particularly impressed, saying they were too noisy and failed to provide the level of comfort and quick cooling they expected. Members also commented on energy use, with Mitsubishi and Trane owners relatively satisfied, and Goodman and York owners not so enthralled.
The next AC: When we asked our members to rate the importance of certain features when considering the next system they’ll buy, almost all (97 percent) said reliability was very important. Performance was also very important for 88 percent of members, along with efficiency (for 3 out of 4 respondents). Price was not quite as important, but was still a factor, with 43 percent saying it was an important consideration.
Brand loyalty: Only 15 percent of our members said that buying an AC system of the same brand is very important to them, but 27 percent of Trane owners and 23 percent of Mitsubishi ductless mini-split owners indicated that it was key for them.
Keep Your AC System Humming
Even if you buy the most reliable air-conditioning system, it can let you down if you don’t tend to some regular maintenance. Some tasks require a professional, but others you can do yourself.
Keep it clean: Be sure hedges and plants are at least 2 feet away from the outside unit. Clean grills and filters monthly. Clear debris and dirt from condenser coils, and check for blockages in the drainpipe.
Seal and insulate ducts: Energy losses of as much as 30 to 40 percent are possible when ducts aren’t insulated or when they leak air. Sealing them can prevent conditioned air from escaping.
Perform seasonal checks: Once a year, have a licensed professional change all filters, clean and flush the coils, drain the pan and drainage system, and vacuum the blower compartments. The contractor should also check to make sure that the system is properly charged with refrigerant, that there are no leaks, and that all mechanical components are working properly.
Source: Results are based on Consumer Reports’ 2020 and 2022 summer surveys of owners of 18,172 central air-conditioning systems who installed a new system between 2007 and 2022. Our statistical model estimates breakage rates (a system breaks down or ceases to sufficiently cool a home) by the end of the eighth year of ownership for systems that are not covered by an extended warranty or service contract. We also adjust for the number of months the system is used over a 12-month period. The median number of months during which these systems are used among our members is five per year.
Mary H.J. Farrell
Mary H.J. Farrell is a senior editor at Consumer Reports whose real passion is for cooking and all that entails. She has expanded CR’s cookware category to include not only more pots and pans but also other essentials like stand mixer attachments, sheet pans, and vacuum sealers. Mary also covers vacuums but finds cooking way more fun than cleaning. Since the mid-1990s, Mary has held senior positions at People.com, MSNBC, and Ladies’ Home Journal. One of her earliest jobs was at Good Housekeeping.