AC Unit: Inspection vs. Tune-Up vs Service

Some words can be used interchangeably but when it comes to your AC unit, it pays to be specific. An AC inspection, tune-up and service aren’t all the same thing. Asking for one when you need another can cost you time and perhaps money as well. Knowing the difference will help you decipher advertisements and offers as well as communicate effectively with your AC contractor.


An inspection is one of the most basics elements of maintaining your AC unit. It’s not much more than an intentional, careful look at the unit and its interior works along with the ducts and vents. Just because it’s basic doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

Your AC unit should be inspected about twice a year, in the early spring and late fall. Certain aspects can be done by the homeowner while others should be professionally checked. The homeowner can easily change filters, remove fallen leaves and check for obvious damage. Inspecting the compressor itself or checking the carbon monoxide output should only be done by a professional.

Inspections help ward off common problems like damaged wiring, corrosion, clogged coils, and rust. They also keep small issues from turning into major problems or system failures. Set up a schedule with your contactor for bi-annual inspections.


A tune-up usually comes after the inspection, depending on the inspector’s findings. It’s inevitable that any complex system will have a few items that eventually wear out or break down and need to be repaired or replaced. A tune-up will improve the unit’s performance.

Tune-ups have a rather broad definition depending on your contractor. For some, it’s a routine “dusting and cleaning” and for others it’s a thorough multi-point inspection and repair. Find out exactly how your contractor defines this term and get it in writing. This is typically an annual appointment that is best performed before the season’s heat begins in earnest.

A professional tune-up may include some of the following checks and repairs, among others.

  • Electrical system check
  • Thermostat calibration
  • Precision temperature measurement
  • Comprehensive cleaning of condenser coils
  • Lubrication of moving parts like fan blades
  • Coolant level and pressure check
  • Ductwork inspection
  • Minor repairs (like re-taping duct joints)
  • Connection adjustments and tightening
  • Evaluation of blower and belt
  • Inspection and adjustment of wiring, contacts, capacitors, and relays


A service call is made when your system is either malfunctioning or has failed. This is the “emergency” call you make when it’s 104 degrees outside, your mother-in-law is on her way to your house for a visit and the AC goes out. Something is broken.

Service calls will vary in price depending on the day of the week, the hour of the emergency, the urgency of the situation, and the complexity of the repair. Until your technician can diagnose the problem there is little he can do to predict the repair.

Understanding the terms will help you tell your contractor what you really need. Many contractors offer maintenance programs that include inspections and tune-ups and give the customer a better rate or priority status for service calls. Depending on the age and condition of your system this can be well worth the cost. Each is an integral component in the overall health and maintenance of your AC system.

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