If the condenser coils are clogged, the compressor can overheat and shut down. You'll experience intermittent periods of minimal cooling, followed by no cooling. Even if you're “sure” the condenser coils are clean, clean them again. Turn off the power. Flip the air conditioning service and furnace circuit breakers in your main electrical panel to the “Off” position. Next, turn off the power switch right at the furnace or air handler. Then yank the disconnect block (Photo 1) and clean the condenser coils (Photo 2). If the air conditioning service still doesn't work properly after you've cleaned the condenser coils, installed a new filter and opened all the supply vents, proceed with the following repairs. Your AC won't work fully unless you do this.
Reinstall the access panel and disconnect block. Turn on the circuit breaker and furnace switch. Then set the thermostat to a lower temperature and wait for the AC to start (see “Be Patient at Startup,” below). The compressor should run and the condenser fan should spin. If the compressor starts but the fan doesn't, the fan motor is most likely shot. Shut off the power and remove the screws around the condenser cover. Lift the cover and remove the fan blade and motor (Photo 7). Reinstall the blade and secure the cover. Then repower the unit and see if the fan starts. If it doesn't, you've given it your best shot—it's time to call a pro.
Before opening the electrical cover on the A/C unit, be sure to shut off all power to the compressor unit and the indoor furnace or air handler, and verify that it is off. Note that this may mean shutting off a circuit breaker that serves the furnace and air handler, and then, near the compressor, pulling out the disconnect block (or shutting off the 220-volt power) to the outdoor compressor.
If you hear clicking that is followed by a hum or buzz, you’re probably hearing the fan motor attempting to start without the boost it needs from the capacitor. You can almost always conclude that the capacitor has failed. Sometimes you can get the compressor fan spinning (clockwise) by pushing it with a thin stick or long screwdriver poked through the grille. But the chances are good that this might work for one cycle, but the capacitor will fail next time the AC goes on. It’s best to replace the capacitor.