An air conditioner's compressor contains a refrigerant. As it works, it sends this refrigerant through the system. As warm air blows across the coil that carries this refrigerant, the heat transfers to the refrigerant (cool always absorbs warm). A fan moves the cooled air through the ducting and out of vents that lead into the rooms of your house. The refrigerant returns to the compressor where the absorbed heat is moved outside. The refrigerant is then sent through the coil once again to continue the cycle.
Some of these components can be repaired or replaced by the homeowner, such as filters, fuses, and clogged up drain lines. Coils, compressors and the other components are best left to a professional. In some cases, you may have a system that is so old that parts are no longer available or else they aren't up to code. In this case you will have to consider replacing the entire system.

The AC contactor (relay) and start/run capacitor(s) (see illustration below) fail most often and are inexpensive. So it's a safe bet to buy and install those parts right away, especially if your air conditioning service unit is older than five years. The condenser fan motor can also fail, but it runs about $150 — hold off buying that unless you're sure that's the culprit.

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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.
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