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Short #70 – Is Testing Capacitors Under Load Better?

In this short podcast episode, Bryan compares under load vs. bench capacitor testing to find out which testing method is better.

When we test the system while the motor is running, we call that testing under load. Testing under load is fairly easy; you take the voltage across the capacitor (V), amperage off the capacitor's start winding (A), and then you use the following math problem:

(A x 2652) / V

(You can also punch those numbers into the calculator on the HVAC School app.)

While you can test under load on an off system, the test will provide a more accurate picture of the operating capacitance if you perform the test while the system is running.

On a bench test, you disconnect the leads, discharge the capacitor, and test it with a capacitor tester. The tester will charge and discharge the capacitor; then, it will measure the amount of current going into and leaving the capacitor. The voltage will be lower than on a test under load.

If either of those tests yields vastly different results, then it's likely that one of your readings is incorrect; it's unlikely that the performance differs that much under load or on the bench. For example, some ammeters can read higher or lower than the true amperage value, which affects the total capacitance in the math equation.

Capacitors merely have foil plating and oil to make them work. The attraction between those forces creates a charge. Normally, these shouldn't “overheat.” The plate-to-plate surface area can break down over time, leading to poor capacitance. Capacitor testing gives us a picture of the capacitance, and the state of the compressor materials could provide an explanation for the test results.

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