A Look At Compressor Discharge Temperatures

Figure 1. This photo shows a thermistor about 4 in. from the compressor's discharge service valve.
The compressor’s discharge temperature can tell the service technician what is going on inside a refrigeration or air conditioning system. The discharge is a reflection of the hottest part of a refrigeration system, and there are limits as to how hot a discharge temperature should be. This article will explore discharge temperatures and their limits.

The discharge temperature can be measured by placing an insulated thermistor or thermocouple on the discharge line about 3 to 4 in. from the compressor. (See Figure 1.) The discharge temperature is a measure of the superheated refrigerant’s vapor temperature. Since the compressor’s discharge temperature is a superheated vapor temperature measurement, a pressure/temperature relationship does not exist, and a pressure gauge cannot be used for its measurement. Pressure gauges can only be used for a pressure/temperature relationship when a saturation temperature (evaporating and/or condensing) is wanted.

Since the compressor’s discharge temperature is a reflection of what is going on inside the compressor, it must be monitored very closely. The back of the compressor’s discharge valve is actually the hottest part of the system, but it is impossible for a service technician to measure. The next closest place, however, is the discharge line of the compressor.

The limit to any compressor discharge temperature is 225 degrees F. If the discharge temperature gets higher than 225 degrees, the system may start to fail from worn rings, acid formations, and oil breakdown. Remember, if the discharge temperature is 225 degrees, the actual discharge valve will be about 75 degrees hotter. This will bring the actual compressor’s discharge valve to 300 degrees. It is a known fact that most oil may start to break down and vaporize at 350 degrees. If this occurs, serious overheating problems will happen. And, since compressor overheating problems are today’s most serious compressor field problems, service technicians must always monitor compressor discharge temperatures and keep them under 225 degrees.

Some of the reasons for high compressor discharge temperatures are:

  • High condensing pressures;
  • Low suction pressures;
  • High compression ratios; and
  • High compressor superheats.
Causes for the above reasons will be explored below.


A high condensing temperature causes a high condensing pressure. Now the compressor must put more work (thus generating more heat of compression) into compressing the suction pressure to the higher condensing pressures.

Causes for high condensing pressure include dirty condenser coils, burned-out condenser fans, broken fan belts, undersized condenser coils, overcharge of refrigerant, noncondensables in the system, high ambient temperature, and recirculated air over the condenser.


Low suction pressures can have a number of causes, including: undercharged systems; TXV or capillary tubes underfeeding; low evaporator heat loads; end of the cycle; frosted evaporator coils; evaporator fan out; kinked suction lines; plugged suction-line or liquid-line filters; kinked liquid lines; or plugged compressor inlet screens. Again, more work, thus more heat of compression, will be generated in compressing a lower suction pressure to the condensing pressure.


High compression ratios can be caused by low suction pressures, high head pressures, or a combination of both. The higher the compression ratio, the higher the compressor’s discharge temperature will be. This happens because more heat of compression will be generated when compressing the gases through a greater pressure range.


High compressor superheats can be caused from the evaporator being starved of refrigerant. This can happen with a restricted liquid line, undercharge, plugged filter-drier, kinked liquid line, or TXV or capillary tube underfeeding.

In conclusion, compressor discharge temperatures reflect all of the latent heat absorbed in the evaporator, the evaporator superheat, all of the suction line superheat, as well as all of the heat of compression and the motor-generated heat at the compressor. It is at the discharge temperature where all of this heat is accumulated, and now it must start to be rejected in the discharge line and condenser.

Tomczyk is a professor of hvac at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI, and the author of Troubleshooting and Servicing Modern Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Systems, published by ESCO Press. To order, call 800-726-9696. Tomczyk can be reached at tomczykj@tucker-usa.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 03/04/2002

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