I’ve got a '97 GMC Safari. Had it since it was new- it was fulltime work vehicle and its now ‘Saturday go to Hom Depot’ and tooling around Van. It runs well but the Air Circulation system smell like a combination of compost and mildew. The Van lives under some Oak trees and it smells like a bunch of them have gotten deep into the intake ducts and are spoiling in there. How do I get in ‘there’- I tried all the obvious things- through the intake at the base of the winshield, etc. Does anyone have any tricks to get inside to clean it out without a cutting torch? Any help would be appreciated- my son has severe Allergies and can’t ride in the Van anymore. If you run the air, heat, or just blower fan, it seems about the same. thanks, john k
Well you need to clean out anything in that intake in front of the windscreen.
You also need to check and make sure the condensation drain is clear. It usually comes out under the car in front of where the passenger’s feet go (usually a small black rubber hose) use some string trimmer line to clear it.
Then there are the Lysol and specialty products that are available in the auto parts stores.
Thanks for the info about the drain. I didn’t know it was there. I’d cleaned the intake around the windscreen and that helped some but not too much. I’ll let you know if the drain thing helps. john k
Joe, for some reason I decided your name is Tom. I’m sorry . Thanks again for the help. john k
I don’t know this vehicle, but you may be able to get in to the AC evaporator by pulling the blower motor and squirrel cage out of the plenum. See if you can do that and post back. I have some suggestions for cleaning it out if you can get to it that way. In the meantime, is the drain clear?
Thanks for your help. I’ve found the plenum fan and its not going to be easy to get out. I think thats the way to go if I can figure it out. The output of the registers in the cab smell like moss soup. I’m still trying to find the drain- not as easy as I thought- any suggestions? john
A lot of rotting debris can collect in the lower fender between the front door and fender liner. might be worth checking that area.
Does this van have a cabin filter? If so, it likely needs cleaning or changing.
The drain tube could be attached to the passenger side of the firewall.
The drain is on the passenger side near the bottom of the firewall. If you look up the firewall from under the car (engine side), about 6 inches from the bottom there will be about a 2" long, 1/2" dia, black rubber tube pointing straight down. Blow some compressed air up the tube to clear it.
If you pull the blower fan, the next item in the vent system is the AC evaporator. At the base of this is where your mold probably is. Clean it with Borax and water.
GM was aware that these vehicles had this sort of problem YEARS ago. Their fix, for those who complained early, was to put a timer on the HVAC fan so that it would blow long enough after you shut it down to evaporate the condensate off of the evaporator.
You may be able to improve the situation by putting the system on VENT with the fan on HIGH and spraying lysol (or a similar product) into the intake vents in front of the windshield. Several small applications will be better than one big one.
Thanks for your help. Sorry to take so long responding. I’ve taken the blower fan out (on passenger side between fender well and AC lines) and the next thing is a bunch of duct work followed by the heater core which I took out- its clean.I don’t know where the evaporater isand don’t have a manual- any ideas? Thanks, john How do I get the dash out?
Tried the lysol thing a bunch of times and it only works for a few days. I’m in Florida and its hard to get rid of that stuff here with an indirect method. Got the blower fan out and took out some dry leaves, nothing that would caude the smell. The next thing up the line was the heater core- took that out and its clean. I’d don’t know where the evaporator is and I’m starting to think based on other comments that the problem is there. Do I need to take the dash out to get to the core? If you have any ideas let me know. thanks again, john
I should have said- Do I have to take the dash out to get to the evaporater? thanks again, john
No cabin filter- too old for that. Got any other suggestions. thanks, john
Sorry I have not posted back sooner. It has been a busy time for me. Are you sure that the evaporator is not before the heater core. I am not familiar with the Safari. This would be a very unusual arrangement for a very good reason; dehumidification will not be effective with the heater before the evaporator.
You are not alone. A lot of people complain about this. I am very susceptible to mold allergies so I have done some research. I think you are on the right track by looking to clean. Most people are looking for a magic spray that will fix the problem and lots of people suggest this approach – Lysol or similar stuff sprayed into the AC system with the blower running and the windows open. This may work for a time, but it is probably only a temporary solution. It will kill existing bacteria and fungi, but they will start to regrow as soon as the culture medium (crap) in your AC system is reinnoculated (immediately).
First the simple solutions. Check to be sure that your AC drain is not clogged. Another simple thing to do is when you park the car be sure to leave your HVAC system in any position BUT “off”, “max” or “recirc”. Some owners’ manuals specify this to let air circulate through the system. Try turning the temp control to full hot after parking before you shut the car off. This, in theory might circulate hot dry air from the cabin back through the evap coil by convection. Note well the “in theory”. I have not tested this theory, but it seemed to help me a little. If you live where it is not too uncomfortable, turn the AC off some time before you park, it might help dry the system out. Note that running it right before parking with the heat on is not likely to help since the heater is AFTER the AC coil in any car I have looked at.
You need to clean out your system and keep it from getting full of leaves again. Some models are easier than others to get to. Often the blower motor can be pulled out or the blower motor resistor assembly can be removed from the plenum to gain access to the AC evaporator coil. With some cars these elements are easy to get to but others are very difficult. If you can get at the coil you can spray some detergent in there. I have also used 10% bleach after the detergents. If you use the latter I would not let it sit for more than a few minutes before rinsing extensively because you could corrode aluminum parts.
There are lots of cleaners and coatings for auto and home AC systems. Some Foaming or other cleaners rumored to be available for residential use should work. AirSept makes some coatings for Auto use. They require removal of the coil which will cost you time or money. I have not tried them.
Some car models seem prone to this problem. It must have something to do with how well the systems dry out after shut-off and how much crud collects in the “coil” (Now, I believe, many manufacturers use flat-plate heat exchangers.) I hope that the answer to the problem will be effective filters to keep the food away from the microbes that like to grow in moist, dark places.
I have spent a lot of time on this problem and I’ve had some generous help from people on web fora. Getting information about the auto manufacturers’ equipment was not easy. It seems that not many people out in the trenches (auto techs), even the factory-trained ones, know about them.
Despite the attempts at secrecy, I have found out how some of the manufacturers remedies work. Ford has or had a kit and a TSB (02-11-7 ,JUN 02, A/C System - Musty/Mildew Odors) . There is an “afterblow” or “purge” module and two wire kits to make it fit their various models. The price would be about $200 total depending on what wiring harness is needed. It runs the blower on high for a couple of minutes some time after the AC and car are shut off. The delay is important because no cold surface is going to dry with hot, moist air blowing over it. It also prevents operation at convenience store stops. I have also read recently that Ford no longer offers this stuff because of run-down battery problems. I don’t recall where I read this and I have not checked the facts.
Saturn has a kit for about $125 (delayed blower motor controller: 21031158). It seemed to be adaptable to any car. I was told that it runs the blower for 5 minutes after the car is turned off for 50 minutes to allow the coil to warm up.
Airsept probably still has a web site. They also make an afterblow module that is universal. The cost was about $300 to AC techs, I believe. It is costly, but it should work better than the others. Look a the site for the features. It starts a pulse cycle after giving some time for evap to warm. The pulse operation is supposed to squeeze the most out of your battery’s electrons by allowing the evap box warm up a little between the drying (cooling) pulses. It also has battery protection. It sounds good to me.
Airsept also makes cleaners and coatings to prevent microbe growth. These should also work. For most, however, you need to take the system apart to coat them. Note that there are foaming cleaners available for home HVAC. They should also work. Note that DSS (Dirty Socks Syndrome) is an issue with home units as well.
I live in a very hot/humid place. I pulled the blower motor from my car, cleaned and disinfected the evap. Fortunately one side is is readily accessible in my car. The evap looked sparkling clean, before I started so the microbe growth might be somewhere else in the plenum. I decided that I could make my own afterblow module with a little time and a soldering iron. I saved a lot of money and got great performance.
I went through several designs and decided that, in my climate, on most days when the humidity is high, I would need an auxiliary battery to dry the evaporator out with the HVAC blower in combination with systems like the commercial ones. I decided to reverse the afterblow. This blows cool, dry cabin air past the heater core and the evap. I made it with a small, plastic squirrel-cage blower, an inexpensive “multimode” timer kit and a couple of automotive relays. I plumbed the blower in to the passenger foot well heater outlet (not as easy as it sounds). I have a seasonal change-over of removing this and taking the duct tape off the other 3 heater outlets.
During AC season (10-12 month) I have to remember to put the system in the “floor” mode and turn the heater to high as I park. I have the timer triggered on the AC control so it activates if the AC has been on and runs the little blower for 2 h. I have a reset button and an on/off switch stuck behind the lighter in the ashtray. All the equipment is tucked up behind the dash. I have also added a little $20 pneumatic valve that opens the dash vent ducts when the blower stops to allow better circulation in case there is any residual moisture in there.
My solution is obviously not a universal solution, but it works for me and was inexpensive. My total costs were higher because I had a lot of false starts, but to repeat it would probably only cost about $30 excluding the valve. I did spend a lot of time on it.
The “Multimode Timer” kit is available at several mail/wwweb places. A couple:
The evaporator is under the hood of your van. it is not on the inside.
I have attached the GM TSB for this issue that details the recommended repair process.
I have also attached the process to remove the evaporator core.
The products in the first TSB look a lot like the AirSept products.
I think the products that really work, may contain Chlorine Dioxide as the active ingredient unfortunately its only available to the professional : (