How to fix the A/C recirculation button on a 1997-2002 Chevy Malibu

If you have a 1997-2002 Chevrolet Malibu, you more than likely experience the lovely feature of having the recirculation button blink and/or turn off the whole air conditioning system all together. I was convinced the thing was possessed, until I decided to Google the problem. It took some digging, but I was eventually successful, and if you’re like me, you’ll be glad you found this post because it will save you a lot of money!

The Symptoms

The recirculation button on the control head for the A/C would not stay engaged (green light stay on) and would switch back to normal A/C, instead of Max A/C.

The Solution

Fortunately the solution is easy, follow my brief instructions and see the PDF at the end for pictures. The problem is that the brushes on the switches are losing contact with the circuit board. Get down to them and clean them off and apply some graphite (from a #2 pencil) and all will be well!

  1. Remove the bezel around the key and the A/C controls and radio. To remove the bezel, you just pry the cover around the ignition switch off, then pry the black trim off.  Its all held on by clips.  Just remember to pry evenly and not necessarily in one spot.
  2. Remove the screws holding in the A/C controls and disconnect the wiring and hoses.
  3. Take the control head to a clean area where you can catch falling parts if need be.
  4. Remove the control knobs by pulling them off.
  5. Pry open the front with a small screwdriver (notice tabs on the sides holding it in).
  6. Take buttons and light ring out and pry up the circuit board to expose the brushes and contacts.
  7. Carefully clean both contact surfaces (2 of them) on the circuit board with rubbing alcohol and a q-tip (don’t use sandpaper as that will be too abrasive).
  8. After it dries, take a #2 pencil and rub on the contact surface you just cleaned (doesn’t need to be too heavy).
  9. Put things back together in reverse order and enjoy the cool air!

As promised, the PDF file with pictures is here: AC Control Repair.  I can’t remember where I got this from, but as it was freely given to me, so I freely give to you.  Nacho, whoever you are, I thank you!

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41 Comments so far »

  1. Jesuel said

    am August 8 2008 @ 11:24 am

    Thanks, I’ve been have this problem for about 2 years, I own a malibu 99 and since I got it have this issue, every time I hit a bump or fell in a hole(very common in reynosa) the switch starts blinking and the air turned off, now thanks to you I can enjoy my fresh air without moving the controls, it took me about 15 minutes to do this and is costless, thank you very much again.

  2. Frank said

    am April 24 2009 @ 2:22 am

    I had the same problem with my malibu and others that I had repaired while working at Lou Grubb Chevrolet in Arizona, after buying 2 control heads for my personal car and much frustration watching each one of them fail after a short time I did this, remove the glove box and just above the blower motor is the recirc door, take a plastic trimable 1/2″ sprinkler riser and trim to length so it can be stood up to fully hold the recirc door open all the time and be sure to secure in place with heavy wire so that it wont fall into the blower motor, I know it sounds like a hack idea but it works perfectly.

  3. Garon said

    am April 24 2009 @ 10:54 am

    I suppose that would work too if all else fails. Thanks for the tip.

  4. manuel said

    am July 6 2009 @ 11:31 am

    it stop but 123 do not blow only 4.5 what i am doing not right

  5. Garon said

    am July 6 2009 @ 11:34 am

    Manuel, sounds like you may have a bad switch or something else is wrong. Did you check all the fuses (door panel and under the hood)?

  6. manuel said

    am July 6 2009 @ 11:38 am


  7. Garon said

    am July 6 2009 @ 11:39 am

    Crap, I really have no idea then. Sorry.

  8. manuel said

    am July 6 2009 @ 3:08 pm

    the controller was replaced with abrand new one and it still does the same thing

  9. Beep said

    am July 29 2009 @ 4:42 pm

    manuel, if some of the lower speeds do not work, replace the blower motor resistor near the motor

  10. Rod said

    am August 30 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    My 98 Malibu’s AC light blinked on and off causing the AC to turn on and off ever since I bought it in about 2001. A lube shop told me I needed to service the freon but that did not work. My daughter complained so I looked into it again and another web site said I needed to replace the control head. I then found the photos you linked in your instructions but still did not know how to romove the bezel. your instructions were also very helpfull making the job easy. It took just over an hour being very carfull not to break anything and it worked! I am not a mechanic. Thank you for the instructions.

  11. Garon said

    am August 30 2009 @ 2:28 pm

    Added some tips on how to remove the bezel. Thanks for the post and suggestion Rod.

  12. Mike said

    am September 28 2009 @ 12:03 pm

    Have a 2002 with the blinking on/off AC problem. Utilized the taking apart, cleaning the contacts per the included instructions. Hve done this twice …….. both times solved problem for about 2-3 days then back to cutting in and out …… any other suggestions?

  13. Garon said

    am September 28 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    Mike, make sure your pencil is a good #2 pencil. When I did it, it usually lasted for a year. If that doesn’t work, go to and search for a junkyard nearby that may have it and get it for cheap.

  14. Judy said

    am July 22 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    I did this and the A/C works beautifully. We have a 2002 Malibu and it was easier than I thought. The only problem I have now is the A/C doesn’t turn off. I can turn off the switch but I can still hear the compressor still kicking in and out. I also can’t switch to recirculate from fresh air. I’m shoping for a new module to be installed before winter. In the meantime we are enjoying the A/C.

  15. John said

    am July 31 2010 @ 4:24 pm

    If your AC control will not change from Fresh Air to Recirculate there is also a significant chance that the Fresh Air/Recirculate Door is broken. I hav enot been able to swith to Recirculate this summer and finally took out the glove box to inspect. The door shaft (plastic) sheared away where the actuator connects. So the AC controls are working properly, but the mechanical connection between the actuator and the Door Shaft is the problem. Not an easy fix. Will likely require the removal of the dash to fix.

  16. Marc said

    am August 7 2010 @ 9:58 pm

    I just bought a 2002 malibu and thought I was going to have to spend $300 to fix the AC. I googled the AC problem and found this! Figured I would give it a shot before wasting my money. It worked perfectly, all the buttons work, THANK YOU!

  17. John Blouch said

    am December 5 2010 @ 7:54 pm

    I have windows fogging up in the cold and or rain. I have reason to believe the recirc is not working. Is it possible the recirc is stuck? I used to be able to hear the recirc change back and forth. I can not hear the change happen and the windows are fogging up. The button light will come on when I am making a change to recirc and it will go off again when I push the button, but I am not hearing any changes in the recirc. Any ideas??

  18. Garon said

    am December 5 2010 @ 8:21 pm

    If I remember right, you can remove the glove box or see if you can look behind it and see if the “door” is opening or closing. It’s hard to describe, but if you feel/look back there, on the top of the A/C stuff will be a door that moves. Default position is closed (to allow outside air in), but if recirc is working, it should open. If you follow the link below, the grating between #5 and 6 shows the open area where the “door” is supposed to be (its a different vehicle, but its the best thing I could find). Perhaps if you put your fingers in there and press the button, you can tell if it’s working or not (it won’t hurt, it’s all vacuum actuated).

    This, however, shouldn’t affect the windows fogging as it should turn on the defrost and A/C to remove the fog. If this is not happening, make sure it’s switching to defrost (feel if air is coming out the top), and make sure the A/C compressor is turning on (the dry A/C air dries up the moisture on the window). Recirc is mainly best for those super hot days where the HVAC system can use the already cooled air in the car to cool instead of having to cool much hotter outside air.

  19. John Blouch said

    am December 5 2010 @ 8:51 pm

    thank you for such a fast reply. I will stay in touch after some checks. How can I repay the favor?

  20. Garon said

    am December 6 2010 @ 5:41 pm

    No problem. Just click on a few ads. 😉

  21. Ashley said

    am May 20 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    I tried to follow the pdf here…everything works now except the knob that changes where the ac is blown (directly at your face, face & feet, defrost, etc.) It just blows air out of every vent now without control.

    There’s a chance I have lost a part of the connection. I have pictures of how I think it should connect back together (that’s not working) but I can’t post them here.

    I can email them to someone if they think they could help.


  22. Ashley said

    am May 20 2011 @ 12:56 pm

    Fixed it! Had the connection wrong.

  23. Frank said

    am June 11 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    Oh my! I spent about 40 minutes total on following these instructions and IT WORKS!! Thank you so much for saving me a few hundred $$. A/C had gotten to where it was turning off and on at speeds 3 and above. Now, it blows full blast with re-circulation on or off and the A/C doesn’t cut out like it did before. It was tough on those 95F plus days running the A/C on 2….It is like driving a new car after I followed these steps. You are the man…

  24. joe said

    am July 21 2011 @ 9:50 am

    How do you go about removing the bezel? Do you start from the inside of the bezel around the key or outside of the bezel around key? What size screw driver do you use to pry of bezel?

  25. Garon said

    am July 21 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    Hey Joe. Just take a small screw driver and pry around the bezel around the key. Once that is off, pry around the black shroud around the radio/AC controls and it’ll pop off too. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t break it, its designed to pop right off.

  26. carlos said

    am March 16 2012 @ 3:35 pm

    how do i apply the graphite when i get to the circuit board? do i just write on it with the pencil or shave some off and try to get it to stay on there?…..ITS HOT AS H_E_double hockey sticks

  27. Garon said

    am March 16 2012 @ 3:51 pm

    Ha, just use the pencil and “write” it on the proper area. One good coat should do.

  28. Freddie J. Ferrara said

    am March 29 2012 @ 8:16 am

    Thanks for the tip.

    Saved me $300.00

  29. Tiffani said

    am June 23 2012 @ 1:57 pm

    This really works!!!! Its too hot in Texas to have my air switching on and off so I tried this and my ac is blowing baby!!!

  30. Sara said

    am July 12 2012 @ 11:39 am

    This works! I have no mechanical ability at all, but I did this over the weekend. Everything is working perfectly for now. If it stops I can replace it at much less cost. Garage told me $500 to replace it. I found this site and did this in a half hour. Would have taken less time if I was unafraid to snap the tabs on the actual unit. There are tabs on all 4 sides, btw. I didn’t notice the ones on the shorter sides at first, there is one on each side. Thank you so much!

  31. Stan Moore said

    am August 6 2012 @ 2:23 pm

    This fix worked great. Thanks.

    I added a twist. Instead of a pencil lead; I used “Gunslick” a graphite grease applied with a Q-Tip.

  32. George said

    am September 22 2012 @ 4:57 pm

    Did exactly as you said and it works like a charm! I work at an A/C shop and none of my technicians knew about this fix. I was prepared to replace the entire unit before I found this information. Thanks a million!

  33. Sammie said

    am July 24 2013 @ 5:04 pm

    I have a 2000 Malibu I followed instructions but didn’t help my air goes on and off changed the blower and still does it and the lights don’t work either…. any ideas of what else I can try ……..

  34. Garon said

    am July 24 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    Sorry, I can’t think of anything off hand. Probably a little more serious than a simple fix like this though. Good luck.

  35. ken said

    am September 28 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    Graphite Lock lube works better and lasts longer than the #2 pencil

  36. Big reddy said

    am December 15 2013 @ 11:39 pm

    I fixed the recycl now…everything works now except the knob that changes where the ac is blown (directly at your face, face & feet, defrost, etc.) It just blows air out of every vent now without control. How do I fix this

  37. Garon said

    am December 16 2013 @ 7:22 pm

    Sorry, not sure about that one.

  38. Ted Stevens said

    am July 27 2015 @ 6:28 am

    Add me to the list of satisfied customers! I did this fix on our 01 Malibu. The board contacts seemed clean, so I wasn’t expecting it too work, but it did. We went from having to push the on button every couple minutes and never being able to run it on Recirc and have the fan on 5 to being able to! It used to never get cool enough on hot days, now we actually have to turn it down after a while. Thanks Nacho and everyone else who shared this. There are also some Youtube videos out there as well.

  39. John said

    am June 2 2016 @ 1:41 pm

    It’s thing like this that make even mechanics lives easier !

  40. Eusebio said

    am April 27 2017 @ 4:18 pm

    Thanks alot 3 years driving tapping the side of the dash where the button was praying the Ac would turn on,,,this Texas heat is brutal ,,just tried this method and it works ,,,was already giving up and was going to take it in to get it serviced, ,

  41. Diane said

    am January 24 2018 @ 9:01 pm

    Hunney, I thank God for you. I own a 1998 Malibu LS. I bought it new in ’98. In March of 2015 I had to have the AC system replaced due to a freon leak where I was having to have freon put in every Spring/Summer for the past 7 years. My AC green light got to where when it went off, I’d have no AC. After having all that AC repair done, still no AC when the light went off. I’ve taken my car back repeatedly telling them about the light and that I thought the problem was with the AC button. They said the light never went off. I called them just today with the same complaint. Well we just can’t figure out what the problem is, we checked the AC system out and it’s working fine. So now, I’m the crazy lady. My car is driving me crazy. Pun intended. I can’t thank you enough for this post. I’ll be so relieved when I get it fixed. I’m so happy to find this that I’m getting teary-eyed. God bless you many times over.

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