Four out of five new cars sold in the UK now come fitted with air conditioning, yet the likelihood of an expensive failure has jumped 55% over the past 18 months.

According to research by independent automotive warranty specialist, Warranty Direct, 1 in 20 claims are now air con-related with the cost of repair running into the hundreds, or even thousands.

Analysis shows that the most susceptible vehicles are those aged four years old.

Vehicles in months 48-60 of their life accounted for more than 44% of claims handled by the firm. Vehicles younger than four years accounted for just 14% of air-con claims.

On average, owners will be presented with a bill of £444.68, making the air-con unit the fourth most expensive item to repair after the automatic gearbox, turbocharger and engine.

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Although the air con units on some models appear less reliable than others on paper – for example, the Volvo 850 reports a failure rate of 37% and the Ford Galaxy nearly 27% – too many vehicle owners fail to see the importance of servicing, Warranty Direct said.

“Too many people treat air con as a fit and forget option,” said a spokesman. “Units need regular use and regular servicing to help prevent expensive breakdowns.”

An annual health check and service should cost around £40 from an independent specialist, he added.