Technical Tips

What you can do about vehicle A/C repair and how you can help save the ozone layer?

Did you notice the last time you had your vehicle’s A/C system serviced that it cost more than it did a few years ago? These higher costs may in part be due to global efforts to protect the ozone layer. The refrigerant in all but the most recent model year vehicles is chlorofluorocarbon-12 (also known as CFC-12, R-12, or by the brand name Freon). Scientists have determined that CFC-12 depletes the ozone layer, which protects us from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. Since January 1, 1996, it is no longer being produced in developed countries. The following tips should help you to maintain the cool in your vehicle’s A/C system before and after the CFC-12 production ban.

Tip No. 1: Your service technician can keep putting CFC-12 refrigerant in your vehicle’s system as long as supplies are available.

While production of CFC-12 ceased at the end of 1995, use of existing supplies of CFC-12 is permitted. The recycling of CFC-12, along with existing reserves, should prolong the availability of the refrigerant, although prices are rising and will most likely continue to increase as existing stocks are depleted.

Tip No. 2: If refrigerant needs to be added to your vehicle’s A/C system, have your service technician check the system for leaks, and have leaks repaired.

Keep in mind that leak repair is not an EPA requirement, although a few states and localities do require it. Repairing leaks will save you money in the long run as the cost of CFC-12 increases.

Tip No. 3: Consider having your system converted to use an EPA-accepted refrigerant if the CFC-12 in your area is so costly that you decide that converting your system may in the long run be less expensive than continuing to use CFC-12.

You may also wish to convert if you are having major service performed on your A/C system, such as when you have been in a front-end collision, or you have experienced major A/C system failure. The additional cost of doing the conversion over and above the cost of the repair work may be small.

Keep in mind that using an alternative refrigerant not yet reviewed and accepted by EPA (such as any flammable refrigerant) may damage your A/C system components, pose a fire hazard, and/or limit your ability to have your vehicle’s system serviced in the future. Currently, R-134a is the only EPA-accepted alternative which has been tested and recommended by automakers. R-134a is the refrigerant used in all new car production.

Tip No. 4: Do you want to convert your vehicle to a different refrigerant? Consult your vehicle manufacturer or an authorized dealer or reputable service facility about what steps should be taken and what the conversion will cost.

A Word About The Ozone Layer

The ozone layer forms a thin shield located about 6 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface. By blocking out most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, the ozone layer protects against skin cancer, cataracts, and suppression of the immune system.

Using ground, aircraft, and satellite measurements, scientists studying the link between CFCs and ozone depletion since the mid-1970s have produced conclusive evidence that CFCs are responsible for ozone depletion. Much of the recent attention has focused on the Antarctic “ozone hole”, a seasonal loss of 60 percent of the ozone at the South Pole. A small but significant amount of ozone loss (5 to 10 percent) has also occurred over the United States.

Actions to protect the ozone layer go back to the 1978 ban on the use of CFCs in most spray cans. More recently, over 150 nations have agreed to an international treaty to protect the ozone layer.

For more information, you can call the EPA Stratospheric Ozone Information Hotline between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, at 1-800-296-1996.

Things to Remember:

Retrofits: It will make sense to convert to a system operating with HFC 134A refrigerant to avoid the high costs for an R-12 refrigerant conversion from an existing R-12 system.

Maintenance: High operating pressure is probably the single largest cause of A/C system failure. Something as simple as a bent or defected air dam under the vehicle could cause the system to run at dangerously high operating pressures. Seasonal inspections by a professional could detect the problem before damage occur.