How To Optimize Your A/C System With the Correct Refrigerant

Extreme heat in summer isn’t just an inconvenience: It can be downright dangerous. When air temperatures outside reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, your cabin’s temperature could climb up to 125 degrees — and your dashboard’s surface temp can reach a scorching 157 degrees. For your health and safety, your vehicle’s air conditioning must be in optimal condition. This guide explains what you need to know about optimizing your A/C system.  

Choosing the Correct Refrigerant

Auto manufacturers set precise specifications for the types of fluids used in their vehicles. With A/C refrigerants, however, the story is a bit complicated. Before the mid-1990s, most passenger cars and trucks used R-12. Introduced in 1931, R-12 is an old-school refrigerant type: You may hear others call it “freon for car” because Freon was a popular brand of R-12. Today, most vehicles on the road use R-134a.

R-12 Vs. R-134a

R-12 was developed in 1928 and released onto the market in 1931. For decades, it helped cool automobile interiors. However, it was slowly phased out due to its chlorine content and the potential ozone layer depletion hazard. Starting in 1992, vehicles began using R-134a refrigerant because it did not have the ozone depletion potential of R-12. 

Both R-12 and R134a are chlorofluorocarbons, but they differ in chemical makeup. R-134a contains carbon, fluorine, and hydrogen whereas R-12 is composed of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine. Besides lacking the ozone-depleting chlorine atoms, R-134a is also a lower-pressure refrigerant that needs less energy to compress. R-134a can transfer more heat out than R-12. Finally, R-134a is less flammable than R-12. 

Selecting Your Refrigerant

Chances are, your vehicle probably uses R134A refrigerant or R-12 if it’s an older model. With its negative effects on global warming recently discovered, some auto manufacturers have already switched to R-1234yf. The newer compound is a blend of hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon that delivers similar performance to R-134a with lower environmental impacts. R-1234yf will be standard in vehicles by 2025. The two aren’t interchangeable, so it’s best to stick with your manufacturer’s recommendations. 

Properly Changing Your A/C

Usage patterns can impact your AC’s specific performance, but most systems benefit from recharging every three years. Recharging may also be needed if you notice less cool air circulating when you turn the AC on. 

An intermediate or experienced DIYer can perform this job at home with the proper tools: a charging hose with a gauge, the appropriate refrigerant type, a full set of manifold gauges, and personal protective equipment such as nitrile gloves and safety goggles. You’ll perform this job with the vehicle running and the AC turned on. Make sure ambient air temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit and read your refrigerant’s label to determine the proper pressures to use based on air temperatures.

Optimal Cooling All Summer Long

Knowing how to recharge car AC can help you restore cool comfort to your cabin while saving a little money. Choosing the correct refrigerant is the first step. By using the right equipment and thoroughly understanding and following the recharging process, you can perform this essential maintenance any time it’s needed.

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