Preparing for another A/C season
By: Pete Meier, Director of Training for Motor Age
While attending the annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society’s training event and trade show earlier this year, I came to a sudden realization. For the past few years, I’ve been reporting on the impending demise of R134a and those refrigerants that were going to be the likely replacements. And my, how time flies! Without retelling the entire story, let me give you the short version so that you may better understand where we are today – and what the impact on you and your shop will be.
A look back
Several years ago, the folks in Europe decided that R134a was a bad thing for the environment and passed a mandate requiring the OEMs to come up with an alternative if they wanted to continue to sell cars in their market. To our initial relief, these rules didn’t apply to the U.S. market. One rule that did apply, however, was the increasingly stringent CAFE requirements that OEMs had to meet. And one way to meet those requirements, in lieu of actual improvements in fuel economy, was to make other systems on their cars “greener,” and that included adopting these new refrigerants.
Well, refrigerant (singular) may be more accurate. The one candidate that eventually rose to the top and gained nearly universal acceptance was one produced jointly by DuPont and Honeywell — HFO1234yf, also known as R1234yf. There is still much debate over the mildly flammable classification of the new gas, but OEMs across the board have spent millions on testing the safety of R1234yf under every conceivable condition they could imagine. Now, with three years and millions of miles of actual use on these systems, those dollars have proven to be a wise investment with no safety issues related to the new gas reported to date.
I only mention this issue to bring you this next tidbit of information. It is no secret in the industry that the good folks at Daimler took exception to using the new replacement, insisting it was unsafe and instead, continuing with its development of another alternative, CO2, also known as R744. The environmentalists love the idea, because the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of R744 is 1, the lowest rating you can get. But some members of the SAE Interior Climate Control committee point out that there are drawbacks to the use of CO2 in cars. One is the high system pressures needed for the system to work, nearly 10 times what you’re used to in today’s R134a systems. Another is the higher cost of producing these systems, and a third is the reported inefficiencies of the system when used in climates with high ambient conditions (like most of the southern United States). Regardless, Daimler has announced that it will start producing models equipped with R744 systems, starting with select MY2017 “E” and “S” class models offered for sale in Europe. Thankfully, though, there are no reported plans of sending these models to the U.S. market (yet).
So, is that it? Not quite. There were additional candidates and last year at this time, I was honestly concerned that we might have as many as five or six different refrigerants to deal with in our shops, including some potentially dangerous blends. Today I can share that the EPA has narrowed down the list of “acceptable use” refrigerants to four: R134a, R1234yf, R152a and R744. So which ones will you have to contend with?
The service picture today
The EPA has announced a “phase down” for R134a, with all new model passenger cars and light duty trucks to be equipped with an alternative by the 2021 model year. To date, in the North American market there are 18 OEMs using R1234yf in 47 different product lines. The market use is higher in Europe, with 33 OEMs offering 83 model lines equipped with the new gas. Considering that GM was among the first here in the states (and that that was three years ago now), the need for your shop to add R1234yf service capability has definitely arrived.
Source: Motor Age