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What Is an Automotive Air Conditioning Recharge?

by Autobytel Staff
January 10, 2014
air conditioning vent bigstock ・  Photo by Bigstock

air conditioning vent bigstock ・ Photo by Bigstock

When it comes to servicing the air conditioning system in your car, there are several different ways to go about it. The primary question most technicians get is what is an auto air conditioning recharge? Before you get one, it’s important to find out why the system needed servicing in the first place. This, for a number of reasons; first of all, if you simply refill a system that’s low on refrigerant, you may well have to refill it again because of an undiagnosed leak. Second, if the system is in fact leaking, the escaping refrigerant is contaminating the atmosphere.

Older vehicles relied upon a refrigerant known as Freon to enable the functioning of the cooling system. Freon is a brand name for a gas known as CFC-12, which was found to deplete the earth’s ozone layer. Because of this, it is illegal to manufacture CFC-12 in the United States today. This means it’s getting increasingly expensive, to purchase. Further, the alternative-cooling agent is incompatible with systems designed to use CFC-12.

If your car uses one of those systems designed for CFC-12, fixing the leak is even more imperative before getting an auto air conditioning recharge.  You’ll save money in the long run, and you’ll be doing your part to reduce global warming. The best technicians use electronic leak detectors to find them. Make sure the one your tech uses meets the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1627 standard.

Assuming your system has no leaks, or the leaks in your system have been repaired, your technician may choose to pursue one of two strategies to accomplish your car AC recharge. The first is known as a “top-off” and is essentially just adding more refrigerant to your climate control system. The second, known as the “evacuation and recharge” strategy involves removing all of the existing coolant from the system, filtering it to remove impurities, putting it back, and then topping it off to fill it completely—if needed.

However, it’s important to note the top-off car air conditioning recharge strategy is something of an imprecise operation because the technician can’t really tell how much refrigerant is in the system. Thus, topping it off is kind of a hit-or-miss proposition. If the technician misses; say they over- or underfilling the system, poor cooling and ultimately damage to the system can result. Keep in mind though, the only reason for filtering the refrigerant is if it gets exposed to the atmosphere—say when a component of the cooling system must be changed. Therefore, the only time filtering is really required is if some aspect of the air conditioning system is opened to the outside air.

Also, it is important to note all leaks in the system may not be readily identifiable. A very slow leak in the system may not reveal itself until the refrigerant level drops below a certain level. For this reason, rather than losing cooling capacity gradually, your air conditioning may seem to go out all at once because the system is designed to shut itself down if the refrigerant drops below that threshold. It functions this way in order to protect itself from extensive damage.

Finally, since there is no way to accurately measure the amount of refrigerant left in your cooling system, most service facilities charge a flat fee for replacing it.


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