Friday, April 12, 2024

Stay Cool All Summer Long: A Guide To A/C Refrigerant

Your vehicle uses a sophisticated HVAC system to keep its cabin safe and comfortable for traveling. Understanding how it works is vital to keeping it in excellent condition. Refrigerant, which you may sometimes hear referred to as “freon for car,” is an essential part of the whole cooling assembling. This guide explains what you need to know about refrigerant in your vehicle’s A/C.

How A/C Works

The air conditioning part of your vehicle’s HVAC system consists of several components. Refrigerant flows through the system, first pressurized when it passed through the condenser. The condenser absorbs heat from the refrigerant and pumps it through the line to the receiver where it absorbs moisture. Next, the expansion valve lowers the cooled refrigerant’s temperature and pressure. The refrigerant then flows to the evaporator to take in heat from inside your cabin’s air. The process repeats when the refrigerant flows back to the compressor. 

This assembly works most of the time, but some issues can interrupt car air conditioning function: leaks, condenser issues, improper refrigerant pressure, and low refrigerant levels in the system. 

Different Types Of A/C Refrigerants

Three classes of refrigerants are currently available on the market: R-12, R-134a, and R-1234yf. Each of these differs in its composition, with automakers setting precise specifications for every vehicle they manufacture. 

R-12: A Cooling Innovation

As the first refrigerant on the market, R-12 was a major breakthrough. It made air conditioning possible inside passenger vehicles. Composed of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon, R-12 absorbed heat to allow cool air to circulate inside vehicle cabins. However, R-12 is a chlorofluorocarbon that breaks down ozone when it releases chlorine. Starting in the early 1990s, R-12 was phased out in favor of R-134a. 

R-134a: A Better Cooling Compound

Introduced in the 1980s, R134A refrigerant provides similar cooling functionality as R-12 but without the ozone-depleting side effects. It also cools more efficiently than R-12 because it has lower pressures and consumes less energy to compress. As a hydrofluorocarbon, R-134a is a non-toxic and non-flammable gas containing only carbon and fluorine. R-134a’s greenhouse gas effects were revealed, prompting the industry to phase it out and replace it with R-1234yf. 

R-1234yf: Reducing Climate Impacts

First used in passenger vehicles during the 2010s, R-1234yf is a hydrofluoro-olefin that replaces both R-12 and R-134a. This non-toxic and non-flammable refrigerant contains carbon, fluorine, and hydrogen. Besides improved cooling efficiency, R-1234yf doesn’t impact the ozone layer and does not trap heat in the atmosphere. By 2025, all newer vehicles will be using R-1234yf.

These refrigerants are not interchangeable. If you wish to use R-1234yf in a vehicle normally using R-134a, you will need to professionally retrofit it. Most vehicles currently on the road use R-134a, but your owner’s manual specifies the correct refrigerant type for your make and model.

Choosing the Right Refrigerant

Refrigerant is the lifeblood of your air conditioning assemblies. While your owner’s manual lists the correct type for your vehicle, you can also look this information up online. Visit a reputable auto parts retailer’s website and choose its make, model, year, and submodel menus to quickly find what you need.

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