Are garages equipped to handle the different refrigerant types on the market?

In 2006, the EU introduced the mobile air conditioning (MAC) directive. Its aim is to phase out the use of fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) that exceed a set limit for their contribution to global warming, known as their ‘global warming potential’ (GWP).

And for technicians, this brings new considerations when it comes to servicing air con systems. R134A – or ‘old gas’ – hasn’t been used in new vehicles since January 2017 – at which point all new cars, and car-derived vans, started to use R1234yf – or ‘new gas’ – thanks to its superior sustainability credentials.

Although R1234yf is the standard in new vehicles, until recently it has been relatively uncommon in the independent aftermarket. The majority of so-called ‘new gas’ systems have remained largely under manufacturer warranty and have gone back to the dealership for servicing.

But now, garages can expect more and more ‘new gas’ vehicles to come through their doors, according to Bob Wiffen, workshop solutions director at LKQ Euro Car Parts, who has provided the following insight into what garages need to do to be equipped to handle the different refrigerant types on the market:

Training and equipment requirements
Although most air con systems themselves are fundamentally the same from vehicle to vehicle, the requirements for handling different refrigerants are not. One of the key reasons for this is that refrigerants can react with each other, which can be dangerous. If you’re conducting a re-gassing, for example, and use the wrong product, this can damage the internal systems and lead to premature failure.

There are also differences in core pieces of equipment used for old and new refrigerant systems. Technicians must use distinct ports to connect to different refrigerant machines, and R1234yf requires specialist recovery and recycling equipment to allow waste products to be captured safely.

R1234yf is also flammable, meaning the recovery machines associated with these refrigerants are designed with the required safety features in place, such as ‘spark-free’ technology or additional built-in fans for cooling.

As for R134A, technicians are required to complete specialist F-gas training so they can confidently handle it safely. Motor factors like us can’t sell ‘old gas’ to garages unless they can prove they are qualified to work with it, so it’s important that garages to stay up to date with their qualifications.

Refrigerant handling courses for both ‘old’ and ‘new gas’, available via Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), cover the key principles of vapour compression cycles and refrigerants, as well as hazards and working practices, and how to safely conduct key process such as recovery and disposal of gases, pressure testing and leak checking.

The courses also equip technicians with an understanding of the environmental impact of the gases they work with, and the risk of ozone depletion if they aren’t handled correctly.

Customer engagement
Educating drivers about the specific servicing requirements of their air con systems is key to driving trust, loyalty and repeat custom. A key difference between R134A and R1234yf, aside from their environmental credentials, is the need for more frequent re-gasses with ‘new gas’ – something most drivers are unaware of.

And even though R134A does not require such frequent servicing, we still encourage garages to conduct air con system checks as standard, to see whether a refresher would be beneficial. Even minor tweaks to the system will deliver noticeable improvements in comfort, as well as enhancing the health and performance of the vehicle.

Air con servicing is a big revenue opportunity for independent workshops – and one we’re here to help them unlock, by providing products, training and equipment, while helping them stay on the right side of the law. As we move away from the hotter summer months, this is an ideal opportunity for garages to up-skill during the off season, setting them up for success in 2023.

R1234yf is about to overtake R134A as the most commonly used refrigerant gas. But the make-up of the current ROI car parc is such that our advice to workshops is to be ready and able to work with both ‘old’ and ‘new’ gas, to avoid having to turn away work.

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LKQ Euro Car Parts will be exhibiting at this year’s Auto Trade EXPO, which takes place from Saturday and Sunday, October 15-16 at the RDS Simmonscourt in Dublin.