Rethinking Refrigerants

Rethinking Refrigerants
Shops need to upgrade machines and training for R1234yf. (Photo: Huw Evans)

A change is happening and our industry needs to adapt.

In the aftermarket, we have and will continue to see a slow adaptation to the newest air conditioning refrigerant R1234yf. The transition from R134a actually began back in 2006 (firstly in Europe) due to studies that showed the amount of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from using R134a (it is rated at a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 1,320 while carbon dioxide is rated at GWP 1.

With R1234yf, engineers have created a whole new type of recovery machine and system with refrigerant fluid that takes less than half the time to break down in the atmosphere.

Evolution

The switch from R134a to R1234yf systems, although significant, is more of an evolution rather than a revolution. More and more vehicles equipped with the new refrigerant are being manufactured each and every day. As the on-road vehicle fleet ages, these newer vehicles are gradually replacing those equipped with R134a. For OEMs, there are also benefits to the new system in that they receive credits for it being “more environmentally friendly.” Additionally, R1234yf enables OEMs to use more compact A/C systems which in turn allows them to meet tighter fuel economy targets.

The big challenge is for automotive service providers and technicians. With the growing number of R1234yf systems entering the vehicle fleet, we’ll see a gradual reduction in the need to service R134a systems, so that means existing re-charging machines will become obsolete as will the techniques we use to service R134a.

Therefore, as business owners and technicians, we need to ensure that new recovery machines are purchased due to the change in hoses and attachments as well as the process of recharging and recovering—not to mention the oils we mix with the new chemical compound.

Perhaps the biggest concern for most shop owners is that these new machines and the new refrigerant cost around twice as much as those designed to work with R134a.

Hard to justify?

Another issue is the fact that currently, the initial cost of purchasing an R1234yf compatible machine outweighs the number of vehicles on the road equipped with the new A/C refrigerant, so for many businesses the ROI seems very much out of reach.

There’s also the problem of current low demand for both the refrigerant and lubricants that work with the new chemical compounds of R1234yf. The demand for these fluids is low since most new vehicles will not need their A/C systems recharged in the first three to five years of being on the road. As a result, many A/C system and related component manufacturers are not producing them in large amounts because most vehicles requiring refrigerant are still using R134a systems.

It seems as shop owners and technicians, we’re caught in a bit of a dilemma. We are going to have to invest in new recovery equipment for use with R1234yf but in our world, these systems still aren’t commonplace enough for that investment to necessarily make sense. Yet we must look for ways to justify the expenditure of both new equipment and training. Change is coming, and if we are to continue to grow our businesses and continue to operate as modern repair facilities we need to adapt. And that includes being ready to service the latest types of A/C systems.

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