A/C Service Tips: R-1234fy Requires Changes to Schedules, Labor Rates
Vehicle owners are more likely to experience problems with air conditioning systems during the summer months.
Auto Service Professional recently turned to experts from Bosch Automotive Service Solutions Inc. and Denso Products and Services Americas Inc. for advice. They offered several tips for shop owners and technicians.
Justin Fisette is a product marketing manager for Bosch. He says “the big topic” in A/C repair surrounds the ongoing switch to R-1234yf refrigerant. Fisette says eight of the 10 top-selling vehicles in 2019 used R-1234yf. (Holdouts include the 2019 Nissan Rogue and 2019 Toyota Corolla.)
Fisette says it’s essential that technicians are Section 609-certified, meaning they have taken a 90-minute class and passed the test to properly handle R-1234yf refrigerant. It’s a one-time certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and it costs about $25. “It’s a really minor investment that can save a shop a lot of time and heartache and money,” he notes.
There’s a steep fine for performing work without the certification, which also ensures that shops can buy the refrigerant in bulk.
As for equipment, Fisette says the switch to R-1234yf has brought about a new style of A/C machines that identify refrigerants and detect leaks to sniff out R-1234yf and R-134a. “The machine puts a 15% charge in the vehicle system and instructs the technician to go underneath the center vent in the cab of the vehicle and check for leaks.”
Older leak detectors might not detect the newer refrigerant.
The new leak detectors offer two benefits, according to Fisette. The first comes in refrigerant cost savings, as R-1234yf is “really, really expensive” compared to R-134a. Detecting a leak can save a shop from putting $100 to $200 worth of refrigerant in a system, only to have it seep out.
The second benefit boils down to safety, he says. R-1234yf is mildly flammable. Finding leaks keeps the refrigerant from seeping into the vehicle’s interior.
Detecting a leak has added time to the typical A/C service job, as has an extra vacuum stage. Fisette says shop owners need to account for that. A R-134a service would take 20 to 30 minutes. With R-1234yf, it’s a 40- to 50-minute job.
Owners need to think about labor rates for consumers, pay for technicians and how much time is scheduled for every A/C repair.
The change in refrigerant also has led Bosch to introduce a tracer gas leak detector. These systems don’t use refrigerant to search for leaks and instead use a tracer gas that’s made of 95% nitrogen and 5% hydrogen. Shops don’t have to charge so much to find a leak, says Fisette, plus the tracer gas is close to being an inert gas, which means it won’t harm the system and is better for the environment.
Listen to the customer
Steve Fett supervises Denso’s customer care technical group and also supports the company’s technical hotline. He says the service writer plays a key role in performing A/C repair jobs well.
“They really need to listen to what the customer is saying,” says Fett. “You can get a lot of information out of that person. Is there a noise? When did it start not working? In a lot of cases, the end user comes in and says, ‘I need a compressor.’ They don’t know what they need.”
Once the vehicle is in the bay, Fett says technicians need to focus on three things: lubrication, refrigerant identification and knowing when to replace the condenser.
Lubrication: Technicians need to know exactly how much oil is in the compressor, because having too much oil, not enough oil, or contaminated oil are all problematic, says Fett. Denso has published a chart with the oil contained in each of its compressors. For reference, look for A/C compressors on Denso’s website and click on the reference tab.
Refrigerant ID: Whether technicians use their charging machine or a handheld tool, Fett says correctly identifying the refrigerant in a vehicle is important to keeping the shop’s A/C machine free of contamination. If the refrigerant shows it’s 50% air, it also helps a technician know there’s a leak. He recommends adding a $1 “refrigerant identification” fee onto A/C repair tickets to recoup the minimal costs.
Flush or replace: Technicians often replace the compressor and are compelled to flush the system, but Denso doesn’t recommend using foreign substances for that flush. Fett says that as condensers have gotten smaller, so have the tubes. If there’s a compressor failure and the condenser hesitates, he recommends replacing the condenser over flushing it.
“The condenser can get clogged very easily," he adds. "Flushing doesn’t work in many cases. It’s more effective and efficient to take it out and put a new one in. If there’s a question of is it going to work, always go on the side of replacing it because your customer is going to be much happier.”