The greatest invention of the 20th century is air conditioning. This has made living in warm climates more attractive and automobile travel in summer bearable. This is all thanks to the invention of Freon. But have you ever wondered how much is Freon for car? What would it cost you to recharge or have it replaced if it runs out?
Today, the demand for air conditioning in cars and trucks is so universal. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to purchase a new automobile without it. The air conditioning system in your car or truck is complex. It runs on one of three different refrigerant types, with the most likely refrigerant being R134a.
The most common issue with a vehicle’s AC is a refrigerant leak. For that reason, it is important to understand the three refrigerant types used in AC systems. This can help you purchase replacement refrigerant appropriate for your vehicle.
In this article, we will cover:
Refrigerant Types For A Car’s AC System
Below are the three main air conditioning refrigerants that vehicle manufacturers use in a car’s AC system:
1. R12 Refrigerant (Freon)
Until 1995, the universal refrigerant for car air conditioners was Freon, the gaseous element sometimes known as R12 refrigerant. Freon worked well because it is inexpensive and cools to a liquid at around the freezing point of water. Otherwise, it remains in a gaseous state that absorbs heat well.
Freon eventually turned out to contribute to the rapid depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. The ozone layer filters out most of the sun’s harmful UV rays. Therefore, Freon was banned from all new cars sold in the U.S. starting in 1995. It is still legal to drive an automobile with Freon refrigerant in the AC system. Unfortunately, it is only applicable to vehicles manufactured before 1995. Many classic car owners have retrofitted their vehicles to employ a Freon replacement for their AC units.
2. R134a Refrigerant
The refrigerant most likely in your vehicle today is R134a. It is more effective with a low risk of flammability. R134a is friendlier to the ozone layer, but it is not friendlier to the environment. R134a contains greenhouse gas that doesn’t break down quickly. It, therefore, contributes to the heating of the planet that characterizes climate change.
3. R1234yf Refrigerant
Vehicle manufacturers began the transition to using R1234yf in AC systems several years ago. This was in anticipation of the 2021 federal mandate to switch from R134a. By 2019, 27 of the top 40 selling car and truck models had outfitted their air conditioning units to run on R1234yf.
This new refrigerant works just like its predecessors while breaking down into harmless components in 11 minutes. This causes almost no environmental impact. It’s the refrigerant found in most vehicles in Europe since 2011 and is the norm in the U.S. as well. The one drawback of R1234yf is that it is flammable; however, bursting into flames has not been an issue after a decade of use in Europe.
Why Freon For Cars Is Necessary?
Your car’s air conditioning is a closed system that relies on refrigerant to do the job of cooling the cabin area of the vehicle. The refrigerant evaporates within the system, which is what keeps you cool and comfortable behind the wheel. When temperatures rise, the fluid condenses again, so that it may continue to cycle through the system.
How a Car AC System Works
An air conditioning system begins with the compressor, which takes the liquid refrigerant and compresses it into gas, forcing it out into the hoses and towards the condenser.
The condenser works in much the same way as the engine’s radiator. The condenser sits in front of the radiator under the hood and looks a lot like a second radiator.
The refrigerant enters the condenser under high pressure and extreme heat. As it passes through the condenser, it gives up its heat to the air and turns into a liquid, much like the way steam would turn into water when it’s cooled.
The liquid refrigerant is shuffled off to the receiver-dryer, a reservoir that contains desiccants, similar to the package of granules inside a pillbox that absorbs the moisture in the container.
Because any water in the AC could freeze and prevent the refrigerant from flowing, it must be removed in the receiver-dryer. The desiccants also remove other impurities to keep the refrigerant clean and functioning.
From there, the cold liquid refrigerant flows to the evaporator where the work of cooling cabin air happens. The evaporator is the only part of the AC system that is not in the engine: it is usually near the feet of the front passenger.
Components And Functions
The coil of tubes allows the refrigerant to absorb the heat of the cabin while a fan blows the cooled air through the vents. As the refrigerant picks up heat, it turns back into gas and heads again to the compressor to begin the cycle again.
The evaporator also removes humidity from the cabin, which helps the people inside feel cooler. This is the water you might see dripping under the car on a hot day. Unlike dripping refrigerants, moisture like this is not a problem.
Compressors, condensers, and evaporators can break down, as can any of the smaller parts of the air conditioning system, but a refrigerant leak should always be first as the most likely culprit.
Whether it’s a leak or something else, that is causing your air conditioner to need recharging, be sure to use the right refrigerant type based on the make, model, and year of your car or truck to keep the system running smoothly.
A Leak in the Refrigerant
Refrigerant is the lifeblood of the air conditioning system. It is helpful to think about the AC system as a human body. The compressor serves as the heart, pumping the refrigerant through the system.
Hoses are the blood vessels that carry the refrigerant through the system, and the condenser is like sweat glands, cooling the refrigerant. The evaporator works the same way as skin, allowing heat to leave the body.
As with other systems, a fluid leak can cause a serious breakdown in the AC system. It is critical for the proper cooling of the passenger cabin that any refrigerant leak be stopped and refrigerant refilled.
Don’t Ignore A Leak!
You should not ignore leaks within the air conditioning system. The refrigerant in the system carries the oil that lubricates the internal components, and if the refrigerant is low, the oil is not circulating and can damage components like the compressor.
Even in the winter, your air conditioning system assists the defroster via the air compressor to remove condensation on the inside of the windshield. Having the refrigerant cycle through the system, even in the winter, is vital to the operation of the air conditioner.
It’s important to fix any leaks in the system as soon as possible; not only for your comfort but also because refrigerant is dangerous to the ozone and emits greenhouse gases. When a leak is present, your vehicle exposes this hazardous chemical gas to the environment.
It’s also important to note that proper disposal of used refrigerant is to be done so responsibly. A dependable automotive center will use specialized equipment to safely contain the Freon from the air conditioning system to prevent contaminating the environment.
How To Detect Freon Leaks
You may likely notice the air conditioner leaks even before it’s diagnosed because the air coming out of the vents will not be as cold. Fortunately, the fluorescent dye can detect even the tiniest of leaks and pinpoint the exact area of a leak. You might be surprised to learn that an evacuation and recharge will not repair a leak.
Because the air conditioning is a sealed system, the refrigerant cannot evaporate or get used up. If refrigerant levels are low, there is a leak somewhere in the system. Evacuation only removes contaminants and air, as well as turns the system into a vacuum. When charged, there is no air in the system.
How To Diagnose And Fix A Leak
Unlike other fluid leaks, a refrigerant leak is difficult to diagnose simply by looking on the ground. Refrigerant is colorless and mostly odorless and spends most of its time in the AC system as a gas. Here are a few clues that may show your vehicle may have a refrigerant leakage.
1. The AC Blows Hot Air
The most common way to detect a refrigerant leak is when the air conditioner blows warm air. This is suboptimal, of course, because it is too late to be proactive once the air conditioning has stopped working.
There may be many reasons for this, but the most common is that the refrigerant has almost completely leaked out. It requires immediate attention unless you don’t mind riding with the windows down when it gets warm in the vehicle.
2. The Dashboard Light Shows An AC Malfunction
This would be an earlier warning sign, but only some vehicles include air conditioning among the issues for which they provide indicator lights. Many do not. If the warning indicator lights up, there is limited time to address the problem before losing the cooling effects of the air conditioner.
3. The AC System Makes A Clicking Sound
When the compressor has less gas to compress, it makes a clicking sound indicative of short cycling. There are several causes of short cycling, but low refrigerant is the most common. Again, this is an early warning sign. Fix this immediately.
If a complete repair of your car’s air conditioner system isn’t an option, another way to repair leak points in the condenser, evaporator, connection hoses, gaskets, and O-rings is to purchase Red Angel AC Refrigerant Stop Leak.
A can cost around $40 and it contains 4.5 ounces of R-134 refrigerant plus stop leak. Red Angel AC Refrigerant Stop Leak is specially formulated to repair leak points without solid or particulate matter that can clog the AC system.
To use the Refrigerant Stop Leak aerosol, locate the AC low side service port, usually between the evaporator and compressor. It may also be found on the larger-diameter AC line. It looks like a port that can accept the attached Refrigerant Stop Leak coupler.
Start the engine and turn the AC up. Shake the can well and connect it to the low-side service port. Depress the top of the can to dispense the product for three to five minutes, or until the can is empty.
The contents of Refrigerant Stop Leak are toxic, so avoid inhalation or contact with skin. Red Angel AC Refrigerant Stop Leak only works in R134a refrigerant and it is not designed to stop the loss of more than a pound daily, as that suggests a larger leak. It is also not designed for compressor leaks, so if that is where the leak is occurring, you will need to replace the compressor.
Maintenance Is A Necessity
As with anything else in your vehicle, the air conditioner should be maintained regularly. A visual inspection of the system can help find potential leaks. A technician will look closely at hoses or seals to look for any kind of oil residue, an indicator of a leak.
An evacuation and recharge of the system will help pull small amounts of air and contaminants out of the system and should be done every two years.
You should consider replacing the expansion tube or screen. This helps keep the system clear of small particles and determines how well the system is being lubricated.
A dirty cabin air filter can cause your air conditioning system to work harder than it needs to. By replacing the cabin air filter every 10,000 miles or when it gets dirty, it will help to maintain proper airflow.
How To Improve The Lifespan Of Your AC System
Here are some steps to ensuring that a car’s air conditioning system remains working well:
1. Run The Air Conditioning System At Least Once A Week
This should run for at least ten minutes, regardless of the ambient temperature. This will help keep the gas pressure in the AC system equalized, which goes a long way towards preventing AC leaks.
2. Run Your Car’s Defrost Mode Regularly
Ten minutes once a week to evaporate any excess moisture. This is especially important in humid or damp climates.
3. Replace Older AC Hoses Or Other Defective Components
It prevents Freon leaks in the air conditioning system. Usually, multiple air conditioning components are replaced all at once during an air conditioning service to minimize the cost of labor and prevent damage to new parts by older auxiliary components.
4. Keep Items Out Of The Vents
Small children are notorious for pushing pencils and other small knick-knacks into car air conditioning vents, where they might cause damage to the system further down the line. Make sure that your vents remain clear of any debris.
5. Prevent Water Damage
Water damage in a vehicle from flooding or rain can not only cause mildew in the cabin compartment, but it can also cause mildew in the car’s AC system. This can lead to damaged components and an unpleasant smell in the vehicle.
6. Change The Air Cabin Filter Regularly
Not only does this ensure proper air circulation through your AC system, but it also increases the air quality in the car’s cabin. A mechanic should inspect the cabin filters during a car’s routine oil change, but you can request this service if it is not offered.
7. Do Not Run AC With Car Windows Down
This forces the car’s air conditioning unit to work much harder than it has to, causing the entire system to age and deteriorate more quickly from the additional workload.
8. Regular Maintenance Of AC System
Recharging the system every two years once it loses some of its coolness can not only help you keep your air conditioning blowing ice cold, it can also help mechanics diagnose, identify, and repair more minor problems within the AC system before they become a considerable expense.
What Happens During AC Recharge And Replacement?
An ASE-Certified technician would check the system’s pressures with gauges and then identify any leaks. If a technician finds a leak, he will repair the leak before refilling it with a fresh refrigerant.
If a service expert takes off or changes parts of your vehicle’s AC components, to ensure the longevity of your air conditioning unit, technicians would ensure the system is void of all atmospheric air and moisture before charging it.
Servicing a car’s air conditioning system involves diagnosing the part of the AC system that is not working, determining if it needs servicing, and then repairing the system. Problems related to the AC system can range from slow Freon leaks to seized-up compressors and usually require a mechanic to look into problems in one of the following areas:
The compressor is a car’s air conditioning unit that compresses refrigerant Freon gas, which quickly heats it.
Once the compressor has compressed and heated the Freon, it is passed to the condenser, where it is formed into a super cool liquid.
The receiver-drier is the part of the car’s AC system that removes moisture from the air in the AC system.
The evaporator is the part of the car’s air conditioning system that turns the supercooled Freon into a refrigerant mist. The air in the car’s air conditioning system is blown over tubes that contain a super cool mist to remove heat from it before blowing it back into the car’s cabin.
AC hoses send air and Freon throughout the car’s air conditioning system. If these hoses spring a leak, Freon can leak out of the car’s AC system to where it no longer blows cold.
AC Blower Motor
The blower motor is the part of the car’s air conditioning system that pushes cooled air from the evaporator back into the car’s cabin.
AC Electrical Circuits
If a car suffers from wiring problems, it can sometimes interfere with the car’s ability to trigger the air conditioning system from the cabin instrument panel. This kind of systemic electrical issue is usually caused by faulty wiring harnesses or bad relays.
Because these components are often located deep in the car’s chassis and engine compartment, they may sometimes require specialized equipment to repair correctly. Let an automotive repair expert handle such complex AC repairs. Never attempt doing it yourself if you don’t have the necessary skills.
How Much Is Freon For Car: Tools Used In Diagnosis
Mechanics use two major tools other than direct observation to detect and diagnose Freon leaks in a car air conditioning system:
- Smoke test: A smoke test is performed using a piece of equipment that blows smoke through the car’s AC system to help mechanics identify any potential leaks in the system where Freon might escape, such as a faulty AC hose seal. This is an excellent test to perform for more massive AC Freon leaks.
- Paginated oil: For smaller Freon leaks, paginated oil is usually included in a Freon recharge service along with the Freon itself. Not only does this paginated oil help lubricate the AC system, but it also shows mechanics exactly where potential Freon leaks might be hidden by highlighting them under UV detection.
How Much Is Freon For Car: Recharge And Replacement Cost
Freon is one of the core components in the air conditioning systems of many older cars and will need replacement regularly to keep the AC functioning properly. Freon replacements cost between $187 and $261 at most garages, with Freon itself costing between $57 and $120. The rest of the chunk caters to labor costs.
Is An AC Recharge And Replacement Worth?
Living in a colder climate might be fine to forego air conditioning. Alternatively, someone living amidst the hotter and humid southern climate will be much more likely to repair their AC as soon as it’s necessary.
It also depends on the severity of the repairs needed for the car’s air conditioning. If a car only needs a Freon recharge once a year, for two hundred bucks a year, this can be well worth it to keep an older car running with a cool air conditioner.
However, if your older car has a damaged air compressor that will cost more to replace than the value of the car, it is worth taking a second look to see if replacing the compressor is even worth the trouble.
How Much Is Freon For Car: A DIY Recharge
To recharge the Freon in your car’s system, follow these steps:
- Verify that your car’s AC compressor is functioning (if not, there is no point in recharging the system).
- Find the low-pressure side refrigerant fill port.
- Attach the refrigerant dispenser to the fill port.
- Recharge the system, monitoring system pressure as you do so.
How Much Is Freon For Car: Final Thoughts
Every car needs Freon recharge. Knowing the refrigerant level in the car is important to keep your car maintained well. Checking the Freon level in the car also helps you to avoid substantial damage to your car’s air conditioner. You can check refrigerant in a car with gauges and also without gauges.
To tell if your car’s AC needs Freon is not that hard to notice. One example is how the air conditioner is blowing hot air when your AC is on low Freon. This is the most common sign of low Freon in a car.
Freon leaks in your car are also a major issue to lose refrigerant consistently. Without noticing the main reason a car’s air conditioners keep losing Freon, you cannot fix that problem. So you need to figure that out first.