Although it may seem to save time and money, do-it-yourselfers might want to reconsider the seemingly easy process of recharging a vehicle’s air conditioning system on their own.
Bob Williamson, store manager at CARQUEST Auto Parts in Hillsboro, said some basic AC recharge kits cost $30 to $45, and come with a coupler, refrigerant, and a rudimentary pressure gauge.
“It’s all in disposable cans,” he said. “Really, without a little bit of training that’s all a do-it-yourselfer is usually able to do.”
Kurt Funk, service adviser at Midway Motors in Hillsboro, said there is more to recharging an AC system than just adding more refrigerant.
“Some less-experienced people think that if they put more coolant in it will make the AC cooler,” he said, “but putting too much coolant in causes the system to not work right, the same way not putting enough in will cause it to malfunction.”
He said improperly filling an AC system throws off its pressure. Coolant also could escape into the atmosphere if the process isn’t performed correctly.
“Officials don’t want Freon to just be dumped into the air because it can contribute to global warming,” Funk said. “People who handle Freon are supposed to have a certification.”
He said Midway Motors uses an AC charging station, where crewmembers measure the amount of coolant removed from the system, before it is purified, and the vehicle is refilled to correct level.
Costly problems can arise if other parts of the vehicle are not tended to.
“It’s all connected,” Funk said.
Fan clutches on newer vehicles should be checked to make sure engine drive fans are pulling air correctly, and condensers in front of radiators should be checked.
AC systems also have oil in their compressor units that should be replenished.
“If you don’t add oil to it, it could starve the system and create a premature malfunction of the compressor unit,” he said. “Once that is down, you’re pretty well done in. If it fails, sometimes metal shavings get into the system.”
When a compressor goes down, it can cost anywhere from $800 to $2,000 to repair, he said. If the AC system just goes out it costs anywhere from $100 to $150 to recharge the system.
Funk said some people also don’t realize that cans of AC recharge can explode if they store them incorrectly.
Some recharge systems also have a stop-leak additive in the coolant, Williamson said.
“The manufacturers figure most do-it-yourselfers will have vehicles that have a slow leak in their AC,” Williamson said.
Funk cautioned people against using such sealers.
“This AC sealer goo can cause other damage and it won’t work with many AC charging stations because it can gum up equipment,” Funk said.