By Elvis L. Hoffpauir, president MACS Worldwide
The EPA’s recent announcement, that it has listed R-1234yf under SNAP for use in mobile air conditioners designed for it, has increased interest in and questions about the new refrigerant. Following are some of the most frequently asked questions and our response.
What automobile manufacturers are planning to use R-1234yf, and when?
To date, only General Motors has formally announced that 2013 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models in the U.S. will use the new refrigerant. However, we know that all major automobile manufacturers worldwide have been working on this option, and European regulations ban the use of R-134a in new platforms in 2011. We would expect to see use of the new refrigerant by manufacturers in Europe this year, but it’s likely to be introduced slowly. Whether or when European manufacturers would export these vehicles to the U.S. is unknown.
European regulations begin to phase out use of R-134a in mobile air conditioning in 2011, and eliminate its use in all new vehicles by 2017.
Will the U.S. follow Europe’s lead?
The State of California has proposed mandating a low-GWP refrigerant for the 2017 model year, but that is certainly not carved in stone. As of yet, there is no similar proposal at the national level. However, car manufacturers in the U.S. can get credits that will help them meet CAFÉ requirements by using a low-GWP refrigerant, so they have that incentive.
While new vehicles with R1234yf can be expected to return to dealers through warranty programs, when can collision and independent repair shops expect to see these vehicles?
Warranties vary, of course. But 2013 model year vehicles are likely to hit the streets in 2012. If they are on the street, some of them will be involved in collisions. When it comes to service and repair, our industry’s historical data suggests that most service is performed on vehicles between five and ten years old, but modern A/C systems are more robust and refrigerant leak rates have been substantially reduced, so a modern system can be expected to last longer.
Will service shops need dedicated equipment to service R-1234yf? What is this likely to cost?
Dedicated equipment will be required for the new refrigerant. We estimate that the primary equipment (RRR machines, refrigerant identifiers and electronic leak detectors) costs from $3,500 to $6,500 for R-134a. We would expect that the cost of the same equipment for the new refrigerant would be in that range or slightly higher.
How does R-1234yf compare to R-134a?
Good system service practices will become even more important with R-1234yf systems – pulling a deep vacuum on the system to remove air, avoiding introducing moisture into the air conditioning system; both of the latter are concerns when servicing R-134a systems, and there are indications that improper service could be an even greater concern with the new R-1234yf systems. Regarding components, there is an SAE International standard, J2842, which states that “an evaporator from a vehicle air conditioning system shall not be repaired or removed from any (including salvage) vehicle air conditioning system with the intention of using it again in the same or a different vehicle.” In many other respects, however, we are told that the new refrigerant is very similar to R-134a in performance and for service.
R-1234yf will be substantially more expensive. The manufacturers of the refrigerant have not quoted a price publically, but estimate ranging from $40 to $60 a pound has been circulating in the industry.
What companies will be manufacturing R-1234yf?
Honeywell and DuPont have announced that they will begin supplying the refrigerant in the fourth quarter of 2011 for new vehicle builds.
R-1234yf is classified as a mildly flammable gas — should technicians be concerned about servicing these automobile A/C systems?
Technicians should be knowledgeable about the properties of this refrigerant and handle it properly. That being said, extensive testing is reported to have shown that it is difficult to ignite R-1234yf, but it can be ignited by, for instance, a cherry-red hot manifold or a match or butane lighter.
Will new technician training and certification be required for R1234yf?
The U.S. EPA will ultimately make that decision. In its recent SNAP rule regarding R-1234yf, EPA said “Section 609 of the Clean Air Act requires technician training for persons servicing for consideration. EPA will consider under a separate rulemaking under section 609, whether it is necessary to modify our existing regulations under section 609 to include additional specifications for HFO-1234yf.”
When having your mobile A/C system professionally serviced, insist on proper repair procedures and quality replacement parts. Insist on recovery and recycling so that refrigerant can be reused and not released into the atmosphere.
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The 32nd annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Convention and Trade Show will take place January 18-20, 2012 at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV.