The temperatures are climbing up, up, up! It’s not yet summer, and you’re already cranking up your car’s air conditioner. Is the air conditioner working? Is refrigerant low? What should you know?
Refrigerant, also known as freon, is an important part of your air conditioning system. If it’s low, your A/C won’t operate.
What is refrigerant?
Refrigerant is a substance used in refrigeration systems to transfer heat and provide cooling. In a vehicle, refrigerant is used in the air conditioning system to remove heat from the interior of the car and expel it outside, making the inside of the vehicle cooler and more comfortable for passengers.
You might have heard refrigerant referred to as Freon. Freon is a brand name for a type of refrigerant commonly used in older air conditioning systems. Specifically, it refers to a kind of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerant used in the past but has since been phased out due to its harmful environmental impact. CFCs have been found to deplete the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from harmful UV rays.
Nowadays, most vehicles use refrigerants that are much less harmful to the environment, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These refrigerants are designed to provide similar cooling performance as Freon, but with much less environmental impact.
What refrigerants are used in today’s cars?
Car manufacturers constantly look for ways to improve their vehicles. When Freon was phased out, designers looked for new ways to do the job more effectively. That’s when different types of automotive refrigerants were developed.
Today’s vehicles typically use one of two refrigerants: R134a and R1234yf. Check your owner’s manual to determine what your car uses – they should never be mixed.
The main difference between the two is their impact on the environment.
R134a has been used in automotive air conditioning systems for many years and is known to have a relatively low impact on the environment. However, it is still a greenhouse gas and can contribute to global warming.
R1234yf is a newer refrigerant developed as a more environmentally friendly alternative to R134a. It has a much lower global warming potential than R134a, meaning it has a much smaller impact on the environment. R1234yf also has a shorter atmospheric lifetime than R134a, which means it breaks down more quickly and has less of a long-term effect on the environment.
However, one potential drawback of R1234yf is that it is a mildly flammable refrigerant, which has raised some safety concerns. To address these concerns, automotive manufacturers have designed new air conditioning systems specifically designed to use R1234yf and minimize potential safety risks.
Overall, both R134a and R1234yf are effective refrigerants for automotive air conditioning systems, but R1234yf is considered more environmentally friendly.
How refrigerant works inside a vehicle
Refrigerant works by absorbing heat from the car’s interior and then releasing that heat to the outside environment.
The refrigerant circulates through the air conditioning system in a closed loop, starting in the compressor. The compressor pressurizes the refrigerant and pumps it through the system, where it passes through the condenser. The condenser is located at the front of the vehicle. It’s designed to dissipate heat, allowing the refrigerant to release the heat it has absorbed from the interior of the car.
After passing through the condenser, the refrigerant enters the expansion valve or orifice tube. This component is designed to regulate the flow of refrigerant into the evaporator, which is located inside the vehicle’s cabin. As the refrigerant flows through the evaporator, it absorbs heat from the air inside the car and cools it down.
The cooled air is then blown into the interior of the vehicle by the air conditioning system’s blower fan, providing cool and comfortable air for the passengers.
Once the refrigerant has absorbed heat from the interior of the car, it circulates back to the compressor to repeat the process. The cycle continues as long as the air conditioning system is turned on.
How do you know if the refrigerant is low?
Several signs can indicate that the refrigerant level in your vehicle’s air conditioning system is low. These include:
Blowing warm air from the vents
If your air conditioning system is blowing warm air instead of cold, this can be a sign that the refrigerant level is low. Refrigerant is responsible for absorbing heat from the car’s interior and releasing it outside, so if there isn’t enough refrigerant in the system, it won’t be able to cool the air effectively.
Rapid cycling of compressor clutch
The compressor clutch is the component that engages and disengages the compressor in the air conditioning system. If the refrigerant level is low, the compressor may start to cycle rapidly on and off as it struggles to maintain the correct pressure in the system.
A/C warning light
Many modern vehicles are equipped with an A/C warning light on the dashboard that will illuminate if there is a problem with the air conditioning system. If the refrigerant level is low, this can trigger the warning light to come on.
If there is a leak in the air conditioning system, this can cause the refrigerant level to drop over time. Signs of a refrigerant leak can include hissing or bubbling noises coming from the system, oily residue around the A/C components, or a noticeable decrease in cooling performance over time.
If you suspect that the refrigerant level in your vehicle’s air conditioning system is low, it’s crucial to have the system inspected by a qualified mechanic. Low refrigerant levels can cause damage to the compressor and other components in the system, so it’s essential to address the issue as soon as possible.
Air conditioning care
Notice a change in the air conditioning performance inside your vehicle? It may be the refrigerant.
We can help with that. Whether you notice a light on your dashboard, or are curious about an odd smell when you turn the air conditioner on, bring it in for an inspection today. We’ll ensure it’s working correctly and keep you cool all summer.