Change is constant with A/C service and equipment

I'VE HEARD THAT SAE PUT A NEW REQUIREMENT IN PLACE FOR REFRIGERANT HANDLING EQUIPMENT THAT MAKES MY RECOVERY STATION OBSOLETE. WHEN DID THIS TAKE EFFECT AND WHEN DO I HAVE TO BE IN COMPLIANCE?

First, relax and let’s put this in the proper context. Yes, a new SAE standard for refrigerant handling equipment went into place on Dec. 31, 2007. The new standard, J2788, from the Society of Automotive Engineers, supersedes an older standard, J2210. The J2788 standard specifies more stringent performance requirements for R-134a refrigerant-handling equipment. J2788 only applies to equipment built after Dec. 31, 2007. This action doesn’t automatically render equipment made before this date obsolete, nor does using older equipment constitute a service procedure violation in the eyes of the EPA. The responsibility of meeting the new standard really fell on the shoulders of equipment manufacturers to ensure their equipment met that standard from then on. For you, just make sure any new R-134a refrigerant-handling equipment you’re considering meets the SAE J2788 standard.

DOES THIS STANDARD AFFECT THE WAY I DO MY JOB WITH REFRIGERANT HANDLING EQUIPMENT?

Yes, J2788-compliant equipment enables you to also perform your job better on today’s A/C systems. Equipment meeting the J2788 standard must be able to recover 95 percent of the system’s refrigerant within 30 minutes and must also be accurate when charging to within +/- 0.5 oz. By comparison, older equipment made to the J2210 standard required the ability to draw a vacuum of 4 in. Hg. and then maintain that vacuum for 30 minutes. Based on this vacuum/time relationship, it assumed that this would be adequate to recover all refrigerant in a system. Well, like many things, theory and reality collided and actual results proved otherwise. Hence, the industry trend to more precise equipment. This also aligns much better with today’s smaller charge levels and resulting less margin of error for mischarging.

SOMEONE TOLD ME THAT A REFRIGERANT IDENTIFIER IS THE QUICKEST WAY TO IDENTIFY THE TYPE OF REFRIGERANT IN A SYSTEM SO I CAN RECHARGE WITH THAT SAME REFRIGERANT. ARE THERE OTHER PURPOSES FOR THIS EQUIPMENT?

Whoever told you that had the completely wrong idea about using a refrigerant identifier. An identifier detects cross-contamination, a condition that occurs when refrigerants are accidentally mixed in an A/C system. Everyday use of an identifier can prevent you from contaminating equipment in your shop and even other systems if the situation wasn’t contained. SAE established the J1771 standard for refrigerant identifiers so manufacturers would have a standard to comply with. As a final point, EPA regulations require specific fittings and labels for a given refrigerant, so that ultimately dictates the proper type of refrigerant for a system. Even if a system was retrofitted to a different refrigerant, suitable fittings and labels must be used during the retrofit process.

IF I DETECT A CROSS-CONTAMINATED SYSTEM, IS IT OK TO VENT THE MIXED REFRIGERANT TO KEEP IT FROM ENTERING ANOTHER SYSTEM?

No, a contaminated or unknown refrigerant must be disposed of properly. The EPA bars venting of any automotive refrigerant into the atmosphere, no matter the concoction of different chemicals. Perhaps the best way to recover contaminated refrigerant is to assign a specific recovery-only unit for this purpose.

With all the other changes in A/C service technology, are there any improvements in leak detection since this seems to be such a critical requirement?

Yes, leak detection has improved dramatically through the implementation of new technologies made to match industry standards. This will hopefully make leak detection more of a clockwork than guesswork procedure. If you like electronic leak detectors, look for a detector that meets the accuracy and sensitivity specifications spelled out in SAE standard J2791. Or, if you prefer infrared light, dye-type detectors, set your sights on detection equipment meeting SAE standards J2297 and J2299.

DO A/C SYSTEM LEAKS HAVE TO BE REPAIRED BY LAW?

EPA does not make leak repair mandatory; however it’s usually the most economical alternative for your customers. Furthermore, proper refrigerant charge is essential for good system lubrication flow. Otherwise, serious system damage may result. With that said, there are some areas of the country that have chosen to supersede the EPA requirements by requiring leak repair. To be sure, check with your state and local authorities.

I RECEIVED MY SECTION 609 TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATION A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO. ARE THERE ANY REQUIREMENTS TO UPDATE OR RECERTIFY IN THIS CREDENTIAL?

At the present time, the EPA does not have a recertification provision in place. This may change, however, as developments in A/C system refrigerants and regulations change. For the latest information, along with a list of approved credentialing organizations, check: www.epa.gov/ozone/title6/609/technicians/609certs.html

ARE THERE ANY REQUIREMENTS RELATED TO THE EQUIPMENT I USE FOR REFRIGERANT HANDLING?

Yes, shops must certify to EPA that they have acquired and are properly using approved refrigerant recovery equipment. The information provided to the EPA must include the name and address of the service establishment, the name of the equipment manufacturer, equipment model and serial number, and equipment date of manufacture.

I'VE HEARD RUMORS THAT CARBON DIOXIDE IS SLATED TO BE THE "NEXT BIG THING" IN REFRIGERANTS FOR MOTOR VEHICLE AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEMS. SHOULD I START GEARING UP?

Not so fast. Over the last several years, it looked like CO2 (also referred to as R744) would become the refrigerant heir-apparent to R-134a, which has been around since the early 1990s. CO2 was heavily favored in Europe, mainly because of its ultra-low, Global-Warming Potential rating of 1 and that momentum appeared as though it was going to persuade the North American market to move in the same direction. Yet, just when it appeared as though CO2 looked like the sure thing, another alternative refrigerant emerged as a likely R-134a successor. Known as HFO-1234yf, it has a GWP rating of 4, which is somewhat higher than that of CO2.

There are a couple of reasons for the change of heart away from CO2. First, HFO-1234yf’s performance most closely resembles that of R-134a. Because of this parallel, it can bring reduced manufacturing changeover costs, since the main parts of the system require few changes. Second, even though HFO-1234yf’s GWP is 4, this refrigerant actually yields the least overall net impact on global warming. That’s because it takes less fuel to power an MVAC system charged with HFO-1234yf. Since CO2 runs at much higher pressures, it simply takes more fuel for compressor operation.

WHEN WILL NEW CARS COME FROM THE FACTORY WITH THIS NEW REFRIGERANT?

It’s possible that HFO-1234yf may be used as the original factory refrigerant starting with 2012 models. Remember, this is a preliminary estimate that’s subject to change by influences from the industry. We’ll make sure to pass on the latest developments as soon as they become available. As we’ve already seen in this arena, nothing is constant but change.

Submit your tool questions for “Tool Q&A” to Editor Brendan Dooley at brendan@pten.com. Please put “Tool Q&A” in your email subject line.

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