Change is constant with A/C service and equipment

Technical Editor Dave Cappert answers your questions about A/C service.


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.

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