A/C Recovery, Recycling, Repair

A/C repair has changed over the years—and is still changing. These days techs use scan tools as well as specialty tools to help them in the task, and the old R-12 refrigerant and R-12 machines are being replaced by R-134a refrigerant and SAE J2788-compliant machines, requiring shops to update their equipment.


According to Jimmy Bielarz, a technician at Nortown Automotive in Chicago, a lot of cars are so technical, that “switches, modules and computers actually control the A/C system.”

Because of this, he finds that having a factory scan tool at hand makes things much easier.

The scan tool at Bielarz’s shop helps him “test the A/C system and its components electrically” on Chrysler, GM and other models to save time.

In addition to the scan tool, Bielarz is also “a firm believer in using the [leak detection] dye every time” he charges a system. That way, he can find out if there’s a leak before he even begins.

“Other tools that we use in an air conditioning system are the refrigerant identifier and the stop-leak identifier; these are very important to me as special tools,” said Bielarz.

“We’re not disassembling a lot of clutches and things like that.

“Back in the day, we used to take a compressor apart and repair it and put it back on the car. That’s not being done much anymore—it’s all replacement.

“Years ago when they still had R-12, you had to have adapters for every other different car. Since then, they’ve centralized that to where you don’t need a different adapter for each car.”

Because of this, Bielarz claims that in today’s A/C repairs, techs just don’t have the need for as many hand tools as they used to.

FROM R-12 TO R-134a

In days past, most cars ran with only R-12 refrigerant, but due to the new school of thought on protecting the ozone layer, most cars now run on R-134a refrigerant. Thus A/C equipment had to be updated to comply.

In his Mooresville, N.C., shop, Bruce Lunsford, a retired A/C repair instructor, makes sure he has his bases covered.

“I’ve got an older R-12 machine which I don’t use much anymore because it’s left the marketplace, and then I have a current and up-to-date 134 recovery machine,” said Lunsford. “And then I also have a charging station that I use.

“It’s very important that I use a refrigerant identifier with every charging station because it’s my equipment, and I don’t want it damaged from the wrong contaminants coming in.”

Lunsford said he uses his R-134a recovery machine often—on almost every job.

Bielarz agreed that the R-134a machine was very effective in detecting contaminants, and seeing to it that the repair goes right from the beginning.

“We recently bought a new R-134a machine,” said Bielarz. “The big thing is gas detection systems that tell you if the gas in the car is contaminated or if it’s the wrong gas … so you can test a system before you even start servicing it.”

Today’s A/C tools and equipment are taking the guesswork out of what was once a guess-and-check process.

“A/C [repair] hasn’t changed much,” said Bielarz. “They’ve added new parts and components, but as far as testing, it’s been the same.”

According to Bielarz, technicians look for machines that “can put in exactly what the car calls for,” said Bielarz. “If you put too much freon in a car, it won’t work, and you can actually blow up the compressor if there’s too much pressure.

“The same thing goes for recharging; if the car has a sticker or it tells us exactly how much to put in—2 pounds, 2-1/2 pounds—then we fill the system up with whatever the manufacturer says is the right amount.”

When Lunsford updated his A/C equipment, he knew he wanted a machine that was serviceable, without a lot of expense. He made sure the equipment had “filters [available] at a reasonable cost, as well as easily available parts. He also looked for a model that “goes the extra mile” and included refrigerant test equipment.


Both techs purchased their A/C tools and equipment, including recovery and recharging stations, from their mobile distributor. When they shopped, they looked for a good deal and the service to stand behind it.

In addition to availability, it’s a big deal to a tech when his distributor not only sells him good equipment, but also carries the products to support the machine.

For Lunsford, his distributor carries replacement filters, should he need them—a huge convenience.

“All I have to do is call him up and say I need to service my machine and he’ll send me a filter,” said Lunsford.

“That’s the bad thing about buying online—now you’ve got a machine. But what are you going to do with it if something happens to it? You can’t look a guy in the eye and say, ‘Help me.’ ”

A basic understanding of A/C needs can help distributors to spot places where they might be able to contribute some extra help and service options. It’s not only helpful; it’s an effective way to seal the deal.