Refrigerant issues reinforce need for long-range business planning

Many shop owners express only a passing interest in the new HFO-1234yf refrigerant that will be used by some vehicle manufacturers. By the time carmakers are using HFO-1234yf, shop owners assume there will be recover-recycle-refrigerant (RRR) equipment available to handle the new refrigerant. In addition, the conventional thinking goes, aftermarket shops have a two-year “warranty window.”

The conventional thinking is reasonable. But managing the business has gotten more difficult as of late, and shop owners will find it worth their while to think more strategically in their business planning. Many aspects of automotive technology, not just air conditioning, have become more complex. Tools have become more capable but also more expensive. And as technology and tools improve, more training is needed.

Shop owners should think about big purchases well into the future, including RRR machines. So, should you consider a machine capable of handling more than one refrigerant?

The Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) trade show and training event in Orlando last month was abuzz with questions about refrigerant issues.

There was a lot of talk about why certain German carmakers have decided not to use the new refrigerant. But regardless which cars do and don’t use it, more cars will have it over time, and in the not-too-distant future, the nation’s vehicle fleet will be a mix of both R-134a and the new HFO-1234yf.

Think long-term

Shops buy RRR machines for long-term use. They have to consider their needs extending several years out when buying new equipment. For many shop owners, it takes a full year before an RRR machine pays for itself.

During the MACS show, the SAE interior climate control standards committee discussed testing standards for machines that recover, recycle and recharge different refrigerants. There are current SAE standards and certification requirements covering service equipment for both R-134a and HFO-1234yf refrigerants. The RRR equipment manufacturers have varying views about whether dual or multiple refrigerant machines should be developed to begin with, given questions about cost and/or potential for cross contamination of refrigerants. In the meantime, convertible machines that are designed to recover both types of refrigerants have already been introduced to the U.S. market.

The SAE is considering standards for dual refrigerant handling, which is not the same as convertible refrigerant handling.

A host of concerns

Once HFO-1234yf refrigerant is in circulation, shops must also take into account proper ventilation, safety and storage issues associated with it.

But that’s not all. Because different refrigerants will be in use, shops will most likely have more need for refrigerant identifiers. Some argue that shops should have these already, given the growing problem of rogue refrigerants. Offshore refrigerant manufacturers have gotten into the refrigerant market in a big way in recent years, and regulating these products has proven a challenge for our government.