A/C complexities heat up year-round demand for HVAC instruction

Aug. 16, 2016
No longer engineered solely for cabin comfort, A/C has dramatically evolved into a crucial system for cooling the high voltage electronics and battery packs found in hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electrics, extended range electrics and fuel cell vehicles.

As summer eases into fall most motorists are leaving air conditioner levers in the off position as beating the heat becomes less of a concern than preparing for winter’s wrath, but the A/C element of a vehicle’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system also dehumidifies defroster moisture that can hinder vision by fogging or freezing on the inside of window glass.

Ensuring that all HVAC components are fully functional is thus a matter of year-round importance – making qualified A/C technicians a hot ticket due to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Section 609 certification requirements for the recovery, recycling, and recharging of potentially polluting refrigerants. The measure, part of the Clean Air Act, mandates that A/C technicians must be trained, tested, and certified by an approved organization.

Working on today’s A/C units is increasingly complex, necessitating up-to-date service and repair training as refrigerants and systems change.

“There’s a huge demand for new technicians as older technicians retire,” says Marion J. Posen, vice president of member relations and marketing at the Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide, an industry association covering all the aspects of vehicle thermal systems. “It’s a very, very large field.”

Anyone riding in anything anywhere is directly impacted by HVAC, including consumers cruising in cars and trucks, commercial fleets, military motor pools and other local, state and federal governmental entities. A recently released study from Allied Market Research reports that the global automotive HVAC segment is annually expanding by 8.9 percent with expectations of becoming a $22.8-billion market by 2022.

Automakers and suppliers are continually developing new components and refrigerant technologies to meet emissions standards and market demands that further emphasize the need for properly certified technicians to service the systems.

No longer engineered solely for cabin comfort, A/C has dramatically evolved into a crucial system for cooling the high voltage electronics and battery packs found in hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electrics, extended range electrics, and fuel cell vehicles, according to Chief Technology Officer Dr. Mark Quarto of Henderson, Nev.-based FutureTech Auto, who will be speaking at the Feb. 15-18 MACS 2017 Training Event and Trade Show taking place at the Anaheim Marriott in Anaheim, Calif.

“MACS is proud to have Dr. Quarto discuss new technology as it applies to expanding the role of mobile A/C systems, and his message is a perfect fit with our training event theme, ‘Mobile A/C: Global Service Horizons,’” explains MACS President and COO Elvis L. Hoffpauir. “This mobile A/C system integration means more service opportunities for MACS members.”

In addition to educating and certifying technician-level A/C repairers – both mechanical and collision – shop owners, distributors, retailers, and counter personnel can all become better at their jobs by achieving proficiency within the category.

“If you’re trying to explain a repair to a customer you have to understand how the system works,” Posen points out.

Service managers, warehouse distributors and retailers, counter personnel and collision repair centers can benefit from mobile A/C training so they can knowledgably discuss A/C system repairs with customers – and insurance carriers – who may not understand how the systems operate and why certain parts need to be purchased.

More than 40 million vehicles on the road come with performance, health, and comfort-crucial cabin air filtration systems, yet many drivers have no idea that their vehicle contains such fixtures, let alone where they are located, or what purpose they serve.

“An increasing number of vehicles are now equipped with cabin filters – even though most motorists don’t even know they have one,” says Purolator spokesman Kevin O’Dowd. “This filter must be clean and functioning well to ensure that the air entering the passenger compartment through the heating and air conditioning vent system is uncontaminated.”

Installation time varies with the vehicle concerned. It can take as little as 5 to 10 minutes or run as high as 45 minutes to an hour, depending how difficult it is to reach.

Rapid changes

Given the sophisticated nature of modern A/C systems, the myriad of parts that can require replacement and the need for scanners and other specialized shop equipment – plus the possibility of committing Section 609 violations regarding refrigerants – shade tree mechanics are likely to lose their cool when attempting these types of repairs.

“We always recommend going to a professional repair shop and following OEM recommendations,” Posen says. Aside from an assortment of DIYer diagnostic difficulties, “a professional technician uses a professional recovery machine; do-it-yourselfers who vent refrigerant or fill up leaking A/C systems do so in violation of the U.S. Clean Air Act. Also, refrigerant charge is critical to A/C system performance and professional repair shops have the tools to install accurate charge.”

Numerous industry classroom and online educational opportunities are available, such as the Motor Age Training ASE T7 Study Guide, which provides extensive HVAC knowledge and other details for passing the ASE engine repair certification exam.

HVAC is among four new courses for shop owners and technicians introduced in June by the Advance Auto Parts Carquest Technical Institute (CTI).

“CTI provides world-class training for shops – both in-person and online – to prepare shop owners and technicians to be ready to best serve their customers,” says Al Wheeler, senior vice president of commercial sales. "In an industry that is rapidly changing and adopting new technologies, it is our mission through CTI to provide the resources that strengthen a shop’s ability to manage their business as well as service, diagnose and repair today’s increasingly complex vehicles productively and profitably.”

Since 1991 MACS has assisted more than one million technicians in their quest for Section 609 certification, conducting courses in collaboration with manufacturers. Upcoming events include:

  • MACS 2016 Mobile A/C Update Clinic, Sept. 28, at California’s Santa Barbara City College.
  • MACS Mobile A/C Best Practices Class and plant tour, Oct. 21, at Universal Air Conditioning in Mansfield, Texas.

Instructors are available to come to your particular location and teach customized classes specific to your company’s training needs. MACS also has a state-of-the-art training facility at its headquarters in Lansdale, Pa. Sessions are additionally taught remotely at your site via webinars during which students view the presentation while communicating with the instructor by telephone.

A Robinair webinar earlier this year attracted 175 participants.

“It’s a very natural fit for Robinair to partner with the MACS certification program to educate, train and certify today’s technicians on the latest breakthroughs and advancements in the mobile air conditioning industry,” says senior product manager Tim Wagaman. “As R-1234yf becomes more prevalent in vehicles on the road, technicians and shop owners need training to recognize which refrigerant is being used, how to handle it safely and how to make sure they are properly equipped with the right machines and tools to service them.”

State associations are assisting as well by offering instruction programs that have proven to be popular, evidenced by a recent sold-out training and testing session presented at the Crystal Lake Pit Stop, a Federated auto parts outlet, by MACS and the Crystal Lake Chapter of the Automotive Service Association of Illinois.

Miramar College in San Diego hosted two days of MACS-produced training in May that featured a Section 609 certification session along with a heavy duty and off-road truck A/C class conducted in cooperation with MAHLE Service Solutions.

“The A/C market is constantly changing, and we are proud to support MACS in its ongoing mission to educate and train the industry,” says Andreas Huber, the company’s general manager. “Due to our development of equipment specific to the heavy-duty market, we understand the demands and needs that commercial vehicle technicians face on a daily basis.”

Miramar’s program director, Dan Willkie, is a MACS member who appreciates how the association’s research is helpful for developing curriculum and assisting students in their studies.

Taking into account the reasonable cost of tuition and the practical job-oriented education obtained, Willkie contends that attending a community college is the best deal for parents and students alike. He encourages aftermarket businesses to make donations to community colleges and set up internships with promising candidates who demonstrate that they are interested in learning the field.

Parents and students seeking scholarships in automotive curriculum can visit http://www.automotivescholarships.com/.

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About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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