Q: The air conditioner in my car is not blowing cold enough, and someone told me it is probably low on refrigerant. Can I just add more refrigerant to the system to get it working as it should?
A: Not necessarily, and I advise against doing so. There are many reasons why the air conditioner may not be working correctly.
For one, temperature controls may not be functioning as they should, which has nothing to do with the system charge (refrigerant level).
If the charge is low, there is most likely a leak somewhere in the system. The leak allows air and moisture to enter the system as well as loss of refrigerant. If the cause of the leak is not repaired and the air and moisture are not purged from the system, the refrigerant will mix with the moisture to create hydrochloric acid. This acid will deteriorate the components of the system from the inside out.
If your air-conditioning system is not performing properly, it is important to have it examined by a professional with the correct equipment to both diagnose and repair the defect.
A refrigerant identifier is the most critical piece of equipment required. There are only two types of refrigerant that should be used for an automobile’s A/C system: R-12 for older vehicles and R-134A.
If anything else is put into the system, it is considered contaminated and must be removed and handled as contaminated waste. For example, if your system is using R-12 and another type of refrigerant is added, there is the potential for serious damage to your vehicle.
There is specific equipment that checks the operation of an A/C system dedicated to either R-12 or R-134A, as well as equipment that checks for external leakage of the refrigerant and locates the source of the leak.
Be aware that many quick lubes and repair facilities may put the wrong refrigerant into automotive A/C systems because of a lack of knowledge, training or correct equipment. Don’t hesitate to ask if a shop is using the correct equipment before anyone works on your vehicle.