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Make sure that A/C is A-OK

Q: I just tried using my air conditioner after not using it for a while and it’s not blowing cold air. A friend said it might be low on refrigerant and to try topping it off myself before taking it to a shop. That sounds good, but I thought I would ask first and see if it makes sense to you.

A: If someone’s air conditioner is not blowing cold enough, we are often asked if it’s because the car is low on refrigerant and would adding more refrigerant to the system solve the problem. Our answers? Not necessarily and no. There are many reasons your air conditioner may not be working correctly.

For one, temperature controls may not be functioning properly, which has nothing to do with the system charge (refrigerant level).

If the system charge is low, there is most likely a leak somewhere in the system. In addition to loss of refrigerant, a leak allows air and moisture into the system. If the cause of the leak is not repaired and the air and moisture are not purged, the refrigerant will combine with the moisture and create hydrochloric acid. This highly corrosive acid will deteriorate the components of the system from the inside out. Not good.

If your air conditioning system is not performing correctly, please have it examined by a professional with the correct equipment to diagnose and repair the system defect. The most critical piece of equipment is a refrigerant identifier. There are only two types of refrigerant that should be in an automobile’s A/C system (depending on the age of the vehicle): R-12 (older vehicles) or 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 equipment designed to check the operation of the A/C system dedicated to either R-12 or R-134A refrigerant, and equipment that can identify external leakage of the refrigerant and locate the source of the leak.

Be aware that many quick lube and repair facilities may put the wrong refrigerant into automotive A/C systems because of a lack of knowledge, training or correct equipment. Ask them if they are using the correct equipment before they work on your vehicle.

The most cost-effective way to get an A/C system working as it should is to have a qualified technician with the proper equipment and education determine the problem, then repair it correctly and issue a warranty to back it up.

Warren McCord is an ASE Certified Technician and owner of Dean’s Automotive Inc., 2037 Old Middlefield Way, Mountain View. For more information, call 961-0302 or email McCord at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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