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A/C service: Time to get ready

Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 11:56
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One of the focal points of the annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society Worldwide’s (MACS) convention and trade show is the State of the Industry presentation delivered by Ward Atkinson, past Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Interior Climate Control committee chairman. Atkinson always has insights to offer as to what the future might hold for the motor vehicle air conditioning (MVAC) industry, and his crystal ball typically proves highly accurate in forecasting the challenges we’ll face in the coming years.

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With the rise of counterfeit blends worldwide, it only makes good sense to test what is in the car before you attempt to service it.

This year, Atkinson painted a picture of an industry in flux. Those who have relied in the past on A/C and cooling system repair alone to support their businesses are seeing that market shrink and forcing them to expand their service offerings or close their doors. The refrigerant we were so sure would be the accepted alternative for R134a is under fire, and as of early March, still is causing headlines in industry newsletters and magazines. Alternatives are being raised; not only in the type of refrigerant but the type of system design future automobiles will use to cool their occupants. And the familiar blue container of R134a sitting in the storage room of your shop might contain anything but, with some contaminants wielding the ability to kill or maim an unsuspecting service tech.

Let’s start there.

Safety First
A few years ago, several workers were killed in separate instances involving contaminated R134a in the commercial refrigeration industry, specifically in the commercial shipping containers used to transport perishable cargo around the world. These containers violently and unexpectedly exploded during routine service of the refrigeration systems. Investigators determined that the explosions were caused by the introduction of a counterfeit R134a refrigerant containing significant amounts of methyl chloride (also known as chloromethane or R-40) and R-22. R-40 chemically reacts with the aluminum components found in the air conditioning system and generates highly reactive and/or toxic compounds. One suspect compound is Trimethylaluminum (TMA), a pyrophoric (a flammable liquid or vapor that ignites on contact with air).

Early in the investigation, it was apparent that all of the contaminated containers had received a refrigerant charge in Vietnam. But continuing investigations have now found refrigerant contamination in containers serviced in other major sea ports, as well as in in stock refrigerant containers. Additionally, the contaminated gas has been found in consumer automobiles in Europe and installed in U.S. military vehicles that saw duty overseas. Now, many of these military vehicles are arriving stateside where they have been quarantined pending the development of a process by which they can be safely serviced.

Is this a situation you should be concerned with? Here’s what DuPont had to say in a recent blog on its company website, as reported by ACR News:

“Illegal blended mixtures being marketed online and elsewhere as R134a for automotive air conditioning and refrigeration uses can actually contain R-40, R-12, R-22 and/or R-30 (methylene chloride) and a variety of other hydrocarbons. These counterfeit refrigerants have the potential to cause not only harm to a company or end user, but there are also serious physical dangers associated with these fraudulent products.”

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