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A/C service: Time to get ready

Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 11:56
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High-end identifiers made starting in 2012 are the only ones capable of detecting R-40. Any reading less than 100 percent pure R134a should be treated cautiously.

While I know of no reported instances of R-40 counterfeits surfacing in the U.S. market to date, that doesn’t mean there won’t be. And I don’t want any of our readers to be the first to discover this dangerous counterfeit uninformed. The very first step you can take to protect yourself is to make sure you buy your stock from a known good source, where the product can be easily traced all the way back to the manufacturer.

The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), in a recent white paper, offers these additional suggestions:

• Verify the quality of the refrigerant in the virgin cylinder before use.

• Verify the quality of the refrigerant in the vehicle system before repair or servicing.

• Properly label and isolate systems suspected of contamination.

Motor Age and other industry trade publications have long promoted the use of refrigerant identifiers, primarily to prevent the contamination of the virgin supply in your recovery equipment. But only a few higher end identifiers made beginning in 2012 are capable of identifying the presence of R-40. 

One clue to a possible R-40 counterfeit blend is the presence of identifiable R-22 but for now, anything less than a 100 percent pure reading should be treated with caution. Certainly, do not rely on any type of pressure/temperature relationship check. That might help identify the presence of air in that virgin tank but will not conclusively eliminate any counterfeit product.

We found many listings for R134a on sites like Ebay. If it’s too good to be true, though, it probably is.

Remember, the real problem with R-40 is what happens after it has already been installed in a customer’s car. The reactant chemicals, at the least, are highly damaging to the system components and, at the very worst, will cause an explosive hazard triggered when you open the system for repair or during the recovery of the gas into your machine. Organizations worldwide are still working on the best procedure for dealing with a system found to contain R-40.

While I’ve focused on R-40, the counterfeit problem is not limited to just this one chemical. According to Peter Coll, vice president at Neutronics Inc., “We have had the opportunity to examine over 1,000 sets of test data on R134a during the past 18 months. While some contained R-40, the amount of R-22, R-142b and (other) hydrocarbons was extensive. It looks like the unscrupulous refrigerant manufacturers and packagers are putting any combination of refrigerants in the bottle if they can make a few extra dollars. We are still a bit mystified by this due to the relatively low cost of R134a. They must be producing these rogue cocktails on a massive scale to see any real financial benefit.”

The AHRI white paper backs up Coll’s comments, stating in part, “Compounds such as R-40, R-22, R-142b, R-152a, and R-12 have been found mixed with R134a in newly filled refrigerant cylinders marked as containing R-134a. There have also been instances of counterfeited brand name R-134a cylinders sold containing refrigerants other than R-134a.”

Even if that can of refrigerant looks like the real thing, it might not be. And it may not explode in your face. But the use of any counterfeit blend can, according to DuPont, “create holes in the coil (evaporator/condenser), leakages, system performance issues and flammability concerns.” More reason than ever to “Test, don’t guess!”

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