Freon is a chemical often used in air conditioning systems in cars. It’s a refrigerant, in fact. Almost odorless, colorless, and non-flammable, the chemical has many uses, but it is also dangerous. It’s often discussed when talking about recharging a car’s air conditioner, a labor that costs $150+.
What are CFCs? They’re chlorofluorocarbons. They’re often grouped under the trade name Freon. These chemicals are used in car air conditioning (AC) systems. It’s actually a gas at room temperature, but when it’s cooled and compressed, it’s a liquid.
This blog will give some information about Freon and then take on the hot topic of car air conditioning recharges. With summer right around the corner, it’s no wonder car owners are asking the burning questions: What’s the 411 on Freon? Is Freon flammable?
Commercial Freons on the Market Today
Freon, from the science side of things, can get complicated pretty quickly. People want to know about it in general terms, wondering if Freon is flammable, for example.
There are different types of Freon today. For example, there’s R134A. This is the type that is often used in automobile air condition systems. For homes, businesses, and buildings, a different type is used, R22.
R134a is known as Tetrafluoroethene. On the other hand, R22 is called Chlorodifluoromethane.
There’s another type that is often mentioned in this conversation: R410A. This is a replacement chemical for R22 which was once commercially very popular until it was realized that its usage was causing a hole in the ozone layer.
The problem with Freon is that sometimes it leaks. The compressor can leak from the outside, and inside, it could leak from the AC unit.
Fun fact: You are supposed to check out your air conditioners annually according to the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America). Having a dip of 10% means the system doesn’t work as designed. A 20% loss means you are overspending on your utility bills as the AC tries to keep up with demand.
Worse, not having enough Freon in the system could ruin the compressor – that’s a price repair!
Fun Facts about Freon
Is Freon flammable? Not likely! There are plenty of fun facts to share about this interesting and useful chemical.
For example, Freon is heavier than the air we breathe. If there’s a leak, it doesn’t float up to the ceiling like Helium would. Instead, it sinks down to the ground.
Another compelling fact about freon is that it’s illegal in the United States to add Freon to a system if it’s leaking. This is because the leaks are bad for human health and the environment. Instead, the leak must be fixed first.
Did you know that this chemical is often used in fridges and freezers across the hospitality industry? It’s true!
If you do have a leak, you shouldn’t worry about a huge health issue right off the bat say experts. It isn’t classified as a carcinogen or mutagen. The problem instead is that it can replace the healthy oxygen-enriched air in the room. What could happen is that it slowly suffocates the occupants of a space
The warning signs that that a Freon leak is eating up the air in the room are limited, but people with heart problems may be affected more than others.
Do I have a Freon Leak?
One of the main reasons people research the flammability of Freon is because they’re worried that they have a Freon leak and that it will start a fire or cause an explosion.
The first thing you need to know is that’s usually odorless. You won’t smell Freon in the air. Instead, you’ll notice a frosty looking layer on the copper lines that are present in a HVAC system. Additionally, the system will start pushing out hot air.
Do you need to evacuate the building over a Freon leak? Experts say yes. You should open some windows and doors on your way out. Call an AC technician right away for assistance.
If anybody feels sick, ill, or strange, get medical help straight away.
Dangerous and headline-inducing catastrophes have occurred. For example, one time at a Costco in Salt Lake City the store was evacuated and six people required medical care.
It’s even more dangerous in small spaces. For example, in 2008, there was a Freon leak in a submarine in Russia and 20 people reportedly suffocated during the incident.
Fun Facts about Freon in the Car AC System
The Freon in the car’s AC cools the air in the vehicle. It’s an important part of the system.
In the process, it goes back and forth between liquid and gas while modifying the air temperature. If there’s a Freon leak, however, it won’t do its job, resulting in hot air coming out the vents.
R-12 Freon used to be a popular type for car AC systems until scientists blamed it for hurting the planet’s ozone layer.
Cars made before 1994 need to be retrofitted for the new type of Freon that’s considered safer for the planet: R-134a. You can get this retrofitting done at a variety of garages, commercial and private.
It’s important that garage you choose follows all of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines related to Freon and AC systems.
There are other types of Freon used (R-12, R-1234yf), but these are specialty and harder to find these days.
History: In 1930, when Freon first became popular, it was though to be a cure all for our heat-related ails. Now, however, we realize it was damaging the earth’s atmosphere the entire time.
Car owners are warned that sometimes people make rogue (counterfeit, fake) refrigerants for automobiles. For this reason, you should only take your vehicle to certified/licensed locations to recharge the car’s AC.
What is an AC Recharge on a Vehicle?
Getting the car’s AC recharged means getting more Freon put into the system, assuming there is no leak in the design.
Essentially you can take your car to any automobile repair shop for an AC recharge, but one of the most popular options is to go to the same place where you get your oil changed or where you buy new tires.
These service providers are quick, efficient, and compliant with local and federal regulations. They come highly recommended.
The system will be inspected first. If there’s a leak, that has to be taken care of before the AC recharge can be completed. This inspection typically includes a visual onceover, a trial run, a charge test, a system test, and a run through with an electronic leak detector.
Some drivers get this inspection done every summer. Others, however, wait until there’s a problem with the AC system. You will notice a leak of refrigerant, or the system will blow hot air. Either of these indications signal that it’s time for a car AC system inspection.
Leaks are not typical in AC systems in vehicles. If something does leak, just a little, the system won’t break down over it. It’s generally a big leak that causes a problem.
DIY Options for Car AC Recharges
Everybody loves a good DIY project – that might lead some car owners with bad AC systems to ask “Is Freon flammable?” Why? Because they want to make it a Saturday afternoon project to refill the system themselves. It’s not recommended.
There are plenty of AC recharge kits on the market, though. The experts point out that you shouldn’t throw new Freon on top of old Freon because it’s inefficient. A little top off doesn’t restore a faulty system either. If there’s a leak, you won’t enjoy the benefits of the recharge very long either.
It’s much better to rely on an expert who can do the inspection, add the Freon, and get you on your merry way. That way, you’ll be cool, calm, and collected all summer long!
If you’re set on trying the DIY approach, here are some hot tips:
- You need to be sure that the car AC system uses the legally permitted r134a refrigerant. Most due, but you can’t mix the different types.
- WARNING: Electric and hybrid vehicles are a whole different bag. You can’t recharge the AC your system. You risk a deadly electrical shot.
- The first step for the at-home project is to ensure there are no leaks. You can do this by making a soap and water solution (dish soap recommended). Cover the system with the soapy liquid and turn it on. See if air is escaping at any point by checking for bubbles. You can also buy a kit.
- If there are leaks, stop. You need a professional! Some small leaks might be able to be resolved with a sealant kit, but this isn’t recommended. Big leaks must be handled by a professional.
- When you get to the recharging stage, you’re going to need safety goggles and gloves. You could give yourself frost bite with solution or blind yourself. Follow all the direction on the AC recharge kit you purchase.
- Next, you’ll locate the low-pressure line port. It has a thick tube. Add the recharge solution there. Be careful not to add it to the high-pressure part. You’ll know the high-pressure tube because it will be smaller. They could even have a label, H for high and L for low.
- Unscrew the port cap but don’t lose it!
- Use the pressure gauge hose to add the refrigerant while paying attention to the reading. PSI will be measured, indicating a safe range for you to maintain. Keep it in the green zone.
- If the current pressure in the system before adding refrigerant is zero, stop. You need professional service.
- When it’s all done, and you have followed all the manufacturer directions to the letter, you can crank up that AC to high and see if it’s pumping out cold air. If not, then you need to visit a service center.
- You can check under the hood here, too. Is the compressor clutch spinning correctly? If not, you can add a little more refrigerant and try again. If that doesn’t do the trick, you’ll be calling a professional.
- Don’t top it off just to top it off because it’s summer time. That could actually cause damage!
These steps are no replacement for the manufacturer’s instructions. We recommend that you skip the DIY efforts. A lot can go wrong. Instead, visit an automobile AC service center.
AC Car Problems Could Mean it is time for the Junkyard
Although Freon isn’t flammable as a gas, it’s tricky.
If your car was built before 1994, you already have an AC system that doesn’t meet national standards. The only way to recharge the AC is to get the whole system retrofitted.
If the recharges on your car do nothing, you have a different problem. You could have a bad compressor or a major leak.
In either of these situations, a quick $150 recharge isn’t going to do a lot to help you. Instead, you’ll have to shell out big bucks for a heftier repair. When this happens, people start to question of driving the AC-less car all summer is an option.
Instead of going back and forth on this, consider sending the car to the junkyard, especially if it’s old and has other problems.
You’ll get some cold hard cash that you can put toward a better way of getting around town, a way that doesn’t make you sweat.