This article is a true description of an AECS technical help desk problem and how it was solved. By Paul Corbett, A/C trainer.
Problem we ran into
Most refrigerants currently used in New Zealand are classified as compressed gases under the Hazardous Substances (Compressed Gases) Regulations 2004 (Compressed Gas Regulations).
Under the current HSNO Act (Hazardous Substances and New Organisms), anybody handling or recovering compressed gasses which includes R134a must have had suitable training and hold a Filler and/or Handler Certificate.
The reasons for this are simply put twofold: The release of refrigerant into our environment MUST stop. Pumping refrigerant into a bottle or system can cause major harm to anybody in the vicinity when mechanical failure occurs. Both are preventable, but any issues will not be recognised by untrained personnel. Please think about the health and safety issues your shop would face in case of an accident when you have untrained personnel at the controls!
To more or less enforce the training requirement on industry, on January 1 2015, it became a requirement for anyone wishing to purchase refrigerant gas to present a Fillers and/ or Handlers licence. The decision to restrict sales in this way is a voluntary agreement made by reputable refrigerant suppliers to help ensure safe practice in refrigerant use within our industry.
It would appear though, that nearly two years on it is still possible for just about anyone to purchase R134a without any questions being asked and hardly any licences being checked.
Laugh it off
It is quite apparent that there are sales-driven companies within the automotive industry that do not have best practices at heart. These companies are simply ignoring legislation and agreements between those who are striving to make our industry safer, cleaner and greener.
We all need to focus on lifting the standards of our industry in the eyes of the general public, else we soon end up having a very large throw away industry with no work for professional repairers anymore.
At AECS we deliver air-conditioning courses regularly nationwide throughout the year, and attend training ourselves to stay at the very forefront in terms of available products and technology – and it is through our courses that we often get to hear the stories of how readily available refrigerant is – easily be ordered over the phone in just a few minutes, no questions asked, and sent via a courier to wherever you like.
During these seminars, we also get to hear about some of the many myths, and in some cases blatant lies, that are spread by ill-informed suppliers/ sales people in a quest to sell more of their own products. This is not the correct way to raise the profile of the automotive industry in NZ, and is not indicative of the vast majority of us. If we don’t at least try to self-regulate, stronger more unpalatable rules and restrictions will inevitably follow.
If this is not cause for concern enough I feel duty bound to bring to your attention something that has been troubling us at AECS for several years now.
A/C servicing is a thriving part of the automotive sector, but there now lurks a silent killer for A/C systems and service equipment which we recommend be stopped firmly in its tracks at your workshop door before it wreaks havoc with not only your equipment but also your customers’ vehicles!
A/C “stop leak” is the generic name for this silent menace, and we have experienced first-hand what sort of damage this innocently named substance can do. Please understand we do not single out any brand of “stop leak”.
When a vehicle’s A/C system is not serviced often enough (service is moisture, air, particle removal and recharge), air and moisture are present in the system. Most vehicles need servicing every 24 months.
So why is “stop leak” so bad? By its nature it is designed to react on contact with air or moisture to create what is at best a temporary repair to leaking A/C systems.
So, what’s wrong with that? Put simply, first it is because of how stop leak alters the technical properties of the various seals within the A/C system in a quest to weaken/soften leaking seals.
The seals often become overly soft, to the point of distortion (creating new leakages on the most inaccessible spots), and second, the way in which the stop leak changes state on contact with air or moisture.
The stop leak will either transform into crystals, or it transforms into a rubbery substance (often tiny rubber balls) settling on valves and solenoids in the system. Both have the potential to cause havoc in the A/C systems on vehicles and in your A/C service equipment.
On top of that many stop leak canisters contain refrigerant to keep the can pressurised, and to assist injection into the vehicle. The extra refrigerant entering the vehicle is unmetered (top up).
Please realise that when you connect your A/C service equipment (or the stop leak canister) to a vehicle, the tiny amount of air trapped in the high or low pressure coupler is all that is needed to start the chemical reaction even before the vacuum pump can remove the air.
We as distributors of A/C equipment have evidence that this substance has caused massive failures in several major brands of A/C service equipment – equipment which became so horrendously contaminated that the service machines were eventually written off. The cost of replacing the affected parts, combined with the time to clean the rest of the machine to ensure no stop leak remains is huge.
On this page are pictures we took of a contaminated machine’s inside. Imagine what stop leak does to the inside of the car’s A/C system when air is present in that system.
Introducing air in the car’s A/C system is as easy as hooking up an old fashioned gauge set, where the pressure gauges read, for example, zero Bar.
A /C top up
At a recent seminar, a trainee showed me what he had been using on a regular basis to “top up” his customers’ cars during regular services, as he had been convinced
by a sales person that it would be a great little earner for his business, and was even contacted by that sales person several times to be asked “why are you not ordering lots more as so many people were now using this amazing product”. Call that a desperate hard sell!
When topping up an A/C system it is impossible to know the total amount of refrigerant in the system; for instance, some BMWs need the correct charge +/-10g to get the best cooling effect. The cooling effect of the A/C system reduces when the system is over OR undercharged.
Once I had technically explained in the AECS A/C training about the dangers of stop leak and topping up, the trainee agreed to stop using the product and return any he had left. Please note that during our training we run up a rig under and over charged. Training goes a long way!
A point of concern for him now is the fact that every car he has “topped up” is now infected with the dreaded stop leak, and he understandably does not want to put his A/C service equipment anywhere near those vehicles he previously topped up.
What will his customers say if they take that vehicle to somewhere that tests for the presence os stop leak and then refuses to work of that car’s A/C as it is likely to fail and it poses a major risk to A/C service equipment?
What also is of concern, is that these top-up bottles are being sold to people with refrigerant fillers licences on a regular basis. Surely they should fall under the same regulation as every A/C service person. The containers (13.6kg bottles) are every bit as harmful as the top up bottles. Some of them can hold up to 1kg of R134a.
Stop leak detection kit
The dangers of the A/C stop leak have become such an issue that a few years ago an overseas manufacturer developed a stop leak detection kit. We have been supplying these detection kits to the automotive trade for a few years now, and they continue to be in high demand – it’s a simple kit with purely mechanical components.
Sadly, for some workshops these kits have come too late. We have had to tell a few workshops already that their trusted A/C service machine is beyond reasonable repair. It’s not usually a happy phone call! We at AECS use this testing kit for testing BEFORE we service A/C machines.
Top up with a mix?
There are several manufacturers and suppliers of top up products, and as you can see in the pictures, they don’t even try to hide the presence of the harmful stop leak. Through either lack of training or pure ignorance the suppliers seem happy to continue to sell these products to the trade.
You may have been offered or have seen for sale A/C top-up or auto air conditioning recharge products which upon closer inspection you will soon discover contains R134a gas, the dreaded stop leak, some random universal PAG oil and occasionally some tracer dye.
We from AECS advice you to avoid these products and service the A/C system according to professional standards.
Work with high standards, that ALWAYS pays in the end. Skill up and choose top level equipment. Our training is available throughout NZ and easy accessible. Besides being very good value and high on technical content, it is also FUN!
When choosing equipment, support and training be sure you pick a supplier who not only thoroughly understands the equipment they are supplying but can train you correctly and support you into the future with a quality service you can rely on.
Stop leak detection kit
Solidified stop leak we found in many pipes and orifices inside the A/C service equipment.
Rubber seal in the valve had swollen to +/- 5x its original thickness.
Valve with swollen rubber seal.