MOTOR Magazine

A MOTOR Magazine Newsletter
April 18, 2016

Contributed by Bob Chabot
OEMs and Regulators Respond to A/C Service Questions

How are OEMs helping technicians — the first line of defense for consumers?

The recent Mobile Air Conditioning Society Worldwide's (MACS) 2016 annual convention and training event provided attendees with an update of in-the-bay service issues pertaining to the new R-1234yf refrigerant systems. Moderator Tony Molla, ASA Vice President, posed a number of a/c equipment and-related questions to panelists, who included:

  • Rebecca von dem Hagen, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Ward Atkinson, MACS' Technical Advisor and member of a/c-related SAE committees (MACS).
  • Al McAvoy and Cici Gao of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
  • Angelo Patti of Ford Motor Co. (Ford).
  • Curt Vincent of General Motors Corp. (GM).
  • Mike Hope of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

Molla: What is the current status for refrigerants in the heavy-duty vehicle market? In addition, what is the current status of AC5 and other blend refrigerants in the light-duty segment?

The EPA says R-134a is still approved for use in heavy-duty vehicles. R-1234yf is not yet required, but is being considering for the future. JLR shared that due to patent issues, AC5 and AC6 refrigerant systems have not been deployed in light vehicles; the other OEMs concurred. MACS reiterated only three SNAP-approved alternatives have been authorized for light-duty vehicle a/c systems — -R-1234yf, R744 and R-152.

R-1234yf Recovery Recycle Recharging equipment must conform with new SAE J standards, which include new ventilation, service coupler and leak test requirements. (Image — ACDelco/MACS)

Molla: What type of mobile a/c service equipment do you foresee entering the service marketplace?

GM says R-1234yf will drive the introduction of most new equipment. We intend to roll out R-1234yf systems in most of out MY2017 lineup, which is why we are requiring our technicians to recertify, using our R-1234yf online training. In addition, GM believes smartphone interfaces for equipment will be more and more integrated into service shops in the future. Ford said it would introduce R-1234yf in the 2017 Escape, and other models in MY2018. To prepare, new a/c equipment is being evaluated and introduced into dealerships and training programs.

Molla: Shops and technicians need to be aware of the similarities and differences when servicing R-1234yf systems, compared to previous refrigerants. What can you tell us?

The EPA and MACS noted that R-1234yf requires new container identification. Specifically, bulk white cylinders require a red band to denote flammability, must be clearly labeled R-1234yf, and must feature ½"-16 left hand ACME threading, The OEMs also explained that there were new tools and equipment unique to R-1234yf systems — some mandated by SAE standards, others specific to automaker's requirements.

These include recovery/recycle/recharging equipment capable of performing leak tests (per SAE J2843), refrigerant identifier/analyzers (per SAE J2912), and service couplers (designed to SAE J2888); in addition, OEM may require specific tools, such as a/c flushing adapter kits, POE or PAG oil injection hoses, and others. The OEMs said aftermarket service professionals need to visit automaker websites to get brand-specific requirements, as well as training and service information.

For example, GM noted that aftermarket shops and technicians can access the same R-1234yf service training, as well as service information available to dealers through its ACDelco subsidiary:

  • For training, simply visit, then enter your log-in information to arrive at the training website homepage. Then navigate to your area of choice, such as "Take Training > Catalog" to access courses, "Manage My Training" to view your record and/or schedule courses, or click on the other icons in the top corner to access other features.
  • For GM service information, visit for module programming and Tech2 updates, product information, newsletters, installation and demonstration videos, training videos and other data.

New heat pump thermal management systems for hybrid and EVs will distribute heat and cold solely on the basis of the vehicle's coolant fluid, enabling an increase in range of up to 25 percent without modifications to the battery. (Image — MACS/Robert Bosch LLC)

Molla: What new service issues with R-1234yf recovery/recharge service equipment have you experienced?

The OEMs all agreed that the costs of servicing R-1234yf are much higher, so measurement and checks are more critical and an integral part of service procedures. Warranty costs, for example, will be higher. The implementation of left-handed threads will help to prevent cross-contamination issues. Another area being looked at is what happens in a collision involving R-1234yf vehicles to determine if anything specific needs to be done.

Ford shared some software-related issues it was currently resolving. In addition, there have been several technical issues pertaining to vacuum decay tanks that need addressing. GM noted that technician service cycle time is up to 50 percent longer with R-1234yf than R-134a. FCA noted it has seen some cases with the R-1234yf systems where recovery machines tend to pull a little more oil — maybe an ounce or so — more than the technician may have been used to with the R-134a system. Also, the new machines have connected data links; technicians must dial-in the correct amount to avoid incorrect default settings being used.

The EPA also has mandated that blend air door problems turn on Check Engine lights, which both technicians and motorists are having to adjust to. MACS explained that (as part of the new SAE standard) if the leak test is failed, all R/R/R machines require remedying before advancing the a/c service. The extra time involved related to leak testing (e.g. vacuum decay leak check test) is to ensure there is no major leak before recharging. R-1234yf is mildly flammable, so when a R-1234yf vehicle is serviced, technicians must ensure the mobile a/c system is tight before sending customers out the door. The industry also needs to stop using the term "top off," and transition to performing complete "flush and clean" procedures.

Molla: How do you address compressor lubrication oil balancing to help out a/c service technicians?

OEMs said refrigerant oil balancing — the purpose of which is to maintain or reestablish the system oil charge — is required whenever replacing a refrigerant circuit component or after flushing the refrigerant system. How the oil balancing is performed varies across OEMs and models, so remember to use the specified oil type, viscosity and procedures found in the vehicle service manuals or information.

JGR determines the minimum quantity for its vehicle, then specifies the correct quantity for a technician to dial in. GM and Ford noted that some manufacturers have their own specified lubrication oil that lubricant manufacturers conform to. This lets OEMs limit the oils that technicians need to know and use.

For electrified vehicles, some automakers are adding chillers — essentially, liquid-to-liquid heat exchangers — to refrigerant circuits to help cool high voltage batteries. GM, for example, will use chillers on the Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac ERT and Spark EV. (Image — MACS/GM)

Molla: Attendee Mary Koban, a Chemours representative noted that technicians are the first line of defense for the consumer. She also explained that compared to R-1234yf, there are many everyday chemicals consumers deal with that are substantially more flammable, such as hairspray. What other mitigation factors are associated with R-1234yf and other refrigerants?

The EPA shared that the industry could expect enforcement to begin ramping up. In addition, there is a proposed (not final) rule, which if it becomes final, would not limit the "amount" sold, but rather, who can buy what size containers. Sales of larger containers of R-134a, such as the 30 pounders shops typically buy, would be restricted to Section 608 or 609 certified technicians. Smaller containers (less than two pounds of refrigerant) could continue to be sold to uncertified do-it-yourselfers, but container manufacturers would have to sell them in self-sealing containers (as is now required in California). Visit the U.S. Government Publishing Office to read the EPA's proposed rule.

Molla: Besides new refrigerants and related tools/equipment/supplies, new HVAC technology continues to be introduced in automobile mobile a/c systems. What new innovations can shops and technicians expect to soon see?

The OEMs representatives cited a number of new HVAC technologies, then described associated service competencies that shops and technicians will need to understand. Many of them were discussed in the various training breakout sessions during the MACS 2016 event. Examples included electronically-controlled variable displacement compressors, high efficiency condensers, battery chillers, electric vehicle heating systems, heat pumps, internal heat exchangers, stretchy drive belts (that don't require tensioners), coolant storage innovations, thermal energy management systems and others.

Molla closed the panel discussion by thanking the panelists for their participation, and reiterated, "Information will be king, and the key to keeping pace with change. That's why attending events like the MACS annual training event is essential to your ongoing success." Details will soon be available for the next annual MACS Annual Training Event, which will be held February 15-18, 2017 at the Anaheim Marriott in Anaheim, CA.

[Editor's note: For the latest mobile air conditioning systems diagnostic and automotive service insights, read MOTOR Magazine's April 2016 issue.]

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