Q: How do I know if my vehicle uses CFC-12 (R-12, also known by the tradename freon)?

A:You or your service technician can check under the hood for a label that identifies the refrigerant used in your vehicle’s a/c system. The switch over to R-134a in new cars, a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant, began in 1992 and was completed in 1994.

Q: My vehicle uses CFC-12. I understand that production of CFC-12 is being banned because it depletes the ozone layer. What does this mean for me? How do I keep down the cost of servicing my vehicle’s a/c system?

A:The continued use of CFC-12 is not banned. Even though production of CFC-12 will end on December 31, 1995, use of CFC-12 will still be permitted, so you can continue to use the CFC-12 that is in your vehicle now, and your service technician can continue to put it in your vehicle, as long as supplies are available. CFC-12 used today is constantly being recovered and recycled, and some CFC-12 produced in 1994 and 1995 is being placed into inventory, so that there will still be refrigerant available for sale after the 1995 deadline, although the price will most likely increase.

In order to minimize paying increasingly higher prices to replace CFC-12 that has leaked out of your a/c system, you should practice preventive maintenance by having your service technician check your a/c system for leaks once a year, and you should get any leaks fixed. Keep in mind that having your leaks fixed is not a EPA requirement, although a few areas (Florida, Wisconsin, the cities of Austin, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico, parts of southern California and there may be others) do require it.

Q: I’ve heard that I might have to convert my vehicle’s a/c system to use a different refrigerant. When will I need to do that?

A:You will need to decide whether to convert your vehicle’s system to use an alternative refrigerant only if your system becomes inoperative and requires a new refrigerant charge, and CFC-12 is no longer available. Although there is no way to predict with certainty when supplies of CFC-12 will be exhausted, the extensive recycling and banking of CFC-12 occurring now should make it available for several years. Depending on the age of your vehicle, it may well be the case that CFC-12 will be around the remainder of its life.

It may also make sense for you to have your system converted if you are having major service performed on your a/c system (for example, if you have been in a front-end collision or have had compressor failure). In that event, the additional cost of doing the conversion over and above the cost of the repair work may be minimal, because many steps in converting are also necessary in performing a major repair.

Q: What will it cost me to convert my vehicle to a different refrigerant?

A:EPA estimates that conversions will cost between $100 and $800 or more, depending on the make, model and age of the vehicle. Conversions at a minimum will require that the oil used to lubricate the a/c system, and the fitting, be changed. EPA estimates that this minimal conversion will add less than $200 to the cost of any repair work you have requested. Other components of the a/c system may have to be replaced, depending on whether your current a/c components are compatible with the new refrigerant.

Q: If I decide to convert my vehicle, how do I know what changes are required?

A:EPA recommends that you consult your vehicle manufacturer or an authorized dealer or reputable service facility. Manufacturers have available or are developing retrofit guidelines for vehicles manufactured after the late 1980s. The Ozone Protection Hotline will be able to tell you if the manufacturer of your automobile has established specific procedures for the conversion of your vehicle. When considering converting any vehicle you should rely on the advice of a qualified service facility.

Q: What new refrigerant will my service technician put in my vehicle? Are there many substitute refrigerants that are OK?

A:Automakers are producing new vehicles with R-134a, which does not deplete the ozone layer. EPA evaluates all substitutes for CFC-12 under its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program in order to determine if they pose any risk to human health or to the environment. Currently, R-134a is the only alternative listed as acceptable, which also has been fully tested and specified by automakers in their guidelines.

Q: I’ve been seeing other substitutes for sale. If I find out that a particular alternative has not yet been reviewed by EPA, or that EPA has not yet finished its review of the product, can I legally buy the product? What happens if I buy it now, EPA decides in the future that it is not acceptable?

A:While you can legally purchase the product if the Agency has not yet made a determination as to its acceptability under the SNAP program, you should keep in mind that such a product has not been fully reviewed to determine whether it is safe to use, if EPA late declared the product unacceptable, you do not legally need to remove it from your vehicle’s air conditioning system, but you may choose to do so. You should be aware that it may be costly to convert your system back to an acceptable alternative, and that it is illegal to add any more refrigerant that EPA has declared unacceptable. The fine for sale of an unacceptable alternative is up to $25,000 per day and 5 years in jail.

Q: Will any alternative refrigerant listed by EPA as acceptable work in my vehicle?

A:Although EPA’s SNAP program determines what risks an alternative poses to human health and the environment, the Agency does not determine whether the alternative will provide adequate performance or will be compatible with the components of your a/c system.

Keep in mind that using a refrigerant not yet reviewed and determined acceptable by EPA may result in damage to your a/c system components including the compressor, and my limit your ability to have your vehicle’s system serviced in the future.

Q: I have heard that R-134a does not cool nearly as well as CFC-12. Is that true?

A:Vehicle manufacturers have designed air-conditioning systems for new vehicles that use R-134a while maintaining reliability and cooling performance. Conversion specifications for a/c units using R-134a are also being designed to maintain performance, but this may vary depending on the condition of the unit prior to the conversion, and on other factors.


Q: How was R-134a selected as a replacement refrigerant for CFC-12 in automobile air conditioning systems?

A:Engineers for automotive manufacturers conducted research and testing on many potential substitutes for CFC-12 before selecting R-134a. As part of this research and testing, they reviewed the potential health effects, toxicity, flammability, and corrosivity of each potential substitute, evaluated the effect of each compound on the life and performance of the air conditioning components in the various models made by each manufacturer, and also determined the effect of each compound on the system’s cooling capacity. It was determined that R-134a was the most suitable alternative.

Q: I know that the old refrigerant, CFC-12 does not pose cancer risks when used properly. Is this true of R-134a?

A:R-134a is regarded as one of the safest refrigerants yet introduced, based on current toxicity data. The chemical industry’s Program for Alternative Fluorocarbon Toxicity Testing (PAFT) tested R-134a in a full battery of laboratory animal toxicity studies. The results indicate that R-134a does not pose a cancer or birth defects hazard.

Q: Is R-134a flammable?

A:R-134a is considered as safe or safer than CFC-12 in motor vehicle uses, including in collisions. Like CFC-12, R-134a is not flammable at ambient temperature and atmospheric pressures. However, R-134a service equipment and vehicle a/c systems should not be pressure tested or leak tested with compressed air. Some mixtures of air and R134a have been shown to be combustible at elevated pressures. These mixtures may be potentially dangerous, causing injury or property damage.

Q: I’ve heard of two other substances, FRIGC and GHG. Have they been approved by EPA?

A:GHG, also known as R-406A, is produced by People’s Welding Supply of West Lafayette, Indiana. One distributor of GHG has given it the trade name McCool. EPA has listed GHG as acceptable for certain uses such as household refrigerators and freezers, vending machines and water coolers, but not for use in motor vehicle air conditioners, because of flammability concerns in that application.

FRIGC, manufactured by Intermagnetics General Corporation of Latham, New York, has been designated as acceptable for motor vehicle, subject to certain conditions, such as the requirements that FRIGC only be used with a unique fitting, that the person putting FRIGC into the vehicle’s a/c system apply a specific label to the system; and that FRIGC not be used to “top-off” a system that uses another refrigerant. In addition, in order to comply with the Clean Air Act, technicians must recover FRIGC using separate recovery equipment dedicated to FRIGC. (These requirements apply to R-134a also). FRIGC’s manufacturer has informed EPA that FRIGC will initially be marketed for use in auto fleets only.

Q: Has the agency already declared any alternatives to CFC-12 for use in vehicles to be unacceptable?

A:Yes. The Agency has determined that one CFC-12 substitute, OZ-12, manufactured by OZ Technology, Inc. of Post Falls, Idaho, is unacceptable for use in motor vehicle air conditioners because of unanswered flammability concerns. Another product manufactured by the company, HC-12a, has been proposed unacceptable by EPA. EPA has also proposed all flammable substitutes as unacceptable for use in vehicle a/c conversions.
Source: US EPA Office of Air and Radiation Stratospheric Protection Division

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Last Update – 20-March-97