Yeah, I wrote it. A rhyming title for my blog post. What are you going to do about it?
Last week I had a customer come in and inquire about some work on their A/C system for their truck. Hopefully, if they read this post they aren't offended by what I'm about to disclose. But, that customer did break some of the cardinal sins of automotive repair. What sins ye asketh? First, while looking at the A/C accumulator, which needed replacement they said, "You guys can do that right? It only takes like 15 minutes to change that out." Second, while indicating said accumulator, which had huge cracks in it they continued, "I knew it had cracks in it, I just kept adding Freon from the auto parts store to the A/C system and it would stay cold for like a day or two. Then I would just add more."
Let's start with the easy one, which doesn't really relate to this post, but which needs addressing, Never, and I mean never, tell a technician how much time a repair takes. The response every technician will have for you is, "Then just do it yourself!" What happens if the clips are seized or rusted, or a bolt breaks off, or your damage the evaporator core while doing that "easy" repair? I had a customer recently who did their brakes themselves and whose wheel came off on the highway 5 miles later. The brake job cost him $1200! If you go to the doctor for surgery you don't say, "It really shouldn't take that long to make an incision and pull the spleen out."
Now let's broach item numero dos, which is the point of this article. This customer is putting Freon in a known leaky system which then vents into the air. I'm not certain that it is clear to this person just how bad Freon is for the environment. Car makers are working frantically to make Freon less and less damaging to humans and spending millions of dollars to do it. That is why we have moved from the horrible R-12 Freon, to the 134a Freon to the most recent 1234yf Freon (yes I skipped a few). When that crap gets in the atmosphere it has major negative impacts. Just check out the chart on this EPA page to see what I mean.
But, here is where the crazy news comes in. Any person can walk into any auto parts store and buy little cans of 134a Freon and add it to their A/C system without any repercussion. We, as a licensed repair facility, cannot. We could lose our license if we knowingly added Freon to a vehicle that had a leak. Of course there will always be situations where we cannot detect a pinhole leak, but with the expensive equipment we invest in, we have a very good idea of when a leak is or isn't present. We often get a lot of flak for charging money for an A/C check, but truly, there is a major cost and time commitment on our part to assure that the system is functioning correctly. If you figure in the cost to employ a technician and of the training they need to do A/C work and then the machine itself, you'd find our $80 check fee quite reasonable. Why the rules that apply to us do not apply to auto parts stores in a mystery to me. But it should. We have put monetary gain over awareness of the environment.
However, as I write this, the Northwestern United States is topping out at the highest temperature on record. Our beautiful state of Colorado is experiencing the longest stretch of triple-digit days of heat in recorded history. At some point we have to look at these practices and say to ourselves, maybe it isn't ok to sell over the counter Freon to everyone. Hopefully we, responsible citizens, will realize that it is important to have a licensed facility work on our car's A/C system to keep our ecosystem in balance. At the very least, let's all be aware enough not to add Freon to a known leaky A/C system. I'll tell you what - if you've made it this far in this post - you mention this article when you come to our shops and I'll waive that $80 A/C check fee, because you're doing your part!