Refrigerant (R12/R134a)

By David Sturtz, April 15, 2008

What is refrigerant?

Refrigerant is a fluid capable of vaporizing at a low temperature and therefore used to cool the air supplied by the AC system. In the past, vehicles used R-12 (Freon) before its ozone-depletion properties were scrutinized. Now, vehicles use R-134a, which is much more environmentally friendly.

The proper refrigerant charge (or fill) is critical to proper AC operation. When there's a problem with your vehicle's refrigerant (usually a leak), it can cause the air conditioning compressor to fail so the AC won't blow cold air.

When topping up refrigerant - also known as "recharging" the AC system - only refrigerant recommend by the manufacturer should be used. Due to the high cost of R-12 refrigerant, in some cases, it may be cost effective to retrofit an old R-12 system to use the new R-134A refrigerant

Refrigerant additives

  • Refrigerant dye - Some refrigerant leaks can be very difficult to locate. Many shops will inject small amounts of fluorescent dye into the system in order to try and pinpoint the source of the leak.
  • Refrigerant lubricant is a special type of oil that is mixed with the refrigerant to lubricate various parts (e.g. compressor) as it circulates through the AC system.

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