Car Air Conditioning

Posted on by Melanie of Redbourn Auto Solutions

Demystifying Car Air Conditioning!

We have been enjoying a very hot British Summer this year and many of us have sought relief from our car Air Conditioning Systems to help us feel a little more comfortable.

As we put more pressure on our air-con, is also the most popular time of year for it to break down.  We don’t necessarily notice if it is not working efficiently, but when it breaks completely we seek help of an expert.

The majority of vehicles are fitted with air conditioning (or climate control) systems.  Like other components in your car these need regular attention to ensure they are working efficiently.

Do I have to get my Air Conditioning Serviced?
Air conditioning, like the rest of your car, is mechanical and needs looking after.  It is not something that is covered in the regular service, so it can get overlooked.

The majority of manufacturers recommend an Air Con Service every 1-2 years as it is important for your health and 10% efficiency is lost every year.  In addition, without a service, you make the system work harder, which will in turn use more fuel!

It’s also helps you maintain a stable body temperature, allowing you to concentrate better on the road ahead.

The gas inside is clear and odourless and hard to see when it is leaking.  There are many things that can cause it to leak.  Among these are stones through the condenser which sits in front of the radiator on most vehicles.

Can I just have a re-gas/recharge?
Yes, it is recommended that you should recharge your air conditioning system every 1-2 years with gas and lubricant, in order to keep it running efficiently.  However, it is a complex system, so often re-gassing isn’t the reason it’s failed.  Just recharging the system may leave you needing another re-gas or recharge.  As with all things, regular maintenance is cheaper than fixing a repair at a later date.   Compare prices before you take the risk.  Be wary if a garage is only offering a re-gas.  If they do not have the capability to identify if there is a fault in the system, you will keep paying for re-gassing without the fault being identified or repaired.

A service is often a more economical choice.

Can I regas my air con system myself?
You can purchase air-con gas kits if you would like to attempt the job yourself, but we wouldn’t advise it.

Apart from potentially injuring yourself, they are also almost as expensive as having the system properly serviced by a professional.

It is impossible to know how much gas is currently in the system or how much to add.  A specialist will remove old gas, moisture or debris before putting the new refrigerant in to prevent any problems in the future.  They will also have the ability to check for leaks and any other problems with the air con system.  There are also safety factors to be considered too: specialists are trained with good reason!

Should I use the air-con in the winter?
Yes!  Air-con acts as a dehumidifier, which will keep the interior of the vehicle dry.  With less moisture in the vehicle, it will vastly reduce the amount of misting and ice forming on the inside of the glass on cold mornings.  Using the system all year round will help keep the system seals lubricated and in good condition, which will minimise the amount of refrigerant leakage.

The RAC recommend you consider it as an essential part of car maintenance that could directly save you money on repair work further down the line.

If air-con is not used for long periods, it can seize up, and circulation suffers. The air-con is filled with a refrigerant and some oil. It is always advised to keep liquid flowing and components of the system lubricated.

Why do I get a pool of water under my car?
It is a frequent cause of concern in the summer months, and usually it is water so no need to panic.  However, if it smells or has colour, it’s time to contact your garage!

In the heat, your air-con compressor works twice as hard and the unit itself can freeze over as it sucks the moisture out of the car.  When the car is stationary, the ice starts to melt dripping into a puddle under the car.

How long does it take to service my Air Con System?
Its an interesting question, as recently on social media we have seen consumers bragging that a fast fit centre has completed it in 10-15 minutes!

In short, there is no rushing the machine!  It cannot remove and force the gas in any quicker…  and remember fast fit centres are incentivised on how many re-gasses they sell!

It will take between 1-1.5 hours to complete an Air Con Service correctly.

What is the new Air Con gas?
Newer cars use Hydrofluoro Olefin gas (1234yf), which is 98% less climate damaging than its predecessor and is also described as having a low global warming potential (GWP).

There are few garages with the correct equipment for this as the gas is currently so expensive and less economical for smaller independent garages to invest in.  However, uniquely in the area, Redbourn Auto Solutions do have this capability.

Have prices for Air Con Services increased?
The gas has substantially increased and Air Con Servicing is gradually increasing in line with this.

The EU is keen on reducing the need for harmful gasses to be used (hydrofluorocarbons).  HFC’s are used in the majority of cars, so it is unsurprising the EU are clamping down in Chinese imports of refrigerant and at the same time reducing availability in a phased approach.  2017 saw a 17% reduction in availability and between 2018-2020 another 50%.  From 2030, HFC’s will no longer be available.  So, unless the EU relax their expectations, cost will continue to increase as demand outstrips supply.

New cars no longer use the old gas and are not subjected to the same restrictions as its predecessor.  Currently this gas is expensive, but as demand increases, it is hoped that the cost of this air-con service will also fall.

Where do I go?
You have to be licenced to refill air conditioning because it is a gas, so make sure your chosen garage/technician has the licence!

There are many reputable garages offering an Air Con Service which will involve:

A full visual inspection, temperature and leaks are checked. This will include the recovery of refrigerant, evacuation of air and moisture from the system.
Checking the compression of the gas – this is the first check to ensure you are receiving maximum efficiency.
Dye is run through the system, so that identifying any leaks becomes more obvious.
Filters are changed and pipes cleaned to ensure they are not clogged with pollen or bacterial build-up which may create unpleasant odours.
The refrigerant is recharged ensuring your engine isn’t under additional strain, using more fuel. A system that has not been recharged in 2 years will dramatically reduce its efficiency.  This should be done to manufacturer recommended levels.
The system is regassed and fresh lubricants added.
The system is checked to ensure its efficiency

Beware!  Many garages offer this service, but do not have the knowledge or the capability to carry out any repairs.  This includes fast fit and mobile mechanics – always check first.

Is there anything else I can do to ensure my Air Con is running efficiently?
Run your air conditioning at least once a week throughout the year.  It is a misconception that it is not fuel efficient to do this.  It is actually more costly to put it right!

Although motorists mostly use their Air Con system more in the summer, it is also important in the winter.  It creates dry warm air rather than the humid air from outside.  This demists your car windscreen quicker!

Chill out this summer and ensure your Air Con is efficient.  If in doubt, don’t hesitate to give us a call.  We are always happy to help and advice is free!!!


Melanie and Ian Wooding-Jones – Redbourn Autos

Patrons of TBC St Albans