What aircon gas is in my car?

What aircon gas is in my car?

These days, we tend to take aircon in our cars a bit for granted, and that goes doubly if we’re going for a summer road trip and the drive is a part of our holiday. And maybe you don’t even notice it because it happens over time, but your car air conditioning unit can start to lose some steam and not quite do the job anymore.

It may have never crossed your mind that your car aircon system, like your radiator at home, should have regular maintenance. For your aircon that includes a process called re-gassing. Because yes, the air coming out of your vents cools through a refrigeration process that uses gas. And it needs to be re-upped every once in a while.

What aircon gas is in my car?

There are two primary aircon gases. If you bought your car after 1 Jan 2017, your aircon gas should be a gas known as R1234yf, or HFO-1234yf. While it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, car manufacturers made this change to meet the EU’s carbon emission (cutting) standards.

This is because hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), the type of gas of the previous standard aircon refrigerant, have been found to have the ability to warm the atmosphere by thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. Some HFC refrigerants are more than 10,000 times more potent.  

While R1234yf gas was mandatory in all new cars from 2017, this lower emissions gas was in various different legislations in the EU from 2011, so even if your car was made earlier, there’s a possibility it’d need to be regassed with R1234yf.

Older aircon units use a refrigerant known as R134a. In most cases, R1234yf isn’t a retrofit or replacement option for R134a systems. So as long as you have that older car, you’d still probably always need to regas with R143a.

Because there are a few different variables, it’s probably best to check for yourself. Lift your bonnet and have a look around for a stick that says either R132a or 1234yf. Then you’ll know for sure what gas you should be getting when you go to a specialist to get your aircon regassed.

How long does aircon gas last in my car?

The suggested service for aircons from most car manufacturers is about every 2 years. But, let’s be honest. The reality is that most of us probably don’t get our aircon gas replaced until we notice it and it becomes an annoyance. Which probably is fine.

What can happen, though, is a struggling aircon affects other things in the car. It’ll probably be harder for your car to defog your windows in winter, and may make the engine work a bit more than it would otherwise, which could have you spending a bit more on petrol. Long term, not regassing your aircon can create cracks and make parts seize. Which definitely isn’t great for your car, even ones that have particularly hardy and well-wearing reputations, like estate cars.

What do I need to do to regas my car aircon?

What do you need to do? For almost everyone, the best move is to take it to a specialist and get it re-gassed. You can buy kits to do it yourself, but most of the time they’re nearly as expensive as getting it serviced by a specialist.

A specialist should be able to do the service quickly and efficiently, and be able to tell if there are any larger problems like a leak. If you take the DIY route (like we sometimes do for our flats or homes), it’s unlikely you’d be able to do all of that extra diagnosis yourself. Plus, refrigerants can be dangerous. It’s kind of like dry ice, if it gets on your skin or in your eyes it could give you some really bad freezer burns. And who wants to deal with that when you don’t have to?

You should go see a specialist to regas your aircon for the same reason why when you have Home Insurance specialists are brought in for dealing with and addressing situations like subsidence: they know what they’re doing. Usually with years, maybe even decades, of experience behind them.  

Regassing your aircon isn’t typically a part of a standard annual service. Most will offer a free check, and then if it’s time to regas, you’ll be able to book in a regas at that point.

What does regassing my car aircon cost?

R143a regassing is less expensive - at the time of writing, many garages start their service at around £60. R1234yf is a tad more expensive, with many garages starting their pricing at around £100 or £120.

While your aircon refrigerant may last longer than two years, it’s probably worth budgeting this cost in when looking at your car expenses.

Car aircon leak

Typically you can pay a small fee and a service centre will run what's called a pressure (or sometimes vacuum) test to find any leaks in your aircon system. If your car is dripping water it’s not an immediate sign of a leak; this happens sometimes in the summer when the condenser is working hard.

Car aircon cleaning

If your aircon is smelling a bit musty when you start it up, it may need a bit of a clean rather than a regas. There are a few different ways to fix this.

Setting off a cleaning spray in the interior of your car and letting it run through the aircon vents is one, often called an “anti-bacterial clean” or “cleaning bomb”, which could do the job in the short term to get rid of the smell.

Another tip is to keep the radiator and AC condenser clean, which usually involves taking off the front bumper of your car and getting right in there to clean out the filters.  

To help keep things running smoothly with your aircon, here are a few tips:

  • Use recirculated air (by turning on the recirculated air button, if your car has one) only after your aircon has reached your ideal temperature rather than right away.
  • Let hot air out of your car before you drive by opening doors and windows - pre-cooling your car before turning the engine on probably does more harm than good.
  • Turn off your aircon before you turn off your car. This helps keep it clean and helps extend the life of the aircon.
  • Let the aircon do its job. Rather than keeping it pointed at your face (as wonderful a feeling as that is) aim the vents up towards the roof, as it’ll help spread the cool air out a bit more evenly.
  • Try to run your aircon weekly. Like your car, it typically runs best when it’s in regular use.

A few final tips…

Your car’s aircon is a system that’s worth a bit of TLC so you can really enjoy those summer songs on your drives without sweating through your shirt. Being proactive and doing a re-gas when your car manufacturer recommends it, rather than waiting for your aircon to slowly stop doing its job, puts you on the front foot and keeps you staying cool through your summers.

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.