1234YF Refrigerant: Why the Change?
From about 1930 to the 1990s most vehicle’s used freon for the AC system. From there, manufacturers went to 134a refrigerant. Today there has been a new shift and 134a has been replaced with 1234YF Refrigerant. So why this change and how is it different? In order for us to understand why, and also how this new product works we will first break down how an AC works.
What Does Air Conditioning Do?
The two main functions of any AC system are: to cool the passenger cabin, and also remove moisture from the air that’s inside the vehicle. Inside most vehicles, the air conditioning automatically cycles whenever you set the defrost setting. You may have noticed this if you have ever attempted to remove condensation from the windshield. Cold air is not required for this process to take place. But, it can give you an idea of how the system works.
How Does It Work?
Each Air conditioning system from car to car have basically the same make-up:
- expansion valve or orifice tube
- receiver/drier or accumulator
All systems are pressurized by a gas commonly referred to as a refrigerant. Until recently, most gas used was 134a type. Newer vehicles have switched over to 1234YF refrigerant (we will cover why below). Each system has a capacity of around 3-4 pounds per vehicle.
The compressor takes the refrigerant and “compresses” from a gas into a liquid that is cycled through a refrigerant line. This process is pressurized, which is why its know at this stage to be the high side. After passing through the compressor it is moved through the condenser phase. The fluid is passed over a grid that is similar to the radiator, and the condenser removes heat from the fluid while air passes through the condenser.
Next, the refrigerant enters the accumulator. A hygroscopic fluid known as desiccant removes the moisture from the refrigerant still in gas form. Finally is the evaporator stage. This piece is actually located in the passenger cabin. Air blows through the evaporator core and heat is removed from the air transferred to the refrigerant. This results in the air blowing through the vents in a cool state.
So, if all of this is working and in order why change a good thing? Why the move to 1234YF refrigerant?
One of the main reasons for the shift to this new refrigerant is carbon.134a refrigerant is what is known as a hydrofluorocarbon. Meaning it contains fluorine and hydrogen. 1234YF refrigerant is hydrofluoro-olefin in nature. Why does this matter? In short without getting into all of the technical data 1234YF is better for the environment. You can read more about 134a vs 1234YF gases and their effects on the environment here. Basically, the change to this refrigerant was driven by the EU when they required all vehicles to be manufactured with 1234 YF refrigerant. After this, the EPA in the States ordered a full shift to this refrigerant by the 2020s. This is not to say that the 134a will become obsolete as there are a large number of vehicles that still use the product.
PROs & Cons of 1234YF Refrigerant
Change is never an easy thing but sometimes is necessary. One of the major challenges to this new type of refrigerant is the fact that it can be hard to find a service shop with the proper machine to inspect and charge a 1234YF system. Thankfully at G&G Auto Repair, we have been ahead of the curve for a while.
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There are some minor pain points when it comes to this new system. But there are benefits that can outweigh the risks.
- Recovers 95% of refrigerant in the system.
- Recharges faster with almost all the fluid being recovered
- reduces the risks of contaminated fluid being recovered
- if leaks are detected it will not recharge (this can save you money on a recharge service as the machine will not allow us to recharge)
- More expensive and complicated to perform maintenance. For comparison, 134a is about $5 per pound. 1234YF can cost up to 5x as much
- Slightly more flammable (Accident or leaks will not cause ignition so no need to worry)
- Difficult to find technicians that are qualified and trained.
- Most shops don’t have a machine that can test and charge 1234YF refrigerant