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How to DIY a car air conditioning recharge

Kern Auto Parts Inc./NAPA

Whether or not you used your air conditioning to defog your windshield all winter, you might notice poor performance come spring and summer. After all, you didn’t really need air to be that cold when outdoor temperatures were in the 30s. Fortunately, you can DIY a car air conditioning recharge in about half an hour, saving yourself from a sweltering summer drive.

When you may need a car air conditioning recharge

Your car’s air conditioning is a sealed system that doesn’t require regular maintenance. Regular usage, as little as 10 minutes weekly, is enough to maintain the system. This circulates the oil, lubricating moving parts and conditioning seals, O-rings and hoses. However, if seepage occurs, this can result in poor cooling.

Basic DIY car air conditioning recharge kits include an adapter hose to connect a can of refrigerant (R-134a is the most common today) to the air conditioning system’s low-side service port. Some include a pressure gauge with color bars or numbers, while others have temperature-sensitive vent clips. Some kits have leak detection dye, so you can use an ultraviolet light to figure out if there’s any seepage.

How to perform an air conditioning system recharge

Now it’s time to get to work. Thick gloves and safety glasses are important to protect your hands, face and eyes, as a sudden spray of refrigerant could cause frostbite. Always follow the instructions for your specific kit, but these general steps will help get your air conditioning ice cold in just a few minutes:

• Locate the low-side service port. The low-side port will be on the thicker air conditioning line and is bigger than the high-side port, located on the thinner line.

• Turn off the engine.

• Pull back on the connector collar, push the connector onto the port, then release the collar.

• Wiggle the connector to be sure it’s fully seated and doesn’t come off.

• Start the engine, open the windows and set the air conditioner to “max cold.” If your kit includes temperature clips, insert these into the vents inside the car.

• Top off your air conditioning system by shaking the refrigerant can and adding refrigerant in short bursts every few seconds with the trigger or valve.

• Watch the pressure gauge or temperature clips and stop adding refrigerant when the proper pressure or temperature (color) is achieved. Stopping is important because over-charging can cause poor cooling or system damage.

When not to DIY

Recharging a car’s air conditioning can save you a lot of time in the shop, but there are good reasons to consider professional help. Hybrid vehicles with high-voltage air conditioning compressors require special lubricant, which is incompatible with the oil in most DIY air conditioning recharge kits.

Older R-12 systems need retrofitting to run R-134a, and R-134a is incompatible with newer R-1234yf systems. While R-134a refrigerant isn’t as bad a greenhouse gas as R-12, it would be environmentally irresponsible to fill a system with obvious leaks or damage just so it can leak out again. If you have any obvious leaks, bring your car to your local mechanic to get those taken care of first.

Check out all the air conditioning service and repair kits available on NAPA Online or at your local Kern Auto Parts Inc. store (located in Tehachapi, Mojave and Ridgecrest). For more information on how to do a car air conditioning recharge, chat with one of the knowledgeable experts at your local Kern Auto Parts Inc./NAPA store.