Freon is the main component of your vehicle’s air conditioning system. Also known as refrigerant, if it gets too low your air conditioner will stop working. Low refrigerant can be caused by a few situations and can damage the system if not addressed. So how long does it last?
Freon should last about three to four years in the average car. Leaks, extreme climate, and constant use of the system may require it to be checked more often. Checking the system will require some specialized tools and equipment, so taking the car to an expert is easiest.
I’ll show you how to check for low freon as well as outline the signs your vehicle is getting low on Freon. I’ll also run through how to replace low refrigerant and how you can check to see if the air conditioner is now running as it should.
How Often Should I Check My Air Conditioner?
Your air conditioning is not being run at all times. This means that unless you live in a very hot climate and are running the system constantly, you should expect refrigerant to last at least three to four years.
Another way to think about this is to consider that the average driver does 13,500 miles every year. A check of your air conditioner should be considered every 40,000 miles.
However, any time that your AC becomes low on refrigerant, it should be flushed and recharged. If you notice either the air is not cool enough, only warm air is blowing or other functions such as the defroster are not working, it is likely time to maintain your system.
If the cool air and other functions are present, you don’t need to strictly follow the three-year rule. As a rule of thumb, a vehicle may lose about 10% of its Freon per year but this will vary with the age of the vehicle as well as the climate.
Another sign that your air conditioner needs fixing is the presence of either a very sweet smell or a musty smell.
A sweet smell is a sign that refrigerant is leaking into the system and being blown into the cabin.
A musty smell could be mold. Mold can grow inside the system if water is pooling inside the vents or the evaporative process is not working properly. This is a serious health risk and should be addressed immediately.
How Do I Know I’ve Run Out Of Freon?
If your air conditioning system doesn’t blow cold air anymore, that’s a sign you’ve run out of Freon. If you find that it blows cold air for a bit and then stops, then starts again later, your refrigerant or Freon may be low.
The system has some safety processes which automatically stop the system when it detects low coolant. Not only that, but even just a 10 percent loss of Freon can cause the air cooling capability to drop up to 25 percent.
You will need to check for leaks as part of this process. Your air conditioner system should never be leaking refrigerant. If it does, you likely have a leak or other issue that needs to be fixed first.
Small leaks can be found by looking in certain areas of the air conditioner. You can also use special dyes or just spraying soapy water on the various hoses and components of the air conditioner under the hood.
While the engine is on and the system is running, soapy water on the pipes and joints will result in bubbles forming around the leak.
You can fix small leaks by replacing hoses or using sealant tape.
Next, you will need to check the level of Freon pressure. If you are not confident with vehicle maintenance it’s probably best to take the vehicle to a professional.
Freon is a dangerous material. Always use proper protection such as goggles, sturdy gloves and wear long sleeves to protect your arms. If the substance comes into contact with your skin, you can get a nasty instance of frostbite.
You’ll need to purchase a refrigerant pressure checker kit. One good option is the AC Manifold Gauge Set which you can find on Amazon. This will have the connectors you need as well as easy to read gauges.
The kit has a connector and hose that attaches to the low pressure line port. You can find this under the bonnet, normally marked with the letter L. Refer to your vehicle’s manual if you’re not sure or follow the included instructions with the kit.
The pressure of your unit should be around 40 psi. Under the bonnet you can find a plate listing the ideal refrigerant pressure.
If it is low, you will need to attach the replacement refrigerant can of Freon to the low pressure port that you previously took a reading from. Most refills or charges should only require about 10 seconds of substance.
Check again with the pressure kit to see what level the refrigerant is at. Replace the low pressure port cover back on and test the air conditioning.
What Causes Loss Of Freon?
Vehicle engines and their systems can take a lot of beating from just normal driving. Projectiles kicked up from the round as well as the hot engine and strong vibrations all contribute to causing degradation of the air conditioning over time.
Obvious rattling or whining that can be traced to the air conditioner’s components should be looked at immediately. Certain parts like the compressor use belts that can become loose and sound similar to a bad fan belt.
Leaks can develop amongst the mess of hoses or in the components themselves. Given that refrigerant is a dangerous substance, it is illegal to knowingly release such substances into the atmosphere.