Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2003   by Jim Anderson, Editor

CAT’s back, why A/C doesn’t sell at the low end, and I need a minivan, cheap

It's summer here in the beautiful SARS capital of the country, Toronto, and those of us who aren't living behind surgical masks are trying to make a living in one of the most brutal, competitive envir...

It’s summer here in the beautiful SARS capital of the country, Toronto, and those of us who aren’t living behind surgical masks are trying to make a living in one of the most brutal, competitive environments in the country. But before I go down that road, I’m happy to announce the return of an old friend, namely Canadian Automotive Technician. Readers who have been around for a couple of decades remember CAT as a competing magazine and later, as a part of SSGM. We haven’t talked about CAT for awhile, but its been here, (CAT’s last editor, David Booth, can be seen in both the National Post’s Driver’s Edge and in his current publication, AutoVision) and this month, we’re rolling her out again as a way to deliver tech in a format that’s easier to find and to read. You’ll find this month’s content about automatic transmission driveability issues, on page 14. When you’re done here, please check it out. In fact, it’s during the research for that feature that I thought about something that’s universally known, but little discussed: the number of dead A/C units on Canadian roads. I’m thinking this way because I’m on the prowl for a small rear wheel drive van, either an Astro or if necessary, a Windstar, and in the price bracket I’m in, which is to say zero-to-almost-free, the A/C is invariably dead, and usually has been for years. The usual excuse is that it’s not really needed in Canada and that it’s too expensive to fix, but only the latter makes sense. A/C is too expensive to repair on an older vehicle, and not just because it’s labour-intensive service. Air conditioning is fragile, and key components like heat exchangers and especially compressors, are horrendously expensive. If compressors or condensers could be had for a hundred bucks, could you sell more A/C service? Probably, and although sealants have recaptured some of the low-end trade, there are still thousands of units out there that could generate serious business if they could be profitably repaired, parts and labour, for 500-600$. How? We’ll need some new technology, maybe some kind of electrically-driven sealed unit that incorporates a working fluid, condenser and compressor in one unit, which circulates a self-sealing cold fluid through the evaporator. Compression fittings or some kind of quick-connect system would help. You’d just cut off the compressor belt and patch into the existing harness to fool the climate control electronics. Make it slim line and compact for a near universal fit and Bob’s your uncle, so to speak. Or how about incorporating a small system into the alternator housing? I know I’m dreaming, but current auto A/C systems look like they’re plumbed by drug addicts. The only one I liked was a unit I had on my ’77 International Scout II. It had a York piston compressor on a cast iron mount that weighed more than a Honda short block, and had valves to isolate the refrigerant in case you needed to remove it. The evaporator/fan unit sat in a chromed binnacle slung underneath the dash like a Seeburg jukebox, and was almost as loud. It would also freeze your bones to the marrow, and at 10 miles per gallon, the fact that it ran constantly (no clutch) just didn’t matter. That dealer-installed unit ran forever. I later installed an OEM retrofit in my wife’s Civic, and after that experience, open windows looked just fine to me. We need a better way. And if you’re in the Toronto area and have an Astro minivan lying around really cheap, gimme an E-mail. I don’t mind if the A/C doesn’t work.

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