Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2010   by Nestor Gula

Slow Leaks, Quick Detection

A/C 2010

“All air conditioning systems leak,” says Tony Ferraro, president of UView Ultraviolet Systems Inc. “Even new cars leak.”

He’s not just saying this because UView is in the business of designing, manufacturing, and selling leak detection equipment for air conditioning units in cars. He has the data to back his claim up.

“Until recent studies have come out, no one really talked about how the systems leaked,” he says. “Studies in California and Europe have shown that the average air conditioning system in a car leaks about three ounces (85 grams) of refrig- erant a year.” He says that the state of Minnesota has made it a point that all car manufacturers have to list the amount of refrigerant their brand new cars will lose per year.

The Website covers car models for 2009, 2010, and 2011. Their leakage list covers most cars — besides the Fords and Hondas, you’ll get the figures for Porsches and Bentleys, but not for Ferraris or Lotuses. The figures are based on U.S. models but should not differ much, if at all, from their Canadian siblings. In a nutshell, looking at new 2011 vehicles, you have an average leakage rate of between 5.9 and 20 grams per year, representing a percentage loss of charge per year of between 0.5 and 3.2%. This is before any of these vehicles have met a pothole or a bumpy road surface.

“So if a system takes two pounds of refrigerant, you can basically tell when it will start to harm itself,” says Ferraro.

“Unfortunately, people usually only bring in the car when it stops blowing cold air. At that point you have done some dam- age to the compressor. If you take out six ounces of refriger- ant on a 26-ounce system, what the average car would lose in two to three years, the compres- sor temperature goes up and can potentially cause damage.”

To properly start a leak diag- nosis, Bob Savasta of Tracer Products says, “Most technicians use sniffers first. You run the air conditioning system, and then shut it off and trace every line. You put the probe underneath the lines, never over the lines, because the gas is heavier than the air so the gas will always sink.”

Tracer Products manufac- tures two Tracerline gas sniffers: the entry level TP-9360 that can detect leaks down to a quarter of an ounce a year, and the advanced TP-9364, that uses an infrared sensor, which “is more accurate and is less prone to false triggering.”

Savasta explains that false triggers can result from other fluids that exist under the hood of all cars. Both sniffers give the user an audio and visual indication of a leak. The reason you should start with a sniffer, Savasta points out, is that “if the leak is very small it might take a very long time for the dye trace to show up. Typically, what they will do is use the sniffer, find the leak, and then use the dye to verify that the leak has been repaired. Some guys like to use just the dye, because once the dye is in the system it will trace all the leaks wherever it escapes. If one system has three leaks they will all show up. Dyes are good to verify the leak to see where it is and if it has been repaired. The only drawback is that the dye has to be circulated — if the leak is large you will spot it sooner. If it is a small leak you will have to run the car the whole day, with the air conditioning on, to spot the leak. The bigger the leak the sooner the leak will be detected.”

“We have a chemical that seals micro leaks in air condi- tioning equipments,” says Dennis Sullivan, marketing man- ager of Cliplight. “They work very simply by reacting to mois- ture. An air conditioning system, to work properly to provide cold air, has to be a completely dry environment. The sealant flows through the system in the lubricating oil and as soon as it detects a hole it reacts to the ambient temperature that has moisture in it, and it clumps up like kitty litter.”

Sullivan says that their sealants, Super Seal, Super Seal Premium, and Super Seal Total, work for all cars and have a benefit of protecting their air conditioning systems into the future. “The sealant only reacts to moisture to plug the hole, so if there is no more moisture it just carries on circulating in the system minding its own business. The sealant will stay in the system for many, many years reacting to any small holes that may pop up and sealing them immediately.”

He warns that putting in Cliplight Super Seal products is not a shortcut to a proper diagnosis. “One should always go through the process of finding out where the leak is in the normal fashion,” says Sullivan. “There is no true substitute for a proper leak evaluation.”

Ferraro from UView echoes this sentiment. In light of the fact that all systems leak, he states, “Every two years you should bring your vehicle in to have your A/C system looked at and serviced if needed.”

UView makes a full line of diagnostic and service tools for vehicle air conditioning units. Ferraro is proud to compare his leak detection dyes, saying that they are very luminescent. “Not all dyes are created equally and a cheap dye and cheap lights are a bad mix because you will not detect the leak.”

Performing regular service for your customer is great service to the client. “When the compressor goes it is not a cheap job. It is about $1,000,” he notes. “A technician could have avoided that large bill, to his steady customer, if they had maintained the system regularly.”

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