Auto Service World
Feature   April 2, 2002   by Jim Anderton

Special Report 2002: Are Sealants the Solution?

Opinions about A/C sealing products vary from "Never" to "No problem". Who's right?

They sure are controversial. A/C system sealants have been around for a few years in automotive service, and many technicians swear by them as a quick, cost-effective fix for small system leaks. Many parts and equipment manufacturers swear at them as a source of unnecessary warranty claims and equipment damage. Both sides agree on one issue: improper use of sealant products is a serious problem.

Back in the pre-environmental days when a residual charge could be blown out to ambient and drawing a hard vacuum wasn’t the norm, finding something unusual in a mobile A/C system wasn’t a serious problem. With multiple refrigerant options and the need to not only recycle refrigerant but also to keep the recycled product clean and contaminant-free, knowing what’s inside is important. Refrigerant identifiers are the only way to be sure about the working gas, but most additives and sealants are currently invisible to machine detection.

Derek Trimble, account manager for GM representing Kent-Moore (Robinair) has numerous units in the field in dealer service, and has heard about the issue at the bay level. Do sealants affect the equipment? “We’re actually doing testing right now to determine that. So far we’ve haven’t seen damage to anything yet, but we’re still testing. Every O.E. is recommending that sealants not be used in their systems.”

No reported problems, but no seal of approval from the manufacturers is a common theme. At auto parts giant Delphi, the official word at the time of writing was that the firm has no formal comment on the use of sealants, although they acknowledge that they are studying sealing products. In the meantime, “Not recommended” is a common OE position.

The lack of an official seal of approval, however, isn’t necessarily condemnation of the product, notes Mike Cable, vice president, sales and marketing for Cliplight Manufacturing Company (Super Seal Pro). “Nothing that they don’t recommend originally, will be recommended down the road”, notes Cable, adding, “water pump lubricants, for example, aren’t recommended.” Cliplight’s sealant has been in the field for several seasons, notes Cable, who states, “the product is doing very well. We’ve got over 500,000 cans in customer’s hands worldwide over three years and our customers are very happy. If there is a problem, we would have heard of it.”

Peter Sosinsky, president of Mobile Air 2000, (Keep-it-Kool) agrees that the products aren’t a threat to automotive A/C: “In our experience, testing and product development, we’ve found that sealants do not pose any threat to the operation of any A/C system, provided they are used properly and installed correctly. Keep in mind, the installation is more than just the process of putting the sealer in. It’s important that the sealant be installed in a dry system. In some cases, that may mean that a drier or accumulator has to be replaced. When the sealants are used as a “magic bullet” repair, then there’s bound to be trouble.”

Simon Ozario, marketing manager for U-View also notes that sealants shouldn’t be viewed as the end of nuts-and-bolts repair: “It’s a quick fix, and it’s very much a retail product. Does it work? Yes, it works well, but the professional technician still prefers the conventional method of injecting a dye, using a UV lamp and fixing the system permanently. If you have one small or multiple small leaks the A/C sealant will work well.”

Ozario believes that sealants may not necessarily reduce conventional system repair work, but can buy the customer time. “Put it in, drive for two or three months, and if the system is still leaking, come back. If the consumer won’t spend three hundred bucks on a condenser, it could be a growing market.”

Indiscriminate use of sealing products will cause trouble, as gelled product combines with the system lube to create a sludge that will kill compressors and clog recovery equipment. At present, there are no sealant identifiers available, and some shops with two recovery machines use the older unit on systems they suspect carry the product. What can you do to prevent contamination? Follow directions, and resist the temptation to shoot the system with sealer as a “quick fix”, even if the customer insists. Explain the need to flush and dry the system, as well as the importance of changing the receiver/dryer or accumulator in compromised systems. Similarly, don’t forget the I.D. sticker, since the next technician needs to know about the presence of the sealant before drawing the system down. And if you’ve created a good client relationship, that next tech may be in your shop!

What kind and rate of leaks can be sealed?

Sealant manufacturers have product-specific guidelines, but a good rule of thumb is:

1. Can pull 29 inches of vacuum during evacuation.

2. Can hold vacuum for 5 minutes above 25 inches sealed.

3. Fully-charged system takes longer than one day to leak down.

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