The refrigerant in your pre-1990 automobile was banned from manufacture in the U.S. in the mid-1990s. The remaining stock of this chloroflourocarbon R-12 has been depleting ever since. Strict Federal mandates and tariffs discourage their continued use in older vehicles. What are the issues and how will they affect the American consumer? I did some research for my own edification, and here are some of my observations.

(This page was extracted from an emailing that I sent to friends in August of 1994. In some ways, it's more timely, as the use of chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) has reached an even more critical state. On the other hand, I haven't really kept up with the topic, so some of this may no longer be relevant. Hope it's helpful nonetheless. -Ellsworth Chou)

See my latest update from 5/8/00 at the bottom of the page.
See some links to pages about other R12 alternatives.

"NO MORE R-12?"

This is a topic that'll affect all of us eventually. Globally, if not personally. I'm hoping this note helps in both ways.

Burbank, California:

August 8, 1994 "R-12 UPDATE"

So KEEP COOL out there.
The information contained in this article is strictly from [my flawed and deteriorating] memory, so Do Your Own Research.

May 8, 2000 Update!

Success with a $50 RFC-134a Conversion Kit

(I tried this because I felt I had nothing to lose. I'm posting it here, because it still works nine months later.)

In August of 1999, John Wood read this page and wrote me to tell me of his experiences with RFC 134a conversion kits. He, too, is a Do-It-Yourselfer, and faced the same dilemma as I about vanishing R-12, and the DIYer's inability to work on his/her own A/C systems.

Here's John's letter:

I've read similar proceedures and cautions about converting an R12 to an
R134 system, so when the R12 in my 87 Lebaron leaked out the second time
in 4 months, I was about to accept the fact that we would have no more
AC  which is tough when you live in Florida. We did pay for one recharge
which cost $ 30.00 per pound  but could not see doing it again ($100
total for about 4 months of cool air). The AC guy gave us an estimate of
about $1000 to replace compressor and evaporator and I decided the car
was just not worth that much.

Well I'm the type of guy who fixes about everything on my cars. I had an
uncle who got me started when I was 20 and over the years I can say that
I've saved thousands of dollars in car repairs by doing it myself. Yes,
I make mistakes and learn by them, but never had any real catastrophies.
I remember when I could buy R12 in the cans for 89 cents and if your car
got warm you simply put in another can, and then when the compressor
blew, you got one at the junk yard for $15-20. I'm precisely the kind of
guy that the government wanted out of the self repair business (at least
for AC work). Folks like me were only part of the problem. I saw a lot
of guys chill a 6 pack of beer by dispensing a can of R12 over their 6
pack and like magic, the beer was chilled and ready for consumption. I
saw lineman at the utility company unload a can on a wasp nest. This was
regular practice. And then you had those fog horns that used pressurized
R12. I'm sure there were many other abuses of this product that could
have been stopped before they had to put an end to the do it
yourselfers. Anyhow, back to my Lebaron.

One day I was in the local auto parts store killing time while it was
raining outside. On the shelf I saw a R12 to R134 converion kit made by
Interdynamics (I think that's the name). Amazingly, the directions
sounded so simple. You didn't have to remove the old oil or open the
system; just have the old R12 removed. I asked the parts clerk if he had
heard of anyone doing it this way and he said, "oh I think your supposed
to remove old oil and flush out the system". I thought how could this be
such an oversight on the part of the company selling this kit. Then I
said to myself, oh what the heck I wasn't going to fix it anyhow so I'll
give it a try. The kit was on sale for $20.00 and 3 cans of R134 cost
$15. You get the fitting adapters, the fill hose, a couple cans of Ester
oil with O ring sealer and a label to stick on the car. I (now being
environmentally consious) rigged some adapters (hoses and fittings) to
connect from the high pressure side of the Lebaron to the suction port
of my good R12 system on my Voyager. I transferred the remaining R12
from the Lebaron to the Voyager and ended up releasing almost none into
the air. I made the conversion on the Lebaron to R134 without opening
the system and was surprised how well it cooled. I really anticipated
that the system would blow in a couple of weeks, but 2 years later it is
still working. I put a can of R134 in once every 6 months and have not
touched the system otherwise. We gave the car to my son who is in
college and I often ask him if the AC is still working. The reply has
always been, "it works fine dad". My guess is that there was nothing
wrong with the evaporator and the O ring sealer helped the minor leak in
the compressor. I only use 2 or maybe 2 1/4 cans of R134 for the entire
charge. They warn you in the directions not to put more then 80% of
original charge back in. I can't imagine how this thing functions so
well with all the old and new oil still in the system. Also, it should
be noted thatI had already changed the hoses back before the ban as well
as the the expansion valve and of course the dryer. I doubt the hoses
are the barrier type since R134 was not being put in cars yet. The hoses
are not oily.

Since this worked so successful, I did the same conversion of my other
son's girlfriend's 88 Lebaron GTS. This car had never had the hoses
changed and they are oily but we are having the same good results after
one year. I did my wifes 91 Sundance 3 months ago and so far so good and
I did my my third son's 85 Ford Crown Vic 1 year ago and it requires 1
can recharge every 3 months but it still works good.

All I can say is that there is something strange about all the published
data that says I should have lost all my R134 in a few days with the old
hoses and I should have experienced  marked decrease in cooling
capacity. Either I'm extremely lucky (doubtful) or there is a lot of
misinformation out there. Have you heard of any other experiences like
this?  I still have an R12 86 Voyager (that I top off from making the
conversions) and I have another son with an 83 Horizon that has R12 in

Ellsworth, thanks for contributing to the All-par page. I only found out
about it a few days ago and have enjoyed it very much. Feel free to

John Wood

We both believed that this kind of thing was impractical and makeshift. That may be so, but I did a conversion the week after he emailed me, and nine months later, that vehicle's A/C is still cooling, though it had been without A/C for three years up to that time!

Inspired by the John's example, I drove to the local Pep Boys (I really hate to mention their name, but if it encourages someone to try this...) and bought an Interdynamics brand RFC134a Conversion Kit. It included:

I also picked up a can of RFC134a Stop Leak (also Interdynamics brand).

I spent something like $55 for the kit and the Stop Leak.

Three years prior, our Shelby GLHS had lost enough refrigerant that the pressure switch cycled the clutch *continuously*, so I discontinued use of the air conditioning system. Years (especially summers) passed, and we didn't repair the A/C because:

  1. we'd acquired another primary vehicle
  2. we'd wanted to keep our rare Shelbys from gathering so many miles
  3. the *last* time we'd fixed an A/C leak on this car, it had cost $400 and lasted less than a year and a half
  4. R-12 had since soared from $15/pound to over $40/pound
  5. I debated about doing a full-blown RFC-134a conversion

I worried that my A/C system had dropped to atmospheric pressure in the years it had been idle. Had this been the case, the receiver/dryer most certainly would have been in need of replacement, since the hygroscopic compounds used in the "dryer" would have been saturated with atmospheric moisture. So before I started the conversion, I walked out to the car, unscrewed the low-side valve cap, and depressed the Schrader valve with a small screwdriver. I got a comforting hiss - the system still had positive pressure after almost three years of disfunction! And apparently no remaining liquid R-12. Encouraged by this excellent news, I knocked out the conversion in about fifteen minutes or so. The weather that day was mild, but the refrigeration was nonetheless impressive.

The best news is that it still works to this day (nine months later)! I drive the car somewhat infrequently, but so far, it still cools. The refrigeration's a bit puny, but no worse than our '88 Caravan's A/C, which probably wants for a new expansion valve.

NOTE: I don't guarantee success. The responsibility and risk is your own. Installing a conversion kit (especially the special "conversion oil") may interfere with returning to CFC R-12 (should you decide to take that expensive and increasingly futile route). But if you wouldn't put $500+ into that vehicle anyway, I think it's an inexpensive experiment.

I'm very happy that something that seems like snake-oil not only works, but continues to serve. I'm generally skeptical about "quick fixes" (I should know, I've tried a few). Eventually, I expect to install similar kits on our other R-12 vehicles, as they inevitably age. I hope that this information helps you as much as it did my family. Good luck.

August 8, 2000 Update: R406A (R-12 refrigerant alternative)

I haven't researched this - I just happened to notice this link while doing some research for our *home* HVAC.

January 6, 2001 Update:

Visitor Neal reminded me of this other alternative refrigerant. I know nothing about it. If you have any experiences with either of these (or any other) refrigerants, drop me a line.

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