Can any gas be used in a car air-conditioning system?

A refrigerant bottle and car airconditioner service gauges in an engine bay

The short answer is no, you cannot use just any gas in a modern climate control system. Here is why-

Air conditioning systems in cars do not have spare capacity. This means that they are just efficient enough to provide just enough cold air to keep the inside of a car cool. Moreover, just how efficient an air con system is, depends entirely on the refrigerant in the system.

For instance, up to 1994, all car air conditioners used a refrigerant called R12. This refrigerant gas was cheap, and it worked well with low system pressures. However, R12 was banned for use in car air cons when it was found to be extremely harmful to the atmosphere.

R12 was then replaced with a refrigerant called R134a, which is used in most car air conditioning systems today. It is a little more expensive than R12, but it works very well, although it requires higher system pressures than R12 to be efficient. Nonetheless, R134a turned out to be a harmful greenhouse gas. This means that it may not be used in air conditioning systems after 2021.

NOTE: Although this rule applies mainly to cars made and sold in the USA, most automotive markets, including the Australian market, have adopted it.

Beginning in 2022, all new air conditioning systems on cars made in the USA and Europe must contain a refrigerant known as R1234yf. This refrigerant is more expensive than R134a, and it requires even higher system pressures to work.

Therefore, if you use the wrong refrigerant gas, the air con system might still work, but it might work only half as well as before. Then again, the air conditioning system may not work at all after the regas service.

Moreover, the lubricating oils and dyes that work with one refrigerant gas do not work with other refrigerants. Thus, if you use the wrong refrigerant with the wrong oil or dye, you might destroy the compressor in a matter of days.

In practice though, it is possible to convert some air conditioning systems to use a different refrigerant gas. However, we do not recommend that you “invest” in any so-called “conversion” kit sold online.

These kinds of conversions are expensive, highly technical. Therefore,  we highly recommend that visit Find a Mechanic. Here you can find certified car air conditioning regas service or a mobile mechanic near you that can advise you on the technical aspects of car air conditioning system conversions.

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