Do-It-Yourself A/C Recharge Hits the Spot When the Weather Gets Hot

Many drivers across the country will face the need to maintain and recharge their vehicle’s air conditioning system to get ready for warm summer months after a season of hibernation. Small leaks, cracked or dried-out seals mean that after months of not needing A/C, your car may no longer have the refrigerant required to blow cold when it gets hot.

Recharging your vehicle’s air-conditioning system doesn’t always mean a trip to the dealership or local mechanic. With the most basic do-it-yourself knowledge, it can be a fast and easy process. Using any of the all-in-one recharge kits available at auto parts stores, this simple service can take as little as 10 minutes from start to ice cold finish, potentially saving vehicle owners hundreds of dollars when they do the recharging themselves.

“Millions of car owners enjoy maintaining their own vehicles,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “If your A/C system needs to be recharged and you choose to take on the task yourself, following a few simple steps can help you achieve proper cooling performance that is critical for interior comfort.”

To keep your cool when the weather heats up, the Car Care Council recommends the following step-by-step instructions to restore air conditioning performance. The tools needed to recharge the A/C system are minimal and include a charging hose assembly, A/C pressure gauge and R-134A refrigerant. Some recharge kits on the market today even include the hose and pressure gauge as part of their packaging. Before you begin any maintenance, always remember to first put on safety glasses and gloves.

  1. Locate the low pressure service port under the hood and remove the cap. The low pressure port will always be on the larger diameter aluminum tubing between the air conditioning compressor and the car’s firewall.
  2. Start the engine and set the A/C to maximum cold with the fan speed on its highest setting. Shake the can of R-134A refrigerant well before attaching the hose and open the windows and doors of the vehicle.
  3. Attach the charging hose to the low pressure port by pulling up on the connector sleeve and then pushing the connector over the fitting and releasing the sleeve. Gently tug on the hose to ensure the connector is locked on the fitting.
  4. Some DIY kits have a temperature dial on the charging hose and gauge pack that should be set to the current outside air temperature prior to charging.
  5. At this point, check the pressure gauge to get an accurate pressure reading. It is critical that the compressor is running with the fan on its highest setting and the air conditioning at Max Cold. You’ll know the compressor is running by looking at the center of the pulley, which should be rotating and cycling on and off.
  6. Begin recharging the system by holding the refrigerant in the upright position, releasing the refrigerant into the vehicle’s A/C system and simultaneously rotating the can between the 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock position during charging. Periodically stop the flow of refrigerant into the system to take an accurate pressure reading.  With kits that have a temperature dial, the system is fully charged when the gauge needle reads in the green zone of the pie-shaped area indicated on the temperature dial. CAUTION: Be careful not to overcharge the system.
  7. After charging, close the valve on the refrigerant can and remove the hose coupler from the low pressure port, replacing the service cap.

For more information and to view a video demonstration of these steps, please visit the Car Care Council’s website at www.carcare.org/2012/03/recharging-your-cars-air-conditioning-system/.

About the Car Care Council:

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers. For a copy of the council’s Car Care Guide or for more information, visit www.carcare.org.