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Chill out with your AC in hot weather

MOST car owners never think about the air conditioning system in their vehicle until summer rolls around and they reach for that AC button on the dash.

MOST car owners never think about the air conditioning system in their vehicle until summer rolls around and they reach for that AC button on the dash.

However, you should be pressing that AC button all year round, according to David Monk, President of Anglo Canadian, a Vancouver company that specializes in auto air conditioning repairs.

Environmental concerns led to a ban of CFC-based AC refrigerants about ten years ago and all new vehicles now come with a CFC-free refrigerant know as HFC 134A. Rapid growth in global demand for 134A, however, has now led to a supply problem, with potentially serious consequences, according to Monk.

It's not a good idea to let the AC system in your car sit unused for long periods.

"The AC system has a gas (refrigerant) inside that helps circulate the oil, when the system in on, and helps lubricate internal components," said Monk. "If you let it sit (unused for long periods) the seals dry up and you can get leaks in the system."

The manual AC systems require you to press a button to turn on AC, although many systems will now automatically activate the AC system in the defog mode. So, the bottom line is knowing the type of AC system that's in your vehicle and . . . "use it or lose it!"

Air conditioning is standard equipment of most cars sold today and another recent development is the use of cabin air filters. Initially only fitted to high-end luxury cars but these days even some economy-class cars come with a cabin air filter.

Monk also recommends an AC service twice a year: before the hot summer months and again in the fall.

An AC service will cost about $120 to $180 depending on the model and includes the following:

? a visual system check and listen for any unusual noises;

? a pressure check with gauges;

? a leak check (using a dye);

? a mode control check;

? a drive belt tension and tensioner check;

? a cabin filter check;

? and a certified service information label.

"We do tend to see more evaporator core and compressor failures than we used to," said Monk. "Any moisture in the system will react with the refrigerant, cause acids and accelerate failure." And it's another reason for regular servicing.

A n evaporator core looks like a small radiator and can be a labour-intensive repair if it's buried deep inside the dash panel.

Getting back to the refrigerant supply problem, Monk is not only concerned about the sharp increase in the cost of 134A (which has doubled in price since last year), but also its availability. If AC repair facilities run out the 134A refrigerant and can't get new stock, he expects to see an increase in the use of hydrocarbon alternatives.

Hydrocarbon refrigerants are flammable and pose a safety risk for consumers, according to Monk. Unlike the fuel system in your vehicle, which is isolated from the passenger cabin, a leak in the AC system could draw a potentially ignitable gas into the passenger cabin. Hydrocarbon refrigerants are not compatible with 134A and will contaminate existing 134A stock if evacuated into the same holding tank.

Expect to pay more if your AC system should need repairs this summer and find out what type of refrigerant is being put into the system. Nothing other than HFC 134A is currently recommended by any vehicle manufacturer and use of anything else will void any existing warranty. Above all, be aware of the safety concerns.

Bob McHugh writes car care articles for the BCAA Learning Centre. Find more at www.bcaa. com/learning-centre.