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HC bounceback detected in 2022-2023 vehicle refrigerant survey

Results from the 2022-2023 motor vehicle refrigerant survey are in, suggesting a bit of a bounce-back for hydrocarbon refrigerant usage – although participation in the survey was higher with 548 vehicles analysed compared with 500 last year. 

The study, which has now taken place every year for a decade, records which refrigerants are found in vehicles having air-conditioning work done at VASA member workshops in metropolitan and regional locations around Australia.

As well as vehicles with a full charge of hydrocarbon refrigerant, or a mixture of HC with something else, ozone-depleting R12 and even HCFC refrigerant R22 (intended for stationary equipment) were detected this year.

High prevalence of air contamination was also found in systems.

The dominance of R134a continues, with just one vehicle found to be charged with R1234yf in the latest results (YF has now been found by the survey every year since 2020), matched by the number of vehicles with R12, while three had some R22 in them.

A total of 25 vehicles were found to contain HC and nine some other, unidentifiable flammable substance.

Five vehicles presented with a full charge of HC, another three with more than 95 per cent HC and 16 with a cocktail of HC and other refrigerant.

Last year, four presented full of HC, another four with 95 per cent or more and 10 with a mixture. Just one was found with a refrigerant marked ‘other’.

Respondents found 55 empty systems, just over 10 per cent of the total and the lowest number since 2020 when 40 out of 550 vehicles had zero refrigerant in the system.

Of the rest, 417 had a full charge of R134a and another 39 had 95 per cent or more R134a.

Reasons for vehicles presenting for air-conditioning work were because it was not working (44 per cent), underperforming (33 per cent) or just for regular air-conditioning maintenance (four per cent).

The remaining 20 per cent were in the workshop for services unrelated to air-conditioning.

Most vehicles in the survey were built between 1999 and 2019, with those from 2010 and 2012 being particularly prevalent. The oldest in this year’s results was a Range Rover made in 1979.

The participating workshop in regional Victoria reported 15 vehicles with a hydrocarbon mix in what has been a bit of an HC hotspot over the years, regularly reporting double-digit occurrences.

In this year’s sample, regional Victoria had a had a large number of vehicles presenting with no refrigerant and the number of vehicles with an HC mix exceeded those with 100 per cent R134a.

Elsewhere, vehicles with full or more than 95 per cent charges of hydrocarbon were scarce, with three in Melbourne,  one in Adelaide and two in Perth (which also reported one HC mix, as did regional Queensland and regional NSW).

Perth had the narrowest vehicle age range (2001-2018), followed by regional QLD (1999-2019).

Four workshops had vehicles from the 1980s (including that one from 1979) and oldest vehicles seen by the rest were from the 1990s.

A third of participating workshops reused refrigerant, 31 per cent recovered it and 12 per cent responded ‘other’, usually due to there being no refrigerant in the system or taking special action to deal with HCs.

Participants in Adelaide and regional QLD bucked this trend, reusing no refrigerant.

The remaining 25 per cent reported refrigerant action was not required due to electrical faults or the vehicles presenting for other types of work.

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