In A/C Work, Watch for the Dangers of Hydrocarbon Blends

As temperatures warm up, it’s a good time to remember the dangers associated with hydrocarbon refrigerants being sold as cheap substitutes for R-134a and R-12.

Hydrocarbon blends are sold online and at flea markets as direct replacements for SNAP-approved refrigerants. SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that evaluates a refrigerant’s ozone-depleting potential, global warming potential, flammability, and toxicity. Because hydrocarbon blends may contain high quantities of propane, isobutane, and other highly flammable gases, the EPA has banned them as an HFC replacement (many states have made them illegal).

Still, they’re sold at flea markets and online because they’re inexpensive and vehicle owners aren’t aware of the hazards these cheap hydrocarbon blends pose to themselves and technicians who service their vehicles.

Among the dangers:

  • Hydrocarbon blends are highly flammable and in a confined space may burn or explode in the presence of an open flame, spark, or cigarette.
  • No vehicle manufacturer has endorsed or authorized the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants in its current-production A/C systems. They can degrade gaskets and hoses designed for R-134a or R-12, making leaks more likely. Use them and you’ll void the warranty.
  • Technicians should check for A/C system leaks before making an inspection or repair that requires an ignition source (or may generate one). Use properly calibrated tools to identify refrigerants and sniff for leaks.

If you service A/C systems, test for these refrigerants. If you operate a motor vehicle and notice decreased A/C performance, stay away from cheap “substitute” refrigerants and contact a certified and experienced mobile HVAC technician. He’ll have the expertise and equipment to diagnose the problem and address it.