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Not much is worse than turning your key in the ignition and feeling the car’s air conditioning system blow hot air. If your automobile’s air conditioning fails to deliver the cool air you expect, it may be time to recharge your system with new refrigerant, and more importantly figure out why the system got low. This is a task that can be easily accomplished with the proper guidance, the right tools and quality products specific to your vehicle model.

While there are significant savings to be realized by doing this job yourself, this is also a job that needs to be performed properly. If you are not certain that low refrigerant is the issue, you may be better off taking it to a professional who can diagnose the exact issue going on. Let’s look at the national average AC recharge costs for a service of this type for comparison.

How Much Does It Cost to Recharge Your Car’s AC?

These costs are generally not that expensive when considering that this maintenance also extends the life of your compressor, keeping your air conditioning performing optimally season after season.

A professional AC recharge cost ranges from $150 – $300 on average depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Due to refrigerant losses that occur over time, this service is one that should be added to your vehicle maintenance schedule. It is recommended that this service be performed on a vehicle every 100,000 miles or so.

You can save on your this cost by going the DIY route and recharging your car’s AC, in which case you can expect to pay $40-60 for a proper recharge kit. This may seem like a real savings over taking the car into the shop and possibly more convenient, but before proceeding with the DIY alternative, it’s important to understand exactly what’s going on when you get an AC service at a shop, vs doing the job yourself. 

What Does Recharging Your AC Mean?

Servicing your vehicle’s air conditioning system is an expected maintenance item for all vehicles with operational AC. It’s commonly done by dealerships or shops, and it involves hooking your vehicle up to a machine that removes refrigerant from the system, and simultaneously puts the vehicle’s system under vacuum.

This is done to properly test the system for leaks and see if it holds vacuum over a certain period of time. By doing this, the technician is able to detect leaks, and potentially determine their origin. This is important because simply filling the vehicle up with more refrigerant will only be a temporary fix if there is a leak that this new refrigerant can escape through. 

If the system checks out fine for vacuum, the machine recharges the system to the precise amounts of refrigerant needed to operate, and then is checked for proper function. Doing this assures that the compressor works efficiently to deliver the cooling levels required for your specific vehicle make and model.

To do this service yourself, you will need to purchase the recommended refrigerant for your vehicle manufacturer to recharge your system, and to do the service properly, you will need a vacuum pump and manifold gauge set, both available in the AutoZone Loan-A-Tool program. You can learn more about those tools in this article.

 The most common refrigerant for newer model cars is R-134a, which has been the standard since 1994 when cars with R-12 refrigerant weren’t phased out. Many older cars that have never been serviced may use R-12 and need to be retrofitted over to R-134a. Newer vehicles in just the last few years now take a new generation of refrigerant, R-1234yf, which has just become available for DIY use in the last 2 years.

When Should You Recharge Your AC?

The first signs of an AC compressor not functioning properly will be air flow that is warmer than usual when electing the coolest of settings. Air conditioning systems can lose refrigerant in very small doses over time, but rapid leaks are a cause for concern.

It’s important to note, that while simply grabbing a can of refrigerant and charging your system will certainly get your AC working again, it’s vital that you pay attention to the proper pressure of the system and don’t over-charge. Some AC systems, especially newer R-1234yf systems do not take a large amount of refrigerant – some as little as 6oz – and over-charging the system can lead to catastrophic failure. 

If you have successfully charged the system yet weeks later, you feel warm air again, you probably have a leak. Air conditioning systems have several connections in which these leaks can occur, so regular maintenance can help you avoid costly repairs in the future while maintaining optimal cooling throughout the life of your vehicle.

It is expected that at 100,000 miles, your air conditioning system will require servicing. At the first sign of your air conditioning performance not up to par, you should be aware that an AC recharge is probably warranted with an accompanying AC recharge cost. 

Can You Recharge Your Car’s AC?

Recharging your air conditioning system is not a difficult task, but one that requires some research. It is crucial to make sure you know how to recharge it safely and properly. 

First, you will want to confirm the type of refrigerant required for your specific vehicle. If you’ve confirmed that your vehicle uses R-134 or R-1234yf, or has been converted from R-12, you can purchase a recharge kit which will include the recommended refrigerant, dispensable from a pressurized can of approximately 12 ounces to 22 ounces and in most cases will contain a reusable recharge hose outfitted with an inline pressure gauge. This pressure gauge will assure the proper amounts of refrigerant are delivered by measuring existing levels (measured as pressure) and reflecting maximum levels realized for proper recharging. 

Even though most cans do contain a charging hose, using a proper manifold gauge (hose) set is highly recommended and will get you more accurate measurements on your vehicle’s system. Instructions are included within the recharge kit to properly do this service yourself. Next, you will want to identify the low-side delivery point for the refrigerant on your vehicle’s system. Refer to your owner’s manual or online guides for your specific car for this information, or, you can read more about charging your AC system yourself here.

What Happens If You Overcharge Your AC?

When performing this service yourself, you will have the proper recharge kit to guide you in delivering the proper amount of refrigerant into your vehicle’s air conditioning system. However, it is possible to deliver too much refrigerant, resulting in an ‘overcharge’ of the air conditioning system. The result is that your compressor will not be able to provide the proper cooling levels and warm air will be delivered into your vehicle instead. This is why it’s best to tread very carefully when assuming that a non-functioning air conditioning unit is low on refrigerant, as this is not always the case.

f you do over-charge the system, it is best to take the vehicle to a mechanic to have the system properly evacuated by an AC machine, and thus serviced to the correct amount. If you need help performing this, or any AC recharge or service, check out our list of preferred shops in your area that can help. Or, if you’d like to tackle the job yourself, AutoZone has all the tools and refrigerant to service your R-134A or R-12 vehicle.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

FREE Loan-A-Tool® program requires returnable deposit. Please note that the tool that you receive after placing an online order may be in a used but operable condition due to the nature of the Loan-A-Tool® program.

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