How long does it take for automotive AC refrigerant to leak out?

I was reading about CFC (R12 and R22) refrigerants and the claimed effect on the ozone layer. So that got me thinking, how much delay is there between when a new vehicle is charged with refrigerant until that much has leaked out of the system? If it takes 10 years for the refrigerant to leak out, then we would expect to see a 10 year delay between the amount of automotive refrigerant used and the effect on the environment. The R22 used in older refrigeration systems usually remained sealed for the lifetime of the unit and could then be properly disposed of during recycling. Where as with cars all of the refrigerant will typically leak in to the atmosphere more than once before the car is taken off the road. In fact there are strict rules on the charging and disposal of environmentally friendly R134a equipped refrigeration systems, but automotive R134a systems are exempt from these rules despite leaking a lot more. Edit: The EPA has attacked companies that were making hydrocarbon replacements for refrigerant claiming it is not safe, but the EPA is an environmental protection agency, not a product safety administration. This has made me question the motives behind the CFC ban.

For cars was thinking something like 10 years at first, then 5, then it needs to be charged every year or two after that. Does that sound about right? What did people do around 2004 when a lot of 10 year old cars still had R12 but R12 was no longer available for sale? I’ve read that conversions to R134a are expensive and never perform as well as the the original system. I know R12 was still freely available in Mexico at the time.

It’s been widely and thoroughly documented.

If you need to charge your system more than once every 10 years or so, get it checked for a leak, and fix it.

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Remember that a refrigerator or air conditioner is a sealed system. The motor and compressor are in a sealed housing. With a car AC, there is a shaft seal where the compressor is powered by the belt. This eventually wears and leaks. Then you have all the other fittings and connectors that are not brazed as most refrigerators are. Usually a fridge doesn’t blow its charge but there are exceptions.

My parents recently had a fridge quit. I looked at it, thinking it might have been something simple. A steel screw was touching a copper line which caused galvanic corrosion. The line leaked and the thing lost its charge so I deemed it not worth repairing, being over 10 years old.

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No. The charge stays in place until the seals or hoses dry-rot, the compressor fails or the condenser or evaporator develops a pinhole leak. Back in the R12 days (30 years ago now) the hoses would develop slight leaks. You could get away with adding some R12 to keep it going but you knew it would not be long before a larger repair was needed. And R12 was the bad stuff and used in EVERYthing.

R134 which replaced R12 around '93 was, for the most part, IN or all the way OUT since the hoses and seals were better. I’d guess R1234 (starting around 2013) is similar to R134 but I have no experience with that.

All have the same requirements as laid on R12 even though it was more friendly to the environment. R22 was for home AC and was used until 2007 (ish) replaced by R400a and now R454b. My 2005 R22 Trane AC unit just died and was replaced with an R400a Trane. It worked for 17 years without a recharge but leaked low over about 6 weeks. But R400a and R454b are supposed to be out of use around 2023 or so.

The law says if you have a leak, it must be fixed before recharging. Many ignore that - both cars and home.

They retrofitted R134a with a small decrease in cooling output (10-15%). But R12 WAS still available, just very expensive. Same for R22 now.

I had one car converted to 134. I think it was my 81 olds. Everything else I have or had already had 134 in it. A few years ago we replaced the house ac. Whatever it had in it from 1994, it would have been expensive to recharge it plus never was happy with the unit. I think ten years at least is normal service.

I’m reading a couple Nixon books and reminded me he is the one that gave us the epa and the 55 speed limit. I was too young to vote but brings back college days memories.