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Recharging Your Own Air Conditioner

Is it realistic to recharge your own air conditioner or is it best to have your mechanic do it? The auto stores, because they want to sell the kits, tell you it is easy to do on your own. However, I read warnings on the label. Is it too easy to mess up your system by doing it on your own? For reference, I have a 2009 Toyota Yaris. Thank you!

I don’t think it’s realistic for most people. The AC pressures are very important to avoid overcharging. The biggest thing is that an AC system should not lose pressure unless there is a leak. If there is a leak then the system needs to be repaired and vacuumed down before new refrigerant is added. It’s best to leave AC servicing to the pros.

I think a 2009 vehicle is a little new to need recharging. methinks you should have a pro check for leaks first, or odds are, you’ll be throwing your money on the recharge kit away.

It would be highly unusual for a 2009 model Toyota to suffer a refrigerant leak. If the A/C is blowing warm air or air that you feel is not as cool as it should be then it’s possible that a problem like this could also be due to any one of a number of things other than low refrigerant.

For someone not experienced in A/C work messing something up is only part of the potential problem.
It can also be dangerous as refrigerant blasting into the atmosphere for whatever reason can cause frostbitten fingers in seconds or instantaneous blindness if it hits the eyeballs.

IF all it needs is a dose of R134a I’d be surprised. Before you get in over your head, find a good independent shop that works on A/C and have it checked out. It could be something as simple as a blown fuse.

Not familiar with the 2009, but I recently corrected an A/C blowing warm air in a co-worker’s older Yaris by replacing the fuse in the in-cabin fuse box. On the car I worked on, the fuse box was in the top of the storage tray, below and just to the left of the steering wheel.

I agree with the others that on a car only 4 years old, if it IS low on refrigerant, it is leaking, so you should get the leak fixed rather than just adding refrigerant. Adding to a 10-12 year old car is routine, but a 4-year-old car is rather young.

Also, if the refrigerant is really low, the compressor won’t start. If the compressor won’t start, you cannot pump down the low side of the circuit so that you can add refrigerant from a can. The wiring to a Yaris compressor is a little complicated and wiring diagrams are hard to find to figure out how to ‘jump’ the compressor to start it.

With out the knowledge, experience and proper tools, I don’t believe it is a good idea to try and properly service a car’s A/C.

There are kits available that claim that this is a DIY job, but frankly it is only DIY for someone who really knows what they are doing, and they are not going to show up here asking questions. If you have to ask, you should call the pro.

To do it right, you will need tools etc, that will cost you more than just having it done right by a good local tech. 

I suggest that you bring your car to a local INDEPENDENT shop.  That may be a A/C shop or a radiator shop.  It will be a radiator shop up north and A/C shop down south.

If I had read the above warnings a year ago I would not have attempted my own AC recharge.

But I naively bought the kit from AutoZone, the one that included pressure gauges and a can of refrigerant. Following directions, I recharged the AC on my old Dodge. It worked perfectly and I saved a bundle. My advice? Sure, give it a go.

As others have said, it would be rare for a car this new to be low on refrigerant, and if it is, it will need to be fixed. If you have never worked on an A/C system before, you can cause a lot of expensive damage and possibly hurt yourself. By no means would I just blindly dump a can of refrigerant into the system hoping it will fix the problem or rely on the cheap gauge on one of the do-it-yourself kits.

If it was an old car, it might be worth taking a whack at it, but since it’s only a few years old, it’s likely got a different problem than just being low.

I’m with @SteveF. It you can fix it yourself, it’ll yield you very decent beer or scotch money. It is worth a shot.

I’ve tried the cans with a meter mounted on them on our cars and they’ve worked well for me when their systems were just a bit low. The truck had a bigger leak so bought a vacuum pump* and manifold, after I replaced the condenser and dryer. It works like a chimp again.

*Both Harbor Freight flavor.

The 1999 Yukon I mentioned re: smog verification, the kid brought it from California a few years ago. It got low on freon so he added a bunch, and then it was all gone. So, I am guessing he ripped a hole in the condenser or something. If you do it yourself, be sure to read until you know EXACTLY what you are doing. He hasn’t bothered to have it fixed yet, because we don’t get really that hot here in the mountains.

Just a note: Cars don’t USE refrigerant If it is low, then you know that there is a leak in the system. Maybe a very slow leak and you may be able to put it off anther year, but I doubt it, but more likely it is going to need to have it done right.

I recommend having it properly and don't try a hillbilly fix.

Hillbilly fix is my suggestion in most cases and for most people on this site. Most people that have older cars so I feel that it is no a big deal, but with your car being so new, it wouldn’t hurt to bring it into a shop because it is oddly leaking way too early.

Buying the proper equipment and taking the time to become educated on how the system works and how to diagnose and repair it could be a worthwhile long term investment but for the immediate problem it would most likely be cost effective to find a “good” independent AC shop.

And, the mechanics of condensation and evaporation of a refrigerant to exchange heat makes for a dry and boring read.

When I did it I’ll admit it wasn’t a ‘read’ I couldn’t put down but it was interesting enough to learn about. It certainly isn’t very difficult to understand and do.
As far as the investment in tools, the vacuum pump and manifold set me back about $160 with several 20 percent coupons form HF. Bought a condenser and hardline for $40 on ebay, along with a new dryer and some refrigerant.
No doubt an AC shop would have charged me way over 5 bills to do what I did for half and fixed another car’s AC since then.

It depends what makes you tick. I hate being at someone’s mercy to do stuff that can be done with the right tools and some education.
If you don’t mind someone doing it for you and then passing you the bill, then have it done.

" I hate being at someone’s mercy to do stuff that can be done with the right tools and some education. "

RemcoW, that’s me, too. I have been buying tools, manuals, and reading up on repairs/maintenance as I need them for decades, now. When I talk to friends and relatives who are at someone’s mercy they usually tell me that I’m “Lucky” because I know how to work on cars. They view it as luck and I view it as accepting a challenge to learn and save money.

I know my limitations and have more skill and patience (and tools and manuals and the world wide web, now) than I did years ago and seldom have problems that I can’t solve. Even so, if I ever did screw something up, the vast amounts of money I have saved DIY will cover just about anything and I’d learn from it and keep trying. Also, it’s not just the money, but often it’s a matter of convenience. I keep 5 or 6 cars cars on the road for multiple drivers.


At my age I have come to realize that my talents, though few and meager, have served me well but many people who are much more intelligent than myself and enjoy talents much more sophisticated than mine are not able to understand things that just seem logical and obvious to me. Air conditioning and DC electric circuits seem at the top of that list. I balk at advising driveway mechanics to hook up McParts store quick chargers to their cars because I have seen the results of several faux pas efforts to “top off” the system. If the mechanics of heat pump operation makes no sense to someone it’s best to leave it alone.