Recommend A/C Manifold Gauge Set
Which A/C Manifold Gauge Set would you recommend for a non-mechanic?
Harbor Freight has a $40 set which claims to be accurate to within 2%. AutoZone has a set of apparently similar quality but cheaper-looking gauges (Quest) for $60, and O’Reilly’s has a set by Interdynamics (good gauges, seemingly similar quality) for $90.
I’ve also located a few units by MasterCool that can run upwards of $160, but I don’t know if they’re really any better because I don’t know what features really matter.
Will the Harbor Freight unit suffice, or will it be too inaccurate (or maybe even leak on me)?
Recommend A/C Manifold Gauge Set
I love Harbor Freight prices but I hate the quality. I have purchased several items from them but finally learned my lesson. The tools are now just expensive paper-weights. I think most of the stuff comes from China. The best warranty you can get is Craftsmen and theirs is in the $90 price range.
I agree. Don’t cheap out if your serious about fixing things.
I have one of those Harbor Freight set, one of the hookups doesn’t fit right and the high pressure gauge sticks at the highest pressure it sees, so its useless. I also have the cheap one from AutoZone, the other hookup doesn’t work but the gauges do. I’ve cobbled them together to make a useable set, but I don’t fully trust it.
This year, I’m going to get a good set. One trip to a shop will cover the cost of a good set.
But what’s a ‘good set’? For example:
1.) Is brass better than aluminum? Most units seem to be aluminum, but I ran across a brass set from MasterCool which also happens to have metal valve handles (pointed sideways). It’s model # MSC84772G and it runs around $130 delivered. Seems like a good set, but MasterCool makes more expensive sets that look like the Harbor Freight set with an aluminum body and plastic thumbwheels.
2.) It would seem to me that the quality of the valves is very important, but how do you know what quality of valves the unit has? I’ve seen reference to “double-O-Ring”, but that’s not the valve, per-se.
4.) 2.5" gauges seem to be a ‘must have’ for easier readability, but while size matters, how do you know the level of quality of the gauges? Harbor Freight’s gauges LOOK good, and they claim to be within +/- 2% accuracy, but are they? Is there a company that supplies quality gauges for the manufacturers of these sets?
5.) Some units say they can be ‘recalibrated’ in the field. Does this mean the lower-end units cannot be?
Shopping online, at least, it’s difficult - if not impossible - to differentiate quality among these different vendors and models. The writeups just don’t seem to tell you very much about the product. You end up looking at the price and the picture and that’s about it. Even comparing within a vendor (like MasterCool) is a nightmare, as they have MULTIPLE models with seemingly identical features (but a wide span in pricing).
Yes - (almost?) all Harbor Freight stuff is from China - and I hate that, but what I hate more is buying something based solely on price without having a good feeling that the higher price is justified by higher quality. I don’t mind paying more, but I want to feel good about the quality that I’m paying the premium for. I don’t want to pay upwards of $200 for a “NAME” brand set, only to discover that the quality is really no better than the Harbor Freight set.
I’d go with the Interdynamics gauges. Good, middle-of-the road gauges. If you’re only going to use them a few times, cheap out and get the Harbor Freight ones. If you want to keep them for some years, get the ID gauges. If you plan on doing commercial work, invest in some really good ones.
No commercial work. Just my cars (and friends and relatives if they need a hand). Do you know if the interdynamics gauges are Chinese? I’m at the point now where I’m actually looking for that and trying to avoid it.
Here’s a set I found that gives some decent info (and looks like a “good set”) It’s made by Imperial:
It’s UL-compliant, for whatever that’s worth. It has 4 valves, and is usable for R-134a and R404A (heat pumps?). It’s not “cheap” … $167 delivered.
Here’s another thing that’s unclear to me: some of these units say “2-way, 3-way, 4-way”. Does that mean the number of refrigerants they can read, the number of valves they have, or something else? None of the writeups explain this.
Picked one up on rental from Autozone for $99 - and guess what? - it’s a Mastercool. Looks to be model #MSC-89772. It doesn’t have any markings on it anywhere, but the plastic case UPC number shows the “89772”, so I guess that’s what it is (looks like it on the web). It sells for about $115 delivered. However, the writeups don’t show the plastic case or mention anything about a free 3-in-1 valve (#85530) that are clearly mentioned for models #89660 (or 89661, which superceded -660). Those units can be had for $100 delivered, and may actually be the better deal.
I’ve got a question, though:
I read the PDF manual for the Harbor Freight unit online and it mentions what sounds like a 2nd set of valves on the hose couplings (where you connect to the service ports on the car). They say to turn the thumbwheels clockwise to close (on the manifold), but then they also say to turn these 2nd set of valves counterclockwise to close before connecting to the service ports on the car. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t see this feature on this MasterCool. The couplings have ball bearings and a collar that you can spin around and around, but it doesn’t appear to do anything. Do some units not have these secondary valves? And if so, do I just quickly jam these couplings down on the service port in the car? Won’t there be some leakage as I do this? Seems like there should be a valve where the service port connection is made, and maybe this kit is missing those pieces?
And with the can of refrigerant - there is a brass valve in this kit for that. Do I back the needle inside the valve away from the can and then attach it to the can (then turn the valve to puncture it), or do I leave the needle fully outward and screw it onto the can (allowing it to puncture the can as I attach it)? Seems to me it should be the former (so that there is no leakage as the valve is being attached to the can), but it seems to me I’ve read somewhere someone saying “now turn the valve to release the pin and allow the refrigerant to flow…” (meaning you puncture the can as you attach the valve).
Name Brand set would be Yellow Jacket, or Robinair. Even the name brand compound gauges have there good better and best sets.
The valves on the hoses near the couplings open to allow the gas to get to the gauges. The valves on the body allow the refrigerant from the can to be directed to the hose that you want to add the gas too, usually the low side. I think the valve for the high side is if you have a vacuum pump hooked up to suck the old gas out for maintenance.
On the valve for the can, first screw the can to the valve, then screw in the needle.
I’m trying to figure out “good” too.
A Set of gagues is just the beginning in tools for AC repair, you need to stop and think what capability is achieved by the gagues and then the second decision is 'how much more must be spent to get me to where I want to be in terms of the jobs I want to do in the AC system.
Contrast this with having a trusted shop do the job from A to Z.
It is not decide by the tool is made of a brass or aluminum manifold. A good manifold gauge set has good ability endurance of high pressure and corrasion from refrigerant, also precision parts manufacturing to resist any leakage.
Any one bad part may cause the manifold gauge set fail work.
A good gauge has a shock-proof design to resist an accidental fall off, a gauge without shock-proof mechanism will damaged after shocked and can not recalibrated anymore.
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