The price increases of around £10 – some independent garages are quoting almost £60 for an air conditioning gas refill and £75 for an air conditioning service – are due to changes in vehicle air conditioning gas regulations that came into effect on January 1, 2017.
The European Union regulatory changes were on the table for more than a decade and essentially have seen the introduction of a new air gas refrigerant known as R1234yf.
It is claimed to be more environmentally-friendly with a lower global warming potential than the gas it replaces, which is known as R134a. It is this ‘old style’ gas that is impacted by the price increase.
Mainly due to the phasing out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by the European Union – HFC refrigerant is the R134a air conditioning gas used in most cars and vans – there is a shortage.
Last year, 2017, saw an 11% reduction in availability of HFC refrigerants. But from 2018 to 2020 there will be a 37% decrease in availability, which is in turn forcing the price up for that particular refrigerant and therefore the cost of vehicle air conditioning services, including recharging. There will be further reductions from 2020 of another 50%.
As a result, over the coming years’ further price rises for an air conditioning recharge can be expected unless supply of R134a is relaxed by the European Union.
The Independent Garage Association (IGA) said: “[We have been] in contact with manufacturers, suppliers and trade bodies to try and find the root cause [of the price increase], but we don’t have a clear picture or primary reason for the increase beyond the simple facts of supply and demand economic.”
Consequently, the IGA believes that European Union rules and introduction of the quota system for the supply of R134a air conditioning gas has triggered the price increase.
Use of the new gas (R1234yf) has been phased in as manufacturers have introduced new models to the market, from January 1, 2017 – although some manufacturers made the change ahead of the mandatory date – meaning there is now a complete ban on the use of R134a. That means all cars and light vans registered from that date must use the new air conditioning refrigerant in their systems.
A further impact on fleet operating costs is that the new gas is significantly more expensive than R134a gas with potential re-gas costs of between £150 and £300 depending on vehicle make and model, the quantity of gas held in the system and labour charges. Nevertheless, as more vehicles use R1234yf) current charges can be expected to reduce.
Despite the increase in the cost of R134s, garages highlight that the benefits of regularly servicing a vehicle’s air conditioning system include:
- It keeps the air conditioning unit lubricated and working. If it dries out the seals can become brittle and will need to be replaced, which can be costly.
- Periodic servicing keeps a vehicle’s service record up to date. Generally it should be done every two years.
- Conditioned air in a vehicle is easier to breath and can have health benefits.
- A working air-conditioned unit will quickly demist the inside of windows.