Hello ladies and gentlemen! Over the past few days here at RefrigerantHQ we have been taking a look at the various R-134a AC recharge kits on the market today. These products are typically used during the summer months when a customer gets into their car and realizes that their air conditioner is on but it is no longer blowing cold air. Typically this happens because your AC system is either running low or has lost all of it’s refrigerant. What these AC recharge products do is simply recharge your AC system with more refrigerant. The added refrigerant should be enough to get your car blowing cold again.
Now, there are a variety of R-134a AC recharge kits out there on the marketplace. The question is which ones to buy and which ones are worth your money? Should you go with the cheaper version, or the more expensive? What brand should you get? This buyer’s guide will give you an idea of what to expect when purchasing and using recharge kits as well as how to use them.
Know Before You Buy
A lot of you may already know this but I would be amiss if I didn’t mention it. Before we get onto the top products I want to point out that these AC recharge kits are not a miracle worker. Heck, most of the time they aren’t even a fix. What these recharge kits do is take a problem that you have with your car’s air conditioning system and push the problem on down the road.
Your AC system rather it be on a car, house, or freezer all work relatively the same way. The refrigerant goes through an endless cycle moving back and forth between gas and liquid and liquid to gas. The system is completely sealed and no refrigerant should be coming out of it. So, in a perfect world you should never run out of refrigerant. But, as we all know the world isn’t perfect and things break, hoses crack, o-rings crumble, and so on and so on. When this happens your refrigerant begins to leak out. The more refrigerant that leaks out the less potent your air conditioner will be in the dead of summer.
Now what these recharge kits do is pump your system full of refrigerant again. So, you have a leak where your refrigerant escaped out of and if you use a recharge kit you are just dumping more refrigerant into your system. Depending on your leak this could be a good thing or a bad thing. If you have a tiny crack in one of your A/C hoses that barely leaks then an AC recharge kit will be perfect for you. You could recharge it in March and have it last the whole season because the leak is so small. But, if you have a very large leak, or worse, a major part failure then these recharge kits will not work for you. You could recharge your car today, have it blow cold air, and then come back a few days later and all of your refrigerant is gone again. Not a good deal.
So, the point I’m trying to make here is just know that these recharge kits aren’t a miracle worker. Yes, they’ll work in some cases, but not all. Alright, on to the review!
R-134a VS R-1234yf Refrigerant
I am updating this article in August of 2020. When I originally wrote this post there were very little R-1234yf vehicles on the road… but now in 2020 we are seeing nearly ninety percent of new vehicles using the newer HFO R-1234yf refrigerant. The common R-134a refrigerant that we are all used to is slowly being phased out across the industry. This is not a government mandate but instead is being adopted by the various auto manufacturers.
Basically, if your car is 2015 model or earlier then the chances are that it is using R-134a. The year 2015 is when we first began to see the use of R-1234yf. If you car is anywhere between model years 2015-2020 then you are going to need to check either the owner’s manual or under the hood to determine what type of refrigerant your vehicle is using. The good news is that you cannot accidentally charge your vehicle with the wrong refrigerant. R-1234yf vehicles come with a different charging port that will prevent you from adding R-134a. The same can be said if you have an R-134a vehicle and attempt to add R-1234yf.
If you cannot find what type of refrigerant your vehicle uses in the owner’s manual then pop the hood. You will notice a sticker under the hood that not only tells you what refrigerant is used but also the quantity of refrigerant needed. The sticker you see is part of the SAE Standard J639. These standards are part of the safety and design standards for automotive HVAC systems. If you are unable to find the sticker and the instruction manual doesn’t show you the only other option you have is to call the dealership. They should be able to tell you right away what type of refrigerant is needed.
If you find that your vehicle does use R-1234yf it is not the end of the world. There are alternative AC recharge kits being developed today as the demand begins to pick up. The one I typically recommend is this hose kit that is found on Amazon. Unlike R-134a recharge kits the hose kit I just linked to is only a hose with a set of gauges. It will be on you to purchase the R-1234yf cans. You can find these in your local auto shops like Autozone or O’Reillys.
If you’d rather buy the refrigerant cans online I’m afraid there isn’t much of a choice there. I looked on Amazon as well but couldn’t find any. The only online source that I could find was on Ebay
Lastly, before I get to the next section I want to make sure you understand that the price on R-1234yf is MUCH higher then R-134a. In some cases you’ll find prices ten times higher then what you were paying for a can of R-134a. Unfortunately, that is just the way it is on this type of refrigerant. I do not see this changing much in the future.
One last thing that is worth mentioning is that while you may see different brand names and product names below these products are all owned, manufactured, and produced by the same company known as IDQ Incorporated. Upon doing my research on these products it looks like the IDQ company has carved out their specific niche and now have nearly one-hundred percent of the do-it-yourself vehicle air conditioning repair sector. The company has been in business for over forty years and through out all of those years they have been dedicated to providing products for the weekend warrior mechanic as well as the seasoned service tech. These guys know what they are doing and provide customers with a good quality product. That being said all of these products below are from said company even though the brand names may be different.
Good, Better, Best
Alright folks onto the best recharge AC kits on the market today. When I do a best of article I always like to organize things by the Good, Better, Best technique. This process and way of organizing things has stuck with me for nearly ten years. It was how my boss, back when I worked at Kenworth, taught me. If you overwhelm someone by offering them dozens and dozens of choices they will most likely shut down and stop listening to what you have to say. Instead, the smarter way to do it is to offer the customer three main choices: Good, Better, and Best.
The good category offers customers a viable and working product that will get their job done at a low price point. The better category is, you guessed it, the next step up. With better the customer gets a little more quality but also ends up paying a bit more. Lastly, the best category is reserved for the best product on the market. That means top quality and top price. Now, depending on who you are and what your mindset is it is up to you what you decide to purchase. Are you a Good, Better, or Best guy? I hate to say it but I’m a Good guy… I’m trying to break that habit and move up to Better!
Good – Aupoko R134A AC Refrigerant Charge Hose Kit
This recharge kit ranks in our ‘good’ category. It provides you with nearly everything you need to recharge your system. It is definitely on the cheaper side of recharge kits but it will still get the job done. This is the product I like to recommend as a ‘trial’ recharge. If you are unsure if you need to take your car to the shop or not then give this product a try and see if you can solve the problem yourself, or at least put it off until next season. The only thing you’ll need to purchase along with this unit is a can or two of R-134a refrigerant. These can be found online or at any local automotive store like O’Reilly’s or Autozone.
Better – Aupoko R134A Refrigerant Recharging Hose Kit
I’ll be honest with you here folks… when I originally wrote this article years ago there were a lot more choices on the marketplace for R-134a AC recharge kits. Now however as I update this article in 2020 I am finding that the selection is MUCH smaller then what it used to be. It could be that some of these products have been discontinued. Whatever the reason is the ‘Better’ category is very similar to the ‘Good.’ In fact it is the same brand. The only real difference you are going to see here is that this product comes with a much longer hose. This will give you more space and length to work with. It could especially be handy if you are working on a larger vehicle. Again, remember that you will need to purchase R-134a cans as well if you wish to recharge the system.
Best – A/C PRO ACP-100 Professional Formula R-134a
The A/C Pro ACP-100 is the best recharge product out there today. It is a bit pricier than the others that are out there but there are some benefits to this price increase. This product is an all in one. What that means is that you get the hoses, the gauges, and the R-134a refrigerant all packed into one container. This is definitely the easy button when it comes to recharging your system.It comes with an extra long twenty-four inch hose to help you reach those cars with the ‘strange’ designs. To top it off the coupler on this product is easy to attach. Instead of having to manually pull the collar up on the coupler like you do with other products all you have to do is just push the coupler onto the port and it will pop right on. I’m always a big fan of the easier the better and the ACP-100 does just that, it makes things easy.
Regardless of what kind of consumer you are any of the above three products will aid you in getting your car blowing cold air again. While some are better than others it is important to note that even the product in the ‘Good’ category is still perfectly viable solution to fixing your air-conditioning system. Also, I’ll say it one more time. These charge kits are not a cure all and most of the time they do not fix your problem. Instead, they delay your problem by adding more refrigerant to your system. So, while this may work for you today you man end up feeling warm air blowing in your face a few weeks later. It is impossible for me to tell if you have a minor leak, a large one, or a failed compressor.
Lastly, if you need some help or am not sure how to use these kits please check out our do-it-yourself guide that we put together a few days ago.