It is a few days before Thanksgiving and the weather is quite cold outside here in Kansas City. I’m in my office sipping on some coffee and enjoying some time off. As I’m sitting here I have been thinking about refrigerant. Yes, yes, nothing quite says time off like refrigerant. Or, at least it does for me. You see these winter months is when I get quite a bit of time off and everything is a lot less hectic. Everything has slowed down and I have some time to catch my breath, relax, and plan for the next year.
Over the past five years or so we here at RefrigerantHQ have spent some time creating our ‘refrigerant price per pound’ articles. These have been some of most successful posts just because there just isn’t other information out there. If you look elsewhere you either won’t find anything on the price of refrigerants or you will find something that is highly inflated and is way above the marketplace. Now, I will say that more often then not our articles on this website are more technical and geared towards the HVAC or automotive technician but I always make time for these price per pound articles for my end-user readers as well. There is nothing worse then being gouged on the price of a product… and then not even knowing you were gouged in the first place!
In this article we’re going to give you an accurate price per pound on R-134a. But, before we get into that I first want to take some time and go over some air conditioning basics for your vehicle. If you’re not interested in this and you are just looking for the price then please scroll towards the bottom of the article and look for a section titled, ‘Price Per Pound.’ Otherwise, if you are interested then please read on.
Know This Before Purchasing
Let’s say your vehicle’s air conditioner is no longer working. You’ve tried everything you can think of. You even tried a few AC recharge kits and the air only stayed cool for a few days. It is clear that you need a repair… but what should you expect with this repair? Obviously, every dealer or repair shop is going to charge differently for their parts and labor but the below section will at least give you some basic knowledge on what to expect as you take your car into the shop.
R-1234yf VS R-134a
Something that a lot of folks may not have realized is that in recent years the refrigerant that automobiles are using has switched. Yes, that’s right. A lot of newer vehicles are no longer using R-134a. Instead they have switched over to a newer HFO refrigerant known as R-1234yf. In the United States this switch started to occur in 2015 and with each passing year the number of cars that are using 1234yf has increased. In the next few years it is predicted that nearly ninety percent of the market will be using 1234.
Earlier this year I did an article where I put together a list of all cars and what refrigerant they were using for their 2019/2020 model years. This list took quite a bit of time as I had to dig through instruction manuals for all of these different vehicles. I didn’t find every single car but I found the majority. At the end of the exercise I had found that nearly seventy percent of cars produced in 2019 within the United States are using r-1234yf. That is a huge number folks. This article can be found by clicking here.
There is a really big downside when it comes to r-1234yf. That is the price. In most cases r-1234yf is ten times more expensive then r-134a. So, your thirty dollar recharge on r-134a may end up being close to three-hundred dollars on 1234yf. That is quite the difference and can result in a lot of angry consumers when they get their repair bill. The bad news here is that I have seen no sign of the 1234yf pricing dropping anytime soon either.
You Are Paying For Expertise
Ok folks, so the information that I am going to give you in our ‘Price Per Pound’ section is very nearly, if not exactly, the cost that your technician is paying for their R-134a refrigerant. What that means is that you can expect a markup. After all, the technician and the dealership need to make money as well. This is a specialized trade and requires trained expertise in order to succeed in. Thinking that you can do this yourself is never a good idea as there are a lot of intricacies that need to be accounted for. As an example, let’s go through and ask a few simple questions that a technician would either have to do or consider:
- Do you know how to flush your system?
- Do you know what refrigerants can be vented?
- Are you 609 certified with the EPA to handle HFC refrigerants?
- Do you know how to find, let alone fix, a refrigerant leak?
All of these questions and more are what you are paying your technician for. Remember that they need to make money too, but there is also a fine line between having profit and gouging. Reading this article, and reviewing the price per pound, will allow you to be educated and give you the power to negotiate the price of refrigerant.
Your AC Unit is a Closed System
Even before you bring your car into the dealership to look at the air conditioner you should be aware that air conditioners are what’s known as closed systems. What that means is that the refrigerant in your air conditioner moves back and forth between different cycles and it, in theory, never runs out or needs refrigerant refilled.
If you find that your unit is low on refrigerant or is completely out do NOT just refill your machine with a new refrigerant. I repeat do NOT do this. Your system does not need a top off. It does not need just a little bit more refrigerant to get by. No. If you are running out of refrigerant that means that somewhere in the refrigerant cycle there is a leak. Your unit is leaking refrigerant and will continue to leak refrigerant until a repair is made. If you dump more refrigerant into it without fixing the leak you are literally throwing money down the drain.
I like to think of it as a above ground pool. If you get a puncture in the pool lining water will leak out. Sure you can always add more water but it’s not fixing the problem. Adding more refrigerant doesn’t fix the problem either. It’s just prolong the inevitable and wasting money.
This isn’t as big of a problem when it comes to automotive application but it is still worth mentioning. You see back in January 1st of 2018 a new regulation was implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency. This regulation known as the, ‘Refrigerant Sales Restriction‘, aimed at preventing novices from purchasing HFC refrigerants such as R-410A, R-404A, and yes… R-134a. These restrictions already existed on HCFC and CFC refrigerants but they were now moved over to HFC refrigerants as well. What this means is that you are no longer legally able to purchase R-134a unless you are 609 certified with the EPA. Now, there are a few slight exceptions to this such as:
- The first exception is that if you purchase small cans of refrigerant that are under two pounds of refrigerant or less. This works great for automotive applications as they only need a few pounds to recharge an entire system. But, this can be difficult when trying to recharge a larger system with only a pound of refrigerant at a time. A typical split-system air conditioner may take up to twelve pounds of refrigerant. So, you could technically do this yourself but you would have to find a source for the cans and it still not legal to tamper or tinker on an air conditioning unit if you are certified with the EPA.
- The other exception is providing the vendor you are buying from with an intent to resale form. What this means is that you state that you will NOT be using this refrigerant yourself but that you intend to resell it to another party. In this case the legal record keeping requirements would be passed onto you. So, if the supplier you bought from gets audited by the EPA their records will then point to you. The EPA will reach out to you and you better hope you either sold the product or are 609 certified!
If you do not meet the above exceptions and you try to purchase R-134A you will be asked for your 609 license number. If you cannot provide one then you will not be allowed to purchase. This was done to protect the environment. If R-134a is vented or leaked into the atmosphere it contributes to Global Warming. The restriction was put into place to prevent novices from playing around with the refrigerant and accidentally releasing it into the atmosphere. There was talk at the beginning of 2019 that the Trump Administration would rescind these restrictions but so far there has been no follow-through on this matter. As the law is today you are not able to purchase this refrigerant.
The good news here is that this doesn’t affect the automotive market too much. Yes, there was a time where a lot of folks were buying thirty pound cylinders of R-134a to have around. That can no longer be done, but you can still get the cans online at Amazon or at any major automotive retailer.
R-134a Price Per Pound
Alright folks so we’ve gotten past the need-to-know section and now we can begin to dive into to see the exact cost per pound. Let me paint a picture for you now. Let’s imagine it is the middle of summer and your car’s air conditioner has gone out. No cold-air is blowing through and you’re stumped. You drive the car into the dealership for a repair, but what can you expect? The first thing is that you will need to pay for a repair to fix whatever caused the malfunction. This could be a faulty hose, a bad compressor, a bad evaporator, and so on and so on. On top of this you will also have to pay for a full refrigerant recharge. But, what price is fair here?
Before I give you the price on R-134a I first want to give you a few tools that will allow you to determine the true cost of R-134a at any given time. You see, I am writing this article in November of 2019 and I can bet that by the time summer rolls around and you’re reading this article that the prices have changed. Refrigerant pricing is ever changing and you never truly know where it will be at. The good news is that if you check Ebay.com and Amazon.com you can begin to see where the market is at any given time. Yes, it’s really that simple folks.
When looking at these prices on Ebay and Amazon be sure to look at the thirty pound cylinder pricing. That is going to be quite a bit cheaper then the cans and that is most likely what the dealer or repair shop you are at are buying. From my experience these dealerships will buy a pallet full of thirty pound cylinders and use them throughout the season. This gives them a very aggressive cost within the market.
Today, if we look at Ebay we can see that thirty pound cylinders are ranging from one-hundred and thirty to one-hundred and fifty dollars per thirty pound cylinder. For argument’s sake let’s take the highest dollar one at one-hundred and fifty dollars. In order to get the price per pound let’s do some simple math:
$150 / 30lb cylinder = $5.00 per pound.
There you have it folks, $5.00 for one pound of R-134a refrigerant. Now, please keep in mind that these prices CAN change.
Now each car is different and the amount of refrigerant that they need can be different as well. Some only require one pound and others upwards of eight to nine pounds. It is always best to check your owner’s manual or your dealership to see how much you need. In our example we’re going to call it three pounds of refrigerant to get a complete fill up of your vehicle.
3 pounds of refrigerant * $5.00 per pound = $15.00 for a complete fill up.
Alright folks, that should about cover it. I’ve gone through everything you should know when refilling your vehicle’s air conditioner as well at what price point to expect. One last thing I wanted to mention before closing this article is that you have to remember that there will be mark-up involved from your technician or HVAC company. The price that I gave you is going to be very close to their cost. So, while you may not get that $5.00 price per pound article it does give you a starting point for negotiations. Remember, that everything in this world is negotiable and if they quote you fifteen dollars a pound then you do your best to get them down to seven dollars a pound using this article as a point of reference.