Hello folks and welcome to RefrigerantHQ. This is a question that I get all the time and it is a bit tricky to answer. In the past I have written a few articles on the topic of R-134a phase out in the United States but over the years the overall plan for R-134a has changed substantially. Bare with me here, as I am going to give a bit of a history lesson before I get to your answer. If you’d like to skip this part then scroll on down to the ‘Conclusion’ section of the article for your answer.
As most of you know R-134a came to prominence in the automotive applications back in the early 1990’s. It was meant to replace the CFC refrigerant known as R-12. R-12 was found to be damaging the Ozone layer due to the chlorine that it contained. R-134a, which is an HFC refrigerant, contained no chlorine and thus caused no damage to the Ozone Layer.
It was discovered in the early 2000’s though that R-134a had a detrimental impact on the environment. While it does not harm the Ozone Layer it does have an extremely high Global Warming Potential or GWP. GWP is a measurement of the amount of Greenhouse Gases a chemical has when released into the atmosphere. The higher the number the more damaging the product is.
R-134a has a GWP of one-thousand four-hundred and thirty. This is a very large number. It was clear that something had to be done. In the 2010’s a new refrigerant was introduced known as R-1234yf. This refrigerant fell under a completely new classification of refrigerants known as HFOs. R-1234y has a GWP number of only four. The difference between the two refrigerant was astronomical. 1234yf was the automotive refrigerant of the future.
As in most environmental cases the European Union was ahead of the game. In the early 2010’s they began phasing out R-134a and replacing it with R-1234yf. In 2015 it was banned entirely for new vehicles. (Source) It was at that same time, 2015, that the Environmental Protection Agency released new rules called SNAP Rule 20 and SNAP Rule 21. These rules aimed to phase down HFC refrigerants across the United States. R-134a was mentioned in these rules and was targeted to be phased out from new vehicles by the year 2020 for 2021 vehicle model years.
Here is where things get a bit fuzzy. For a few years this was the operating assumption. R-134a would be phased out from new vehicles and it would slowly fade away. However, in the fall of 2017 a Federal Court ruled against the EPA stating that they had overstepped their authority on the SNAP Rule 20 and 21. The new rules were thrown out and we were all put right back to where we were before the EPA’s intervention on HFC refrigerants.
So today, three years later from that court ruling, R-134a still has no specified phase down period. R-134a is NOT being phased down by the government. However, it is being phased down by auto manufacturers. This is quite different then what we saw with R-12 back in the 1990’s. R-12 was government mandated to be phased down. R-134a is not. There may come a time in the future where we see a comprehensive R-134a phase down plan from the Federal Government, but as of now there is nothing. The only other option is to see R-134a phased down at the state level. There are already a few states out there that have moved forward with HFC phase downs… but in almost every case there is little mention of R-134a in vehicle applications. These state regulations instead focus more on commercial applications of R-404A and R-134a.
In conclusion the answer is yes, R-134a is being phased out from automobiles. The difference here is that there is no federal law or regulation stating that auto manufacturers have to do this. There were at one point, but those regulations were thrown out by the courts.
What we are left with is the direction that auto manufacturers have taken. Each year more and more manufacturers are switching their makes and models away from R-134a and over to R-1234yf. It has been a slow creep since 2015 but as of last year we are now seeing around ninety percent of new vehicles coming off the line with R-1234yf. Last year I spent some time and put together a listing of every vehicle make I could and rather or not if they were using R-1234yf. The list can be found by clicking here. It was rather revealing to see just how many vehicles have switched over. It will not be long until all new vehicles are using this newer HFO refrigerant. Yes, there will always be outliers out there but finding a new car with R-134a will be the exception.
What does that mean for you, the consumer? Well unfortunately, it means an extremely high repair bill coming your way when your air conditioner does break. R-1234yf is ten times more expensive then R-134a. Yes, you heard me right… ten times more expensive. That two dollar can will be around twenty or thirty dollars now for YF. There isn’t much we can do here either folks as there is not a viable alternative to R-1234yf at this time.
I have seen some folks actively switch their 1234yf systems back to R-134a. There are even specially made adapters to allow this… but I’ll tell you right now: I advise against this. Not only would you be damaging the environment but it is also against Federal Law. According to MACSWorldWide.com, “Any person other than a manufacturer or dealer who violates the tampering prohibition is subject to a civil penalty of not more than $2,500 per violation.” I wrote further on this topic in a different article which can be found here.
This is just one of those cases where we have to suck it up and deal with the higher prices. Maybe we’ll see prices drop in the future or perhaps an alternative refrigerant will be approved and introduced in the marketplace in the next few years. For now though, this is just the way things are.
Thanks for reading,