Well ladies and gentlemen. It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving has passed and now we’re a few days into December. I’ve got most of my gifts purchased already and am nearly done with shopping. Now, I know that the majority of you who are reading this article are going to be reading this in the heat of summer next year but it’s always best practice to take a step back and look at market pricing in the dead of winter.
Obviously, winter is the slowest time for the refrigerant business. No one is using their air conditioners so even if there is a leak on the unit no one will notice until the first hot days of April and May. This lack of demand causes the prices to drop and allows us to take a analytical look at pricing and what it will be during next year’s summer months.
As some of you may already know over the past few years I have taken the time in December to do a variety of refrigerant pricing per pound articles. The first article I did in 2015 was met with amazing success and recognition. Every year since then it has become a kind of tradition to do these articles.
Now, before we dive into this article I will warn you now that this may be a long winded post and if you are in a hurry with the contractor standing over you shoulder I suggest you scroll down and look for the bold text. That will give you the breakdown that you need. If you’re here to read the article in full than by all means read on my friend.
Know This Before Purchasing
You’re Paying for Knowledge
The information that I am going to give you in this article is the exact price per pound that your contractor or your mechanic is paying. Now, we may be off by a few dollars here and there depending on when they bought their product but we are more or less right in line with their cost.
There is a fine line to walk here as you are paying your contractor or mechanic for not only their labor but also for their expertise. Do you know how to flush the system? Do you know what refrigerants can be vented and which cannot? In some instances you may not even legally be able to buy the type of refrigerant that you need. In fact as of January 1st, 2018 you will need to be certified with the EPA to purchase HFC refrigerants such as R-410A, R-404A, and R-134a. This is different from previous years where you could buy HFCs without certification. HCFCs, like R-22, you will need to be 608 certified to purchase or handle the refrigerant. I will note that if you are buying small cans of R-134a that you will still be able to in 2018. It is the thirty pound cylinders that will now be limited by this restriction.
While you may have your mechanic’s cost you also need to use the consideration and the common decency to accept their mark up. They need to make a living just as much as you do. The balancing act here is determining what is a fair mark up and what is price gouging. It is up to you to walk that line and negotiate the best price. All I’m here for is to give you the information.
Your AC Unit is a Closed System
Before your purchase any refrigerant either for yourself or from a contractor you need to realize that the refrigerant in your air conditioning unit is in a closed system. What that means is that the refrigerant is an endless cycle from gas to liquid from liquid to gas. This cycle repeats forever as shown in the below picture.
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. Potentially a lot of money too if yours is an R-22 unit.
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 works the same rather it is a home air conditioner or the air conditioning system on your F-150.
R-134a Refrigerant Price Per Pound 2018
Let’s get down to business. Much like I did for previous articles I am going to defer to Amazon and E-Bay to get my price average on a container of R-134a refrigerant. I am assuming that most of you will be buying the singular cans of 134a rather than the full thirty pound cylinder. (You don’t need to be EPA certified to buy cans, but you do for cylinders.) Looking at Amazon today I see that it’s $19.00 to $25.00 for a pack of three cans. We’ll pick $22.00 for a happy medium. Let’s do some math:
$22.00 / 3 pounds of refrigerant = $7.33 per pound.
Now that we have the price per pound the question is how much refrigerant does your car take? Well, there is no easy answer for that. Most cars take between two to three pounds of refrigerant but there are some applications that take upwards of nine pounds. It is best to check your specific car to see exactly how much 134a you need.
For argument’s sake let’s use a three pound car for our math:
$7.33 per pound of refrigerant * 3 pounds = $21.99 for a fill up of your car’s 134a refrigerant.
Remember, Mechanics Need Money Too
Ok, so we’ve got our numbers. If you are a do-it-yourselfer than you know how to take it from here. However, if you are taking your car into a shop to be worked on the thing that you need to remember is that $7.33 per pound is very nearly, or is, your mechanic’s cost. You are paying your mechanic or dealership for not only their labor but also for their expertise. Expect markup. Do NOT expect to pay $7.33 per pound. They deserve to be paid for their knowledge.
The goal of this article is two things:
- If you are a small business, or do-it-yourselfer, this gives you the average price of 134a cans and an option to purchase it Amazon and E-Bay.
- If you are having your car worked on at a dealership or a shop than this article gives you the knowledge to negotiate the price of your refrigerant down to a manageable markup. While you may not pay $7.33 per pound you will be able to recognize a gouge if they charge you $20 or even $30 a pound.
The last thing that I’m going to mention here is that before purchasing any R-134a you should check to see what kind of refrigerant your vehicle is taking. While this may not be necessary if your car is a few years old if you car is a newer model then there is a very real possibility that your car is using HFO-1234yf rather than R-134a. I would hate for you to buy the wrong refrigerant only to realize once you start your project. Always check your instruction manual and car specifications to see exactly what kind of refrigerant that you need.
Thanks for reading,
Alec John Johnson