Now that R12 is now longer available we need to look at what has to be done when it is time to recharge the system. If your car has the earlier refrigerant R12 or Freon (basically prior to 1993) and you feel that it is not performing well, let's look at the likely options.
As at the date of writing it is now over twelve years since it has been legal to have recharged the system with R12 so unless you know otherwise it has to be assumed that the car has been converted to R134a, or has an alternative R12 drop-in refrigerant or still has a small amount of the R12 put in twelve or more years ago. It is possible that it is still going adequately but you have got to be one of the lucky ones after all this time.
To recharge with a drop-in is still the cheapest option and should work perfectly adequately, almost as well as with R12. However due to the general age of the car it may well need a change of component if it has developed any leaks or has any other faults and in these cases it is probably worth changing the drier as well and possibly making the changeover to R134a. Almost certainly the drier is now well beyond it's best-by date and should really be changed. If this is done it makes the change to R134a so much simpler. We do make the case to most owners that after so many years it is time to do the job properly - change the drier and convert to R134a.
It is difficult to make hard and fast rules on this and it is often better to make decisions on which path to take once the vehicle has been seen and assessed and the owner has expressed his wishes as to how long he intends to keep the car.
A few compressors used on early classic cars were supposed to be unable
to run with R134a, but in practice it seems that most seem able to cope.
Some of the rubber hoses used on cars from the eighties or earlier are
definitely a little leaky with the smaller molecule of R134a or the drop-in
refrigerants so may cut down slightly on the length of time they are able
to retain the charge.
Many of the fears we had in the early days of changing older R12 systems onto the drop-in replacements or R134a now seem relatively insignificant. Early cars sometimes have hoses which are not completely impervious to R134a, these can sometimes be changed but where it is not really possible the reality is frequently that the loss is fairly inconsequential anyway. In theory some of the early compressors not designed for R134a would not work correctly with the new refrigerant but in practice seem to cope adequately.
It all depends on the car owner’s attitude – whether it is just an elderly car which is going perfectly but in need of a breath of fresh gas or whether it is a much loved and pampered expensive passion. It might be an old 530i BMW E34 worth very little but still a lovely car or a Ferrari F40 worth perhaps £400,000.
Surprisingly some of these exotic models can be quite cheap to convert to R134a, we have converted and recharged some Ferrari models for a total cost of £105 + vat - see our home site for more details.