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Is R134a Right for my Muscle Car?

If the air conditioning system in your car is not running properly for one reason or another, you are probably looking into fixing it or getting it replaced. However, if your vehicle was made before 1995, like many muscle cars, it most likely contains R12 coolant and you might consider converting to R134a. The debate between R12 and R134a is a complicated one, so we've answered five main questions you might have when approaching this problem. 

  1. First off, what’s the difference between R12 and R134a? R12 and R134a are refrigerants used in car air conditioning systems. R12 was the first to be used and R134a is, for the most part, used today since R12 was banned. The main difference between the two is that R12 is compatible with mineral oil whereas R134a is compatible with synthetic oil. 

  1. Why was the manufacturing of R12 banned? R12 contains CFCs, like hairspray once did, that are potentially damaging to the ozone layer. It was banned because of this potential environmental risk and replaced by R134a because R134a, using synthetic oil over mineral oil, does not have the negative environmental impact that R12 does. 

  1. Why should I make the switch from R12 to R134a? The manufacturing ban on R12 makes it difficult to find at most auto stores now. If you can find R12, it has been shipped from overseas and is probably pretty pricey. It has largely been replaced by R134a, which is a cheaper and more convenient option, as well as the one that is better for the environment. 

  1. How do I convert an R12 air conditioning system to an R134a system? There are conversion kits that can help as well as conversion calculators online to aid in the conversion, but the process easy to follow with simple instructions here.

  1. I've found R12 is more effective in my car than R134a. Should I still convert to R134a, or should I keep R12? If you truly are adamant about R12, there are plenty of R12 substitutes that are better for the environment than R12. They are also more readily available than R12, which would be the hassle of using R12 since it is very difficult to find. 

All in all, R134a is preferable to R12 because it is readily available and self-manageable on top of being better for the environment. Hopefully these answers will help you understand the differences between R12 and R134a and guide you in fixing your car air conditioning system. 

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2/21/2018 11:36 PM
I have converted two vehicles from R12 to R134A, a 1974 Monte Carlo and a 1978 Suburban.  In both cases, conversion was relatively easy, requiring a new or rebuilt (a quality rebuild for sure) compressor, a new dryer, and a new orifice tube/valve for R134A.  I put the compressor in myself in both cars, but had the other parts installed by a good auto AC shop, as the most important issue is a professional vacuum of the system and an accurate leak test (they actually test that the system will hold a vacuum for a period of time).  I was satisfied with both systems.  Still drive the Monte Carlo, it needs another compressor due to a very small leak, but I add a bit of R134A refrigerant once in a while in hot weather (Las Vegas) and that keeps it cool.  I did upgrade the radiator to a "desert cooler", a four core setup, to assist cooling of engine.  You really can't switch refrigerants without PROPERLY upgrading your system.  I was told that the molecule size of R12 is relatively large compared to that of R134A.  Thus, in a R134A system, you must assure there are no leaks whatsoever.