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3 Types of Freon for Cars

Diagnosing car freon of red car in the air conditioning station.

Freon is the chemical that is used in your air conditioner, any air conditioner, and there are special kinds of it used in vehicles. The average person will never know what freon is until they need their air conditioner fixed.

When you need the air conditioner fixed in your car, you will need to know what type of freon your car uses. It will most commonly be called refrigerant. Learn more about the different types of freon for cars here.

Freon and Your Car

Freon is a chemical that is also called a refrigerant, and it is used in air conditioning systems. It is easy to remember what freon does by its other name, refrigerant.

Its function is to help the system create cool air that is the magic that air conditioning provides. Where there is a cooling system, there is probably freon or refrigerant.

You might hear of your freon or refrigerant problem, or a leak in your cooling system. This is likely a freon leak or a fluid top-up that is required here. Sometimes this is an easy fix, and sometimes it is a repair that needs to go into the shop.

If you are doing it yourself, you will need to know exactly what kind of freon you need. There are three main types of freon for cars.

Freon Types for Cars

There are three main refrigerant types or freon types for vehicles. There is no other kind of freon for your car.

The kind of freon that your car needs is the kind of freon that your car needs, and that is it if you are not modifying the vehicle. Putting a different kind of freon in your car is as damaging as putting diesel in a gas engine or vice versa.

This is not a part or vehicle component that you can research and then choose the best kind of material and part for your budget.

If you want to use a different kind of freon in your car, your car will need to be modified to accommodate the chemical.

When it comes to freon, your goal in your research is to find out what kind your car needs, and how to use that right. The three refrigerant types for cars are:

  • R12
  • R134a
  • R1234yf

1. R12 Freon

FOUR UNCLES IRONCUBE AC Flush Kit,A/C Air Conditioner System Flush Canister Kit Clean Tool Set R134a R12 R22 R410a R404a for Auto Car with 3.5 ft Hose American Interface

The R12 freon is likely not in your car unless you have a vintage car or own an antique vehicle, in which case, you probably already know what kind of freon your car needs.

This freon was considered universal in vehicle air conditioners until approximately 1995. Most of the time, today’s antiques or classic cars are classified as classic cars by the DMV and your state insurer if they are over 20 years old.

Chances are, your classic car uses R12. This is an inexpensive refrigerant that is no longer in use because it has detrimental impacts on the ozone layer and environment.

The EPA has banned the chemical in later models, but has not made it illegal to drive older cars.

2. R134a Freon

Johnsen's 6313 R134a Refrigerant w/UV Dye for MVAC use in a 12oz Self-Sealing Container (3 Pack) (3)

This kind of freon is a very popular kind today, and it offers the benefits of low flammability. This refrigerant is nicer to the ozone layer however it is still not the most environmentally friendly freon for vehicles.

The chemical alone is a greenhouse gas, and a key reason why hybrid and electric vehicles are made. This is a much better freon than R12, but will still have some opponents to it.

3. R1234yf Freon

Honey Well Genuine 8oz R1234YF Refrigerant (3 Freon Cans) & HD Brass Can Tap with Gauge

This is the middle ground freon or refrigerant that is supposed to be the best of both worlds.

This freon of R1234yf combines both chemicals from above in response to 2021 federal regulations in the United States that mandated a conversion from the greenhouse gas of R134a. 

Today, more than half of the best-selling new models are running air conditioners with R1234yf. The United States is lagging behind Europe in so many ways when it comes to vehicle manufacturing, and they can’t help it.

It is the legislation that is slow to come. Most of Europe has been using R1234yf since 2011. Europe is also well-known internationally for its regulations on vehicles like idling.

In some countries, a car owner can be ticketed or fined for leaving their car in the driveway running before they leave for work in the morning. It is a civic responsibility that European citizens take very seriously.

When the freon or refrigerant in a car’s cooling system begins to leak, this is when people that make these rules begin to notice the greenhouse problem.

That is why the types of freon in cars have changed so much over the years. Today’s combination of R1234yf is the best of all worlds for now.

How to Recognize a Freon Leak

Diagnosing car freon condition using gauges.

It’s not always easy to recognize a leak in an air conditioner system, particularly in a vehicle. There are so many fluids that make a car run, a freon leak will be difficult to determine at first if you don’t know what you are looking for.

In any air conditioner system, you have the compressor, the refrigerant or freon, the hoses, and the condenser. You’ll also have an evaporator. The freon functions like the blood of the entire system.

The compressor is the motor that makes it work, while the hoses carry the freon where it needs to go. The condenser functions as a coolant for the refrigerant, while the evaporator in the system removes the heat so that the system can cool down the system around it.

Any leak in any one of these components will cause the system to break down. A refrigerant leak has no color and no odor, making it even more difficult to detect. You are not likely to tell if there is a leak by a leak alone.

You can tell by how your air conditioner is working. If you turn the air conditioner on in your car, and you get warm air, you might have a freon leak.

You could have a problem with any one of the other components, but if you still hear parts running, and feel warm air, it’s an easy point to your freon.

This isn’t going to impact the functionality of your vehicle too much, but it will depend on the problem. If you can drive with the windows down in 100-degree weather, you’ll be fine.

You may also be able to know there is a problem here if you have a dashboard light indicating this. Not every car model will have a dashboard light for air conditioning though.

You could also hear a clicking sound. If the air conditioner begins to sound different, it may not just be a freon leak. It could be if there is now a short cycle of movement of air from your compressor.

A number of different issues could cause the short cycle, but a freon leak is the most likely cause. If you suspect that your freon is low, you will need a tech to have a look at it. An HVAC expert or car mechanic can refill your freon, and needs special equipment to do so.

Your freon levels will need to be read first before it can be refilled to the vehicle’s specs. You will find the kind of freon that you need under the hood of the vehicle on a sticker. Look for the number that starts with an R.

Why Freon is Important For Your Car

Checking R-134a refrigerant in the car using gauges.

If you know a little bit about car parts or air conditioners, you may wonder, why you need freon if you have both an evaporator and a condenser in the system?

The evaporator and the condenser don’t necessarily cancel each other out. The evaporator removes the heat, and the condenser cools the air down.

But that still isn’t cool enough for the air that this provides to be considered air conditioned air. The freon is the magic here. It cools the condensed air down.

It all starts with the compressor, that uses the freon and converts it into gas. This gas moves through the hoses and into the condenser.

The freon goes into the condenser and is exposed to heat and pressure that is released as it moves through the system. When it moves through this system, the freon gas is then converted into liquid.

Think of the way water changes forms, and can in one dish when exposed to various temperatures. On the stove, it boils or rises as steam.

Pour that into a cup of tea, and you’ll see that water begin to condense along the sides of the teacup. Leave the cup there long enough and you’re going to see the volume of that liquid decrease.

So, freon in an air conditioner is much like that, but it converts from a gas into a liquid when exposed to heat and pressure of the air conditioning system and components.

The liquid then moves through the dryer and into the evaporator where the cooling action begins. There is a coil of tubes in your car that allows this to happen.

Here, the heat is absorbed and a fan then brings the cool energy into your car. The freon is eventually going to get warm again, and so the cycle begins again.

It will convert back into a gas and then move towards the compressor for another round of chemical conversions. In this system, the evaporator works for both the components of the system and also the interior of the car.

The evaporator takes the heat from the car and converts it into something cool by removing humidity. When you see a leak under your car after you have been driving with the air conditioning on for a long time, it is not freon.

This is the condensation that has formed after the evaporator removed the humidity from your car, and turned it into a liquid. The liquid that is found in humidity is water.

Freon is a chemical that converts into many forms as well. There are not many kinds of it on the market to use in vehicles. It is an easy chemical to understand when you are wondering about your next air conditioning repair.