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An Inconvenient Ban

A proposed California ban on the sale of R-134a to non-certified technicians pits business vs. the environment. Not an easy choice, is it?


As a fan of documentaries, I wanted to see this year’s Oscar-winner, An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore inspired treatise on global warming. For those who haven’t seen it, the film is pretty much just a fancy presentation on the impact of global warming, both now and in the foreseeable future, with the former vice president serving as narrator and Power Point presenter extraordinaire. While certainly not as good as the 2005 winner, Born into Brothels, or last year’s March of the Penguins, it was a decent — if not needed — look at a growing issue around the world.


Whether An Inconvenient Truth was more infomercial than science is not something I care to debate in the pages of this publication. Whether junk science or actual, the topic and arguments surrounding it impact the entire motor vehicle industry in some profound ways. Those in aftermarket distribution may feel fairly insulated from the battles fought at the OE level over things like fuel economy and vehicle emissions, but the aftermarket is still very much part of the global-warming discussion.

For example, consider mobile AC systems. Even as vehicle manufacturers consider the move to yet another refrigerant, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is planning to ban retail sales of R-134a refrigerant to non-certified professionals.


All of this should sound a little familiar to those of you who have been in the industry for any significant length of time. When vehicle manufacturers changed over from R-12 to R-134a in the 1990s, the EPA banned the sale of R-12 to technicians who had not passed an EPA test. Part of the reason for the ban centered around retrofits: DIYers would certainly vent R-12 into the atmosphere as they attempted to changeover their vehicles to something other than R-12, whose price was rocketing northward. There was opposition then to the ban, and as you might expect, there’s opposition to this one too.


And so with this dÉjÀ-vu topic, there are two opposing camps: CARB and environmentalists on one side and the interests of business on the other. Why does all this matter? Many of those rules imposed by CARB eventually become national regulations. In other words, as California goes, so goes the nation.

Those who oppose the ban (including a long list of aftermarket associations) cite a study by Frost & Sullivan that says a retail sale ban on R-134a would have a “negligible impact” on emissions of global-warming gasses and place the brunt of the economic burden on low and fixed-income Californians who work on their own mobile AC systems.


On the other hand, CARB has expressed concerns about the do-it-yourself use of R-134a in automotive air conditioners: residue left in the can after completing a recharge, the possible continuous cycle of leak-refill-leak-refill, and the discarding of partially filled cans. Although not mentioned, another reason to support the ban is that in the absence of training and the proper equipment; DIYers will certainly vent gas. This will become an even more important issue if/whenever the OEs decide to changeover to another refrigerant.

We’ll monitor this situation and report on it as needed. In the meantime, stay politically informed and active. Your livelihood depends on it.
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I got a ton of feedback from my March education-inspired column, What’s Wrong? You can read some of that feedback in the Letters to the Editor section.

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