Larry Jewett
April 1, 2002
Contributers: Larry Jewett

We’ve had quite a few questions arrive at the office with regard to a recent auto-air-conditioning story, “Cold Air” in our February issue. We wanted to make sure we cleared up any of the gray areas before the weather changes and you start using that new air conditioner more often. The best way we could think to handle this was to go right to the source, and that’s Al Sedita at Classic Auto Air.

One of the improvements Classic has made on its Ford systems is the condenser. The original condenser will work with R-134a. However, Classic Auto Air’s new circuit design will far outperform all original or aftermarket condensers.

In the article, the condenser from the original kit was replaced, assuming a different unit was needed for the desert climate. That is not the case, because the high-output condenser from Classic Auto Air utilizes a new design in the tubes that creates more efficiency in heat transfer. The previous three-circuit tubing has been replaced with a six-circuit, which increases the efficiency greatly. The idea that a larger physical size condenser is needed has become outdated. The original-size reproduction condenser provides more than adequate airflow for the system to do the job properly. A larger-size condenser will lead to plenty of fitment problems and will result in unnecessary re-engineering of the system and extremely poor cosmetic appearance. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and relate any questions and concerns to their professional tech staff.

The condenser provided in the Classic Auto Air kit is dimensionally an exact reproduction of the original. The filter/dryer and condenser mounting brackets attach and install exactly like the original, requiring no alterations to the car’s sheetmetal! There is no need to mount the unit at an alternate location. The screws and bracket to hold the condenser are also provided in the kit. The mounting of the filter/dryer onto the condenser, as Ford designed it, will prevent errors like hanging the unit upside down. The filter/dryer is only designed to be mounted vertically in one direction, not upside down as seen in the article.

During the installation of the system, there was a perceived problem in belt alignment. All pulleys and brackets supplied in this system were original Ford parts. In most cases, the problem stems from a receiving groove in the balancer. The lip on the pulley will fit into the balancer’s receiving groove. If there is a fitment issue, it generally stems from debris in the groove, hammering on the front of the balancer to install it or a bent lip on the pulley, forcing misalignment. Should the water-pump pulley show misalignment, the water-pump hub was probably pressed on incorrectly. Any other alignment problems are usually associated with the wrong year engine or harmonic balancers. Again, parts provided are original Ford. The kit also provides correct spacers as needed.

By using the parts provided, there is no need for any type of cutting on the car. Lines and fixtures should route through in a manner provided in the instructions. Fittings have been engineered to follow the Ford design and utilize factory punch marks. The system for a ’65-’66, for example, has a 90-degree fitting through the radiator support, while later Mustangs utilized a “question mark” style. There should be no reason to interchange these fittings since the respective kit will have the right part. Likewise, no additional opening needs to be made to allow these components to fit.

There is also a lot of misinformation about the two main refrigerants permitted in automotive systems. For nearly a decade, certain rumors and unproven “facts” have become part of the picture.

In a nutshell, the industry utilized the coolant R-12 (CFC-12) until environmental concerns led to the development of an alternative known as R-134a. Upon its arrival in the market, there were minor problems with R-134a; most centered around proper system charge. Those problems have been figured out and eliminated. The only problem now is that not everyone has gotten that message. Even today, misinformation exists on places like the Internet (some sites we checked had not been updated since 1998) and through those slow to grasp the new refrigerant.

For background, R-134a systems required a different oil (R-12 uses mineral oil, R-134a uses synthetic) and there were some initial concerns about longevity of system elements. Research and development have eliminated these concerns. R-12 and R-134a are single-component refrigerants, approved for use, and consumers should be wary of blends and flammable refrigerants that are on the market which can contaminate a system.

One of the old myths was that R-134a was corrosive. Classic Auto Air’s Sedita says it’s only corrosive if there is moisture in the system or the system is contaminated with other refrigerant types. The same is true for R-12. The moisture vapor makes the refrigerant acidic, and is the number-one enemy of an auto air-conditioning system. A good vacuum pumping of the system will clear out the moisture vapor.

The original fears of R-134a have been eliminated. “We took a wait-and-see approach on it when it first came out,” says Sedita. “For over 20 years, we developed a reputation for the highest-quality products in the industry. We didn’t want our customers to be guinea pigs if there were problems. We wanted to make sure it was proven and well-designed. That happened a long time ago. I can’t tell you how many thousands of those systems (R-134a) that we’ve sold. There is no difference in warranty return rates. Today, for every 100 R-134a kits we sell, we may sell three to five R-12 systems.”

Those with leak-free R-12 systems can confidently stay with the product, but conversion to R-134a should occur when leaks develop or with a component failure. The system should not be repaired and recharged with R-12. The conversion is relatively simple (some new components will be required). This conversion will lead to high efficiency. Air-conditioning shops that have done their homework are finding R-134a systems to be very effective. The investment in an air-conditioning system breathes immediate reward. Be sure to select a shop with licensed technicians, modern leak detection, and diagnostic equipment. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and call them if you have any questions. This will ensure you get the best of today’s technology and not be victimized by misinformation and half-truths still around today.—Larry Jewett