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Refrigerant Leak Detector And Finding Leaks In Your Air Conditioner

Dec 8, 2007
As summer approaches, it is time to start thinking about our car's air conditioning system and if it is working properly. One of the most common problems with an A/C system is refrigerant leaks and locating them. Finding the source of the leak can be a tedious and time consuming. The leaking Freon could come literally anywhere in the system from tubing to a accumulator to a tiny pressure switch gone bad. The EPA has made it much more stringent rules in dealing with refrigerant leaks. The days of topping off the air conditioner with a few cans of R12 are long over. Now even small leaks must found and corrected. Here comes technology to the rescue. There are several methods air conditioning repair shops employ to locate and fix refrigerant leaks. Each method has its pros and cons and their use depends on the situation. The three most commonly used are a electronic refrigerant leak detector, ultraviolet dye leak detection kit, and ultrasonic leak detector units.

Electronic Refrigerant Leak Detectors

Electronic Refrigerant Leak Detectors are the quickest and easiest to use of the three methods. Most of the time you will have no idea where the refrigerant is leaking and have to narrow down the possible areas. A electronic refrigerant leak detector can get you very close to the location of the leak and from there you can get more precise. Some of the better models will allow to crank up the sensitivity once you get the area found. For very small leaks you can wrap the suspected area in cling wrap or a rag to try and contain the refrigerant. When you unwrap the area, put in the refrigerant leak detector and see if you get a reading. Remember, refrigerant is heavier than air and it will sink to the ground. It is best to sniff under tubing and compartments when looking for it.

Ultrasonic Leak Detectors

These are state of the art leak detectors and are the newest tool to find refrigerant leaks. They operate on the principle of sound detection. Instead of sniffing for refrigerant gas they listen for the sound it makes as Freon escapes the system. To use an ultrasonic leak detector the system should be pressured in order for the refrigerant to leak out and make noise. Also, the work area must be totally silent. Remember it is looking for sound and no background noise is imperative. This is the main drawback to using an ultrasonic leak detector. Very few auto shops are quiet enough to use it effectively.

Ultraviolet Dye Leak Detectors

This third method ultraviolet dye is injected into the air conditioning system and in theory should escape with the refrigerant. Commonly, an auto shops have an ultraviolet leak detection kit that has all of the tools necessary to complete this task. Generally these kits come with ultraviolet lamp or ultraviolet flashlight, a dye injector, safety glasses and ultraviolet dye. This method is the most technically complex of the three and is the messiest. You have to inject the ultraviolet dye into the system and wait for it to leak out. The dye can be messy and get all over the place. It gets in you're A/C system, your refrigerant manifold gauges and you. However once you shine your ultraviolet flashlight and spot the leak, you usually can see exactly where it is.

Each method has its pro and cons. For the beginner, I would recommend an electronic refrigerant leak detector and the professional auto shop would be better served with an ultraviolet leak detection kit.
About the Author
Jason has been in the construction equipment and industrial sales business for over 10 years. He owns and operates Red Hill Supply to better serve the automotive and industrial industries. - Automotive Tools.
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