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Vehicle AC industry to challenge Defra over R134a top-ups

The European trade body for vehicle AC sector says it is “gravely concerned” at the government’s apparent green light for top-ups of R134a by untrained personnel

The European trade body for the vehicle air conditioning sector says it is “gravely concerned” at the government’s apparent green light for top-ups of R134a by untrained personnel and even the general public – and an apparent U-turn over advice given by fellow regulator the Environment Agency just weeks previously.

MACpartners has vowed to challenge what is sees as a contradiction of the F-Gas Regulation, which bans untrained personnel from recovering HFC refrigerants. It said it will be addressing this matter with both Defra and the European Commission on behalf of its members and all stakeholders in the industry.

In a statement released in October, Defra pointed to what it saw as a distinction between top-up and recovery of refrigerant: “Defra believes that such restrictions do not apply for the servicing of MAC, only for the recovery of F-gases in such systems.

Therefore, the UK government believes that it remains legal to sell F-gases for use in MAC systems to those who do not hold recovery qualifications.”

Defra added: “Such F-gas products must still comply with the 2014 Regulation, which requires that they are sold in refillable containers (Article 11(1) and Annex 111) with suitable provision having been made for its return for retrofitting.”

This ruling appears to underline that ‘conventional’ aerosol top-up cans of R134a are non-compliant, but it remains a grey area, as top-up products have recently been developed with refillable containers which do comply, so potential purchasers are advised to check the status with their retailer.

But the Defra advice does apparently clear the way for non-refrigerant-qualified staff to do servicing work and topping up with other containers.

The body, which represents all sectors of the vehicle air conditioning industry with a particular focus on aftermarket AC servicing, says it was “astounded” to hear of this U-turn over the purchase of F-gases “by unlicensed individuals and the general public”.

The group said it is concerned at the apparent change of position from only June, when the Environment Agency issued a notice to wholesalers, retailers and technicians in the MAC sector.

The notice stated that it was no longer legal to sell F-Gas refrigerants for the servicing of MAC in passenger cars, unless the customer purchasing the gas “could demonstrate that the person intending to install it held a qualification in refrigerant recovery”.

This, the agency said, was to comply with article 11(4) of the 2014 F-Gas Regulation and was based on advice from the European Commission.

MACpartners said it was particularly worried that the reversal appears to have been made only after “undisclosed” stakeholders questioned the authority of Defra to restrict the sale of the DIY refrigerant products, requiring Defra to seek further legal advice.

MACpartners said: “This action by Defra not only allows the sale of so called DIY top ups of R134a to untrained service technicians and even further to the general public via auto spare parts outlets, but it allows untrained individuals to simply add refrigerant to a leaking system without seeking the services of qualified service personnel to properly recover the refrigerant from the vehicle and perform repairs.”

It added: “The Defra ruling certainly appears to be against the best interests of the professional auto repair industry, and could lead to negative consequences for the vehicle being ‘serviced’ and to the environmental issue of F-gas emissions not being followed.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • DEFRA need to recognise that in order to recover refrigerant you have to open the AC system just as you have to do on re-charging, there should be no distinction between the two other than opening the system to do either procedures should be done by a qualified refrigerant technician, would Joe public do this on the refrigerant of a household fridge freezer with R134a from a DIY shop because that's what they are saying can happen.
    AC should be treated as a complete process and not a bit part where the public wouldn't know if the system was leaking and R134a released into the atmosphere in unknown quantities.
    They clearly don't know how AC works as I've said several times in the past and on this occasion it sounds very much like Government also doesn't know how AC works and has been persuaded by members or supporters looking after they're own selfish interests and not that of the environment for everyone

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  • Why anyone is astounded that DEFRA twist and U Turn to suit themselves is beyond me and explains this industries naive one sided relation with them.

    George is right, Government don't know how an AC system works. But they do know how Government works so can take a political approach to the environment and this industry.

    Our only failing in all of this is that we put our faith in trade associations who endeavor to represent industry while being unequal, and barely tolerated partners in the political bed that are government departments.

    As long as we continue to lobby as we do; as long as we continue to regulate as we do, as long as we continue to shrug and accept U-Turns as we do, ....we will continue to get what we get now. This is not the first time, and will not be the last time that an industry trade body will be surprised and dismayed by the approach taken by Government.

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  • Berg Chilling

    Working with refrigerants should be done by a qualified technician and shouldn't be looked at as a DIY project. There's too much risk of either the system being damaged or, even worse, the unqualified individual

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