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Old 05-19-2012, 09:43 AM   #1
2002SaturnMan
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2002 SL1
Default 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

I've searched this forum from top to bottom trying to find a thread telling how to simply recharge the a/c system, unfortunately those that I read are all about problems (compressor, leaks, etc.)

Fortunately I only need to know how to recharge my system. My 2002 SL1 has 149,000 miles and has never been recharged (I'm the original owner). Last summer the A/C wasn't very cold, so I thought this year I better do something about it.

I'd love to find a Richpin06a youtube video "SHOWING" how to recharge, but unfortunately he doesn't have a video on this.

So...... is this something someone with limited knowledge can do? I changed my own starter last fall (seemed a bit complex to me), and I've done a handful of other things under the hood so I figured I might be able to do this too.

Do I just need to get a can of 134a with a guage and refill, or is there more to it than that? I read that there are 2 ports, and upper and lower, and I think I would connect to the lower (but I would need to locate it).

Any help would greatly be appreciated! Thank you.

My SL1 is a manual transmission by the way.

...
2002 SL1, manual, SOHC (VIN 8) with 144,000 miles as of 10/01/11.
Former - 1994 SL 212,000 miles (great car!)
.....
Step daughter HAD 1998 SL1, Wife HAD 1999 DOHC (VIN 7) SL2

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Old 05-19-2012, 11:01 AM   #2
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Unfortunately, there is a lot more to an a/c system than simply refilling it. Refrigerant doesn't burn like oil--if it's gone, there's a leak. If it's a very slow leak, you could get a few more years out of it by "topping it off", but if it's a faster leak, you'll just be venting expensive and dangerous chemicals into the air (contributing to global warming). Further, contrary to popular belief, there is no way to accurately charge it without first recovering the remaining refrigerant, and then adding a specific weight (listed on the under-hood label). The pressure inside an a/c system is not dependent on how full it is: in fact, with the system off, you could keep adding refrigerant all day, and the pressure wouldn't increase above a static value (look up a pressure vs temperature chart, if you're curious, but at 70 degrees, it's right around 70 psi; on a hot day, or after the car has been driven, you can expect something around 90 psi). As you add more, it condenses to a liquid, and the pressure will not increase.

Now, when it's running, the high pressure will increase as you add more refrigerant, but there's no way to know how much pressure you want, because there are too many variables. The compressor will automatically change how much it pumps, in order to keep the low-side pressure the same (so obviously that's no indication), and depending on the heat-load and humidity, the high side pressure can vary anywhere from 120 psi to 300+psi.

The "recharge kits" typically come with a single gauge, which is completely useless. That gauge will only show pressure on the low-side. Well... the low side pressure is controlled by the compressor displacement and the airflow/temperature across the evaporator, not by the amount of charge, so as long as there's enough refrigerant for it to function, it will stay about the same. In fact, with a properly charged a/c system, the lower the low-side pressure, the better (the lower the pressure, the colder it is). Once it gets down to 25-30 psi, the compressor will change displacement to pump less, to prevent the evaporator from freezing over with humidity and blocking airflow (or, on many other vehicles, the compressor will simply shut off for a few seconds).

Yes, you can do what most people do: hook up a "recharge kit" to the low-side port, and add some refrigerant until it blows cold, but that's not the correct way to work on an a/c system, and if you accidentally get some moisture in there, it will create an acid that will destroy the compressor and lines.

If you want to work on your a/c system, there's plenty of information out there, but you'll need some tools: a manifold gauge set (both high side and low side), a scale to measure refrigerant by weight, and a vacuum pump. You'll still need to go to a shop to have them recover the remaining refrigerant (some may do it for free, if it's clean and you don't want it back, because they can re-use it).

And finally, avoid anything with a "leak sealer" in it. These are typically useless at sealing leaks, but work very well at jamming the thermal expansion valve (TXV: a variable size leak inside the system that creates the pressure differential). They can also damage the compressor. Get whatever r134a you can find without additives (except perhaps UV dye, which is very useful for finding leaks). There is no "better" r134a, so don't waste money on products claiming to be colder, synthetic, or better in any way (there are better refrigerants than r134a, but that's a different matter).

...
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Old 05-19-2012, 11:37 AM   #3
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

And to 'un' confuse some, a little bit more to digest.

Google any youtube video and you'll have more 'knowledgeable' people showing how to recharge any vehicle a/c system. From one view point this is a no-brainer but there are consequences - refrigeration is simply not about a few cans of R134a.

For one, no one ever mentions that servicing vehicle a/c systems requires (1) raising the engine rpm's from service manual recommendations, (2) a full manifold set of gauges are used for correct a/c servicing, and (3) the store refill kits never mentions raising engine rpm's due to liability issues and the real hazards of high pressures working in and around vehicle a/c systems. If you never knew that your a/c system's high side pressures easily exceed 250psi on HOT and HUMID days, consider it when you're standing less than a few feet away from the condenser coils...................

Recharging done at the 'DIY' level can be done if done carefully. Saturns requires 2k rpm to service a/c systems; all pressure monitoring is done at 2k rpm. Idle rpm pressure measurements are useless and have no basis for reference. In one way, ask yourself if you drive at idle speed or not? 2k rpm is the recommended engine rpm for a/c servicing. The low and high side pressures and cabin temperatures are measured with the fan blowing at medium-high speed with windows open. If you are certain that no leaks have occurred with factory dye and oil not marking any spot where a leak can occur (anywhere) and the service valves haven't shown signs of leaking from their valve cores, a refill might work. Normally, its recommended that a shop do this by removing remaining refrigerant into recycling equipment, leak testing by evacuating the empty system then refilling with the correct amount of R134a. This ensures a correct amount as R134a systems aren't as tolerant of over or under charging as R12 systems were.

If you buy and use a small dial type thermometer to stick into the center vents of the interior, you'll be able to monitor temperatures better. Buy only R134a without leak sealer. Refrain from magic cans purportedly claiming better efficiency with certain mixes. Unless you do the research, plain R134a with or without a pressure gauge is all that's needed. Using a pressure gauge is better as you'll see different readings the moment you plug in to the low side pressure port. All vehicle a/c systems using R134a deliberately make two sizes of ports to prevent the uninformed from attaching refill cans into the high side port (remember, 250psi when a/c is running). All store refill kits with hoses will only attach to the low side port. Yours is on the hose attached to the rear of the compressor. The high side port is near the battery (another reason to move this port away from the compressor for the uninformed) and is plumbed into the high pressure line after the condenser coil/filter/drier.

With a low pressure gauge and R134a ready for injecting into the system, connect the refill hose to the low side port next to the compressor, a/c ON, interior HVAC set to vent, fan on medium speed, thermometer in the vent, raise engine idle to 2k. Note the pressure reading. Now open the valve on the R134a can to feed gas into the system. Do not invert the can unless you know what can occur with feeding liquid R134a into the compressor. As engine speed sucks R134a out the can, the can will turn cold - immersing in a bucket of warm water will help transfer heat from water to warm the contents and stabilize internal can pressures. As temps drop the internal can pressure drops and slows feeding R134a into the system. Warm water is all that's needed.

Inject about half the can and stop to measure interior temps and gauge pressure. Guessing is about all you can do here as to how much R134a is needed. Caution is needed to prevent over filling a system so feeding in a few ounces at a time and stopping for a minute or so will allow the system to stabilize - the time to monitor interior temps. Ideally, at 2k rpm (and correlated with outside temps) low side pressure should be around 30-35 psi(no lower) while interior temps drops down to around 45F. Do not inject any more R134a to lower interior temps. This is where over filling can become hazardous with foolish ideas of more refrigerant to lower temps. It simply doesn't work this way. What will occur is a point of no return where temps begins to rise. The thermal expansion valve always regulates refrigerant to around 35F (always above freezing) that corresponds to about 30psi @2k rpm. The correct amount of R134a will allow cooling and no more. Adding more R134a above the amount needed simply raises the high pressure side above 250psi and loads the system down where the compressor drags. Adding just the right amount of R134 will lower interior temps until it stops while not over filling and raising the high pressure side.

If your compressor ran before but no cooling occurred then maybe a can will be more than sufficient. Once your system is cooling, drop the engine rpm back to idle, disconnect the refill can, replace and tighten the service valve caps and go for a drive. If you notice better cooling its because more air is flowing to cool off the condenser coil - another reason for not over filling when car movement adds to the cooling effect. Air forced through the condenser coils lowers high side pressures and allows better a/c efficiency to cool the interior quicker.

If this seems like a lot of information, you should read the correct procedures when using a full set of refrigeration gauges, vacuum pump, and temperature/pressure chart......

...
*The CPS is the heart of the entire EFI system. No cps = dead EFI system*
*There's more to a/c than just a few cans of refrigerant*
*There's more to brakes than just replacing parts*

Last edited by fdryer; 05-19-2012 at 11:50 AM..

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Old 05-19-2012, 05:08 PM   #4
manualman
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

It seems intimidatng, but it can be done right DIY without going broke.

Harbor Freight has a marginally acceptable manifold gage set that goes on sale for about $55. You also need a can tap as the HF set doesn't come with one (the set assumes you are using commercial grade tanks, not12oz Walmart refill cans). Then you need some way of evacuating the system.

I already had a Mightyvac hand vacuum pump from harbor freight I bought a couple years ago (~$35 IIRC) for bleeding brake calipers, changing PS fluid and a few other handy tasks. Since i was already practically out of r134a, I just blew it out to the atmosphere (get over it, this is the same stuff they use in keyboard cleaner and I never buy that. R12 was the nasty global warming stuff). I managed to rig the mightyvac to the manifold and pull 15 psi of vacuum which held steady for 1/2 an hour. i suspect my freon leaked out the fill cap schraeder valves and i bought new caps with Orings, cleaned up the fill nozzle seal surface good.

Put 2 full 12oz cans of r134a in and she's been good for a week now. So far..... Fdryers info is all 100% spot on, but it really isn't rocket science. Richpin DOES have a video for operating a manifold gage set and he shows you the high/low pressure specs by temperature, so look up that video.

It's hard to find cans that don't claim to be 'leak seal', but they are out there. i suspect PAG oil inherently has some leak seal capabilities with the rubber orings though. Good luck.

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Old 05-19-2012, 07:38 PM   #5
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Quote:
Originally Posted by manualman View Post
It seems intimidatng, but it can be done right DIY without going broke.

Harbor Freight has a marginally acceptable manifold gage set that goes on sale for about $55. You also need a can tap as the HF set doesn't come with one (the set assumes you are using commercial grade tanks, not12oz Walmart refill cans). Then you need some way of evacuating the system.

I already had a Mightyvac hand vacuum pump from harbor freight I bought a couple years ago (~$35 IIRC) for bleeding brake calipers, changing PS fluid and a few other handy tasks. Since i was already practically out of r134a, I just blew it out to the atmosphere (get over it, this is the same stuff they use in keyboard cleaner and I never buy that. R12 was the nasty global warming stuff). I managed to rig the mightyvac to the manifold and pull 15 psi of vacuum which held steady for 1/2 an hour. i suspect my freon leaked out the fill cap schraeder valves and i bought new caps with Orings, cleaned up the fill nozzle seal surface good.

Put 2 full 12oz cans of r134a in and she's been good for a week now. So far..... Fdryers info is all 100% spot on, but it really isn't rocket science. Richpin DOES have a video for operating a manifold gage set and he shows you the high/low pressure specs by temperature, so look up that video.

It's hard to find cans that don't claim to be 'leak seal', but they are out there. i suspect PAG oil inherently has some leak seal capabilities with the rubber orings though. Good luck.
PAG oil does not have any leak seal capabilities--in my experience, it's more prone to leaking than the older mineral oil. That's one of the reasons it's important to use mineral oil (R12 style) to lubricate the o-rings upon installation, instead of PAG oil, even in a r134a system.

Also, to properly evacuate and boil the moisture out of an a/c system, you need to pull very nearly a complete vacuum (at least 29"HG, where a full vacuum is something like 29.2"HG). I don't think you'll be able to do that with a hand pump. You can get a vacuum pump at harbor freight for about $100 that will be sufficient for the occasional small job (no, don't get the really cheap venturi effect (air compressor powered) one--that's not good enough). You need to keep the pump on for at least 15 minutes (but the longer the better). After that, close the gauges, and turn off the pump. Give it at least a half hour, but preferably overnight, to make sure it's not leaking (the compound (low side) gauge should stay at 29inHG). Once you verify that it holds vacuum, attach the can of R134a to the yellow hose. Loosen the hose at the gauge, for just a second, to purge the air (tighten it as soon as you hear/see refrigerant coming out). You can charge into both the high and low side simultaneously, at first. Hold the can upside down, so you get a liquid, and heat it in a cup of hot water (not boiling, though). Once it stops charging, close the high-side gauge valve, turn the can right side up, start the car, and turn on the a/c. Raise the rpm to 2000, and continue to heat the can of refrigerant in the hot water--this should suck very nearly all of the refrigerant out. Close the low-side valve while the a/c is still on, and before lowering the rpm to an idle. Attach the next can. Depending on the size of the cans, you may not need all of it (you add it by weight). Assuming this is the case, you'll need a scale to weight it as you gradually add refrigerant. Too much is worse than too little, so don't go crazy!

Be careful to never operate the system with both valves open. You can only charge to the high side when the system is off. With the a/c on, never tip the can upside-down. This could result in sucking liquid into the compressor (similar to hydro-locking an engine).

The warmer the can is, the better, but don't get it terribly hot, and don't use an open flame or anything like that to heat it--a cup of hot water works well.

Finally, R12 was not banned because of its global warming potential--it was banned because it was destroying the ozone layer (still controversial--I'm not sure if I believe it or not). R134a, on the other hand, does contribute significantly to global warming--that's why it's in the process of being banned (already banned in Europe). R1234yf will most likely be the refrigerant of choice in US cars very soon (despite the fact that it's more flammable than the "supposedly dangerous" hydrocarbon based R134a/R12 substitutes like ES12a).

If you need to get rid of some, there's a good chance an independent shop will do it for free or for very little money: it's very little work, with the right equipment, and then they have it to reuse (it's not cheap...)

...
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Old 05-20-2012, 07:38 AM   #6
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Wow. I was hopening that this was going to be a really simple/quick job. I thought the gague on the can would be more than enough. Sounds like this is really a royal pain in the rear!

Not sure what my car idles at, but if I do it I'm a 1 man operation, so I would just have to let the car idle and go from there.

I surely don't want the can or compressor exploding on me...... Dang, I just don't know what to do. I suppose I could call around and ask how much various garages charge to do this.

My car gets cool, but not COLD like when it was new.

...
2002 SL1, manual, SOHC (VIN 8) with 144,000 miles as of 10/01/11.
Former - 1994 SL 212,000 miles (great car!)
.....
Step daughter HAD 1998 SL1, Wife HAD 1999 DOHC (VIN 7) SL2

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Old 05-20-2012, 09:13 AM   #7
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Before you start all this stick a thermometer in the central registers, run the car to 2500 rpm, turn on ac, recirc, and fan at speed 3. Record the value from the thermometer, outside temp and humidity and report your results.

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Old 05-20-2012, 11:43 AM   #8
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2002SaturnMan View Post
Not sure what my car idles at, but if I do it I'm a 1 man operation, so I would just have to let the car idle and go from there.
You need to raise the rpm a bit to get any sort of accurate readings. It's not hard, even by yourself: just open the throttle a bit, by hand (easily reached from under the hood). The exact rpm isn't terribly specific: as long as you're above 1500 and not excessively high, you should be fine. Even without the tachometer, it should be easy to keep it somewhere between 1500 and 2500rpm, just by the sound.

At idle, the compressor is turning too slowly to perform at full capacity, so any readings (temperature or pressure) are virtually useless.

There is plenty of information out there (youtube, various forums, etc). Be careful, though--there is also a lot of misinformation, particularly with regards to working on a/c systems.

When in doubt, ask first, before you do something (even if you think it's a stupid question).

The first step, before you do anything else, is to get some pressure and temperature readings and do a visual inspections (make sure the fan is working, and that the condenser/radiator is not restricted by dirt, bugs, or plastic bags). Note the ambient temperature and humidity, too: the warmer and/or more humid it is, the higher the high side pressure and duct air temperature will be.

Pressure testing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9yv0euT7xA
Electrical diagnostics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMM80xlon3U

...
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Old 05-20-2012, 02:07 PM   #9
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2002SaturnMan View Post
Wow. I was hopening that this was going to be a really simple/quick job. I thought the gague on the can would be more than enough. Sounds like this is really a royal pain in the rear!
The safety warnings are posted to give ample warning to anyone foolish enough to assume its perfectly safe to recharge any car a/c system. Not.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2002SaturnMan View Post
Not sure what my car idles at, but if I do it I'm a 1 man operation, so I would just have to let the car idle and go from there.
If you aren't familiar enough to rev the engine from under the hood then you may be getting in over your head. Your throttle body uses a large cam/cable operated throttle plate. Use some imagination to 'adjust' the idle speed to 2k rpm. If you cannot do this then either have a friend or neighbor help or stop and turn to a pro shop.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2002SaturnMan View Post
I surely don't want the can or compressor exploding on me...... Dang, I just don't know what to do. I suppose I could call around and ask how much various garages charge to do this.

My car gets cool, but not COLD like when it was new.
There's no harm admitting when to stop when its confusing. Making mistakes being frustrated is not a good place to be with a revving engine and fumbling with unfamiliar equipment while trying to repair your a/c system. There's never any rush to do this. Only another day without a/c and dressing for it. If this seems more than what you want then you always have the option to think things over and come back to it another day or simply go to a pro shop. There are always choices....................

...
*The CPS is the heart of the entire EFI system. No cps = dead EFI system*
*There's more to a/c than just a few cans of refrigerant*
*There's more to brakes than just replacing parts*

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Old 05-20-2012, 02:20 PM   #10
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Thank you. I probably won't do this till next weekend....... but first I will need to figure out how to "Open the throttle a bit, by hand".... Where is this located and how do I do it?

Thank you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by PlasticCarsRock View Post
You need to raise the rpm a bit to get any sort of accurate readings. It's not hard, even by yourself: just open the throttle a bit, by hand (easily reached from under the hood). The exact rpm isn't terribly specific: as long as you're above 1500 and not excessively high, you should be fine. Even without the tachometer, it should be easy to keep it somewhere between 1500 and 2500rpm, just by the sound.

At idle, the compressor is turning too slowly to perform at full capacity, so any readings (temperature or pressure) are virtually useless.

There is plenty of information out there (youtube, various forums, etc). Be careful, though--there is also a lot of misinformation, particularly with regards to working on a/c systems.

When in doubt, ask first, before you do something (even if you think it's a stupid question).

The first step, before you do anything else, is to get some pressure and temperature readings and do a visual inspections (make sure the fan is working, and that the condenser/radiator is not restricted by dirt, bugs, or plastic bags). Note the ambient temperature and humidity, too: the warmer and/or more humid it is, the higher the high side pressure and duct air temperature will be.

Pressure testing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9yv0euT7xA
Electrical diagnostics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMM80xlon3U

...
2002 SL1, manual, SOHC (VIN 8) with 144,000 miles as of 10/01/11.
Former - 1994 SL 212,000 miles (great car!)
.....
Step daughter HAD 1998 SL1, Wife HAD 1999 DOHC (VIN 7) SL2

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Old 05-20-2012, 02:23 PM   #11
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertGary1 View Post
Before you start all this stick a thermometer in the central registers, run the car to 2500 rpm, turn on ac, recirc, and fan at speed 3. Record the value from the thermometer, outside temp and humidity and report your results.
What kind of thermometer do I need (what's it called) and can I get one at AutoZone or Advanced Auto Parts?

Thank you.

...
2002 SL1, manual, SOHC (VIN 8) with 144,000 miles as of 10/01/11.
Former - 1994 SL 212,000 miles (great car!)
.....
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Old 05-20-2012, 02:37 PM   #12
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2002SaturnMan View Post
Thank you. I probably won't do this till next weekend....... but first I will need to figure out how to "Open the throttle a bit, by hand".... Where is this located and how do I do it?

Thank you.
Watch the video I gave you a link for... richpin shows how to do it: I typically just hold it a bit open, but using a shim to hold it slightly open will certainly make things easier, because then you have both hands to work with.

No offense, but if you find that step difficult, you are in way over your head. You might want to take it to someone with more experience, or at least try to find someone with a bit of automotive experience to help you.

Working on the a/c is not hard when you know what you're doing, but it's certainly not how you start out working on cars...

If you do something wrong, you could very easily ruin the compressor (which can cost over $1000 to have a shop replace). Or, even worse, you could end up with an injection wound: high pressure refrigerant forced through your skin=very bad. Whatever you do, be sure to wear safety glasses, and gloves wouldn't be a bad idea, either (if you spill refrigerant on yourself, it can cause frost-bite because it will boil very fast, becoming very cold).

And finally, if you do end up venting any refrigerant on purpose (I don't recommend it, but that's what most people do...), or even accidentally, if anyone sees what you're doing and the EPA finds out, you will get some pretty serious fines ($25,000 is standard, I believe). Keep that in mind if you have any nosey neighbors.

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2002SaturnMan View Post
What kind of thermometer do I need (what's it called) and can I get one at AutoZone or Advanced Auto Parts?

Thank you.
Any thermometer with a probe that will tell you the temperature of the air coming out the vents... I usually use a multimeter temperature probe (thermocouple) because they respond very fast, but you can use any type of thermometer with an external sensor: the "dial with a stem on the back" type used in the video is the most common type used in a/c work, but there are plenty of alternatives. For example, if you have one of those battery powered indoor/outdoor thermometers (wired, not wireless), you can just stick the "outdoor" sensor a few inches inside the vent. If you don't have anything that will work, you can pick up one (like in the video) at most auto parts stores.

Some thermometers may take longer to respond than others, so make sure you wait until the temperature reading stops going down.

...
High compression build: .033" shaved/ported head, flat-faced valves; gen3 rods, pistons, tie-plate; OE header, custom CAI, SDA street cams with adjustable sprockets, WBO2, SAFCII, LSD. ASE A1-A8+L1

Last edited by PlasticCarsRock; 05-20-2012 at 02:48 PM..

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Old 05-20-2012, 04:17 PM   #13
lil_buddy
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

I would totally pay someone to service my ac, but how do you know the mechanic is going to follow the proper procedure and not just pump some refrigerant (possibly with some sort of leak stopper) in there?

I guess this is the same question as "How do you find a trustworthy mechanic?" The answer, as far as I can tell, is: you can only judge by becoming knowledgable enough to do the repairs yourself. Sigh

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Old 05-20-2012, 08:56 PM   #14
aaron95sl2
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Quote:
Originally Posted by lil_buddy View Post
"How do you find a trustworthy mechanic?" The answer, as far as I can tell, is: you can only judge by becoming knowledgable enough to do the repairs yourself. Sigh
Best car repair advice ever.

...
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Old 05-21-2012, 12:57 PM   #15
porphyre
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Default Re: 2002 SL1 - How do I recharge the A/C system

Quote:
Originally Posted by lil_buddy View Post
I guess this is the same question as "How do you find a trustworthy mechanic?" The answer, as far as I can tell, is: you can only judge by becoming knowledgable enough to do the repairs yourself. Sigh
Totally off topic, but... RACING.

There are amateur SCCA, NASA, PCA, etc autocross and track day events all over the country. You get to know folks.

I've only been doing it 6 years, but I've got a transmission guy, Honda guy, Toyota guy, wheel/tire guy, alignment guy, and a body work guy. I do most of my own work but if anything gets complicated, I have a guy for it.

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