Buying a new refrigerant recovery/recycle/recharge machine can be a bit overwhelming. The item is expensive and complicated, and there are a lot of choices out there. Each manufacturer has a compelling story to tell about why its machine is the only logical choice. Hopefully the following article will help you make a good decision for your particular needs.
I think it’s important to note that like most things in life, every choice is a bit of a compromise. RRR machines are as varied in their design and configuration as the vehicles you work on every day. No one knows better than you that there isn’t one vehicle that is perfect for every application. Take for instance that beautiful HD pickup truck with the big V8 gas engine or maybe a stout diesel engine. That truck is an awesome hauling machine. If the customer needs to carry a big load or pull a large trailer, it’s the perfect choice. However, if the need is a nimble vehicle that is adept in heavy urban traffic and small, congested areas, well, then it may not be the best choice.
Refrigerant recovery machines are much like the above example. You may find the controls of one machine to be much more to your liking than another. Perhaps the display on one is easier for you to read. The smallest thing can be important to you while the next technician or user may find that issue to be a non-issue.
Before we jump into the things to look for when buying a machine, I want to talk a bit about your role in selecting new equipment. This magazine is geared toward the men and women who make their livings turning wrenches. You keep the country moving by fixing the things that many of us cannot. (Thank you!) So, you may be asking yourself why do I care about this, I am not the one who is going to buy the machine. What a great question, thanks for asking! First of all, some of you reading this article wear all the hats at your shop. You greet the customer, diagnose the problem, order the parts, fix the vehicle, collect the payment, pay the bills, and in your spare time, you buy new equipment. Wow! If that describes you, this article is definitely for you.
For those of you who don’t buy the machine, you still may want to hang in there with me, and here is why: At the end of the day, it’s you who is going to live with whatever decision the boss makes. If the machine can’t do what you need it to do, it will cost you time and money. Another great reason to read on is that if your boss-owner is smart, they know enough to pay attention to the technicians who work for them.
So let’s get to it! Here are the things that I recommend when deciding what refrigerant RRR equipment your shop needs.
1. Volume — How big is your shop? How many vehicles will you see a day when the thermometer hits 90°? If you’re a one-bay shop, then obviously one machine is plenty. The slowest machine out there may be fine for your needs. If you’re a high-volume shop, even the speediest machine may not be able to keep up. So do your homework; look back over last year’s business and get a number in your head. How many vehicles a day?
2. Vehicle Types — This one is easy enough. Are you a general service facility? Do you only service cars and light trucks? Do you work on limos? Do you work on dual system SUVs that have larger capacity systems?
3. Refrigerant Types — This is a hot button right now in the industry and probably the most common reason people are considering buying a new machine. There have been reams of paper and gazillions of gigabytes of memory used up talking about the newest refrigerant and will they or won’t they implement it in cars. As of this writing, the best answer is: who knows?
For the last two years we’ve watched this drama unfold and change on a daily basis. R-1234yf was going to be the silver bullet that stopped the destruction of the ozone layer. The OEMs all held hands and said “OK! We are on board with this new refrigerant.” The wheels started turning, new systems, equipment, protocols for handling, new plants were developed everything was humming along. Like many times, the newest technology was implemented first in the high-end vehicles; mostly European and one domestic maker. Whoops! Along comes a new report out of left field: “It’s dangerous,” a major OEM says. “Not in our cars, not going to use it!” (Talk about the wheels coming off the bus!)
What does all this mean to the average shop owner trying to make a good decision? My best answer is: maybe nothing! Here’s why I say that: even if the carmakers play nice and agree to move forward with
R-1234yf, it may be years before you see one in your bay. Of course, for dealer technicians it could be sooner, but the reality is that the OEM is going to decide what machine you use anyway, good or bad.
Another reality is that there are millions of cars on the road today with R-134a on board. Those are the cars that matter to the vast majority of you reading this article.
In conclusion on this point, ask your supplier about multiple refrigerants, and what their strategy is for R-1234yf.
4. Service Time — This one is easy. How long will it take from hook up to disconnect on a standard mid-size vehicle? This includes recovery, evacuation, pressure testing and recharge. What is the flow rate to recharge a vehicle? These are easy questions that your equipment seller should be able to answer.
5. Capacity — How much refrigerant can the machine hold? This includes new virgin refrigerant as well as recovered material. Ask about internal versus external tanks and their volumes.
6. Automation — How many times must you return to the machine to turn a knob, flip a switch, accept a reading, etc.? Time is the enemy, fewer interruptions means more money!
7. Information — Does the machine have a database for capacities, charging locations and other critical information?
8. Maintenance — Does the machine offer alarms or reminders about changing the filters? How are the filters changed? Does your seller stock the filters?
9. Set-up and Training — Does the seller offer free set up and training on the equipment? This is a must and a deal breaker for many.
10. Plumbing — How does the machine control the flow of refrigerant? There are two main methods: solenoids and electro-mechanical valves. Both of these have pros and cons. In most cases, solenoids are field serviceable. Some valve controls may have to go to a service facility in the event of failure. Ask about construction. This can affect serviceability and speed.
11. Tech Support — Is there a toll-free support line with knowledgeable help? Ask around regarding what kind of experiences other users have had working with the suppliers. Bad service can also be a death sentence. In the middle of July, you can’t afford to be on the phone for hours hunting down help for a broken machine.
12. Service Provider — Ask who works on the machines in your area. Call them! Ask questions. What breaks? How long to fix? Would they buy the machine you are considering?
13. Cost — This is almost always the last thing I list. You’re buying a piece of equipment to make a living with. Is saving a few dollars really the best decision? There is a popular quote: “The bitterness of poor quality quickly ruins the sweetness of a great deal.”
I hope that some of these thoughts will help you make a better, more informed decision when purchasing your new refrigerant RRR equipment.
Want more? Check out this video:
Practical Tips for HVAC Repairs
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