Starting November 1992, sale of small 12-ounce cans of R-12 refrigerant will be restricted to certified professionals only. Some states have also passed "can ban" legislation of their own that outlaws or restricts the sale of the small cans to professionals as well as do-it-yourselfers. Check with state officials for what applies in your area. Keeping current on local mandates is important.
Such laws do not necessarily mean do-it-yourselfers will no longer be able to buy refrigerant to recharge their own A/C systems. A loophole in the federal law still permits the sale of the small cans of refrigerant that contain dye for leak detection purposes.
As the deadline approaches, here is what will happen; most retail parts stores will probably dispose of their existing inventories of R-12 refrigerant to effectively prevent the sale of small cans to noncertified professionals. Traditional parts stores will likely move their R-12 cans to the back shelf and sell it by request only to their professional clientele (who usually buy 30 pound bulk containers anyway).
The new restrictions are a result of the new Clean Air Act that became a law back in November 1990. To reduce the amount of CFCs that are being released into the atmosphere, Congress decided to (1) phase out R-12 and replace it with a more ozone-friendly refrigerant, (2) require professional automotive service technicians to become certified in refrigerant recovery and recycling techniques, (3) require automotive service shops that do A/C work to buy recovery/recycling equipment, and (4) restrict the sale of small cans of refrigerant to professionals only to discourage people from recharging leaky A/C systems.
By making R-12 unavailable to the general public, people will be forced to take their cars to a professional for service. The professional, in turn, will find and fix their leaks before recharging their A/C system with refrigerant, recover and recycle their old refrigerant, and save the ozone from destruction.
Here is what is happening today. Mechanics are getting certified in huge numbers and shops are buying and using the required recovery/recycling equipment. R-12 production will end in this country by the end of 1995, but it will probably continue to be produced in Third World countries, which may lead to a black market in R-12.
Car makers are starting to phase in the new generation of A/C systems using ozone friendly (and expensive) R-134a refrigerant. Everybody is wondering what will happen to the market price of R-12 as supplies dwindle and there are no direct drop-in substitutes available. Several under development do not yet have industry approval.
R-134a cannot be used in place of R-12 in existing A/C systems without expensive modifications. Compressor oils that the two different refrigerants use are totally incompatible. An R-12 system would have to be thoroughly cleaned prior to converting to R-134a. Different pressure switches would also be required and possibly different hoses and other parts.