Lost My AC and Some Self-Esteem

Junk in the Frunk

AC junk in the SW20 frunk: (A) Low side port, (B) Refrigerant sightglass, and (C) High side port.

Around April I turned on the air conditioning for the first time this year in my Toyota MR2. Have you ever had that experience where the initial result was lukewarm airflow?  Then you’re in denial. You wait a little longer to let it “cool down” thinking maybe it will take a few minutes. Of course it doesn’t.

Then you’re kind of sweaty and feeling a tinge of guilt for not having paid more attention to maintenance. Guilt gives way to remorse, “Oh, I should have… turned it on more often. Or had it checked. Or…”. Then you think the worst, “It can’t be fixed. It will cost too much. Parts aren’t available and no one knows how to fix these old systems anymore. I’ll have to buy a new car.”

You start shopping in your mind and mourning the loss of your car while you’re still driving it, “If I had to buy another car it won’t be the same. I’ll never find another car like this one. It’s the only one in the world for me.”

Finally, despair sets in when you see even the sorry excuse of a new econobox with the too high seating position in the next lane at the stoplight has cold air conditioning. And a cupholder.

The whole situation makes you somehow feel like less of a man for not having air conditioning, and you serve yourself a dish of self-loathing with a helping of low self-esteem on the side for good measure.

So what did I do about it, this lack of air conditioning? After procrastinating about it from that  warm day in April until June when, fortunately the weather was fairly cool in between, I couldn’t take it any more and decided to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and actually address the problem.

The back story on this car is that it originally came with R12 refrigerant back in the heady days of 1991, a substance which is no longer available due to something about the ozone layer. I had the AC compressor changed and the system converted to R134a in 2011. All has been well since with the exception of needing a recharge of refrigerant some time around 2013.

So to fix it this time my first step was to ask, “What would Toyota do?” and go through the AC troubleshooting section of my trusty factory service manual. While I freely admit I didn’t exactly go through the fault tree as specified, I picked all the low hanging fruit I could such as checking the fuses and sight glass for the refrigerant line.

It seemed pretty obvious there wasn’t much refrigerant so I didn’t bother with the things I couldn’t easily check on a muggy weeknight with the back half of the car hanging out of the garage with the engine idling.

Then I rolled over to the nearby auto parts store I know a little too well and bought a can of refrigerant with the hose for recharging the car. I followed all the instructions but, wouldn’t you know it, the valves wouldn’t fit the ports in my car. It had different sized fittings.

Most of the time the temperature is fine since I usually leave for work before it gets really warm and the car is garaged both at home and the office. Then after work I usually go to the gym, so I’m a hot mess when I drive home anyway.

But the next morning was hotter than hell as I drove to work in my mobile sauna. So I called a good shop I knew of and was able to swing by on the way to the office. For $90 they recharged my AC and had it blowing cold again.

Apparently the fittings were never changed when the system was converted to R134a. The shop did warn me though that anything else that went wrong with the AC system would be hard to repair. But I’ll wait until next time to catastrophize again. Though maybe in the mean time I’ll turn on the AC more often to check if it’s cold.

Until then I can continue to neurotically drive down the road listening for something other than the AC to go wrong.

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