The Risks of Hydrocarbon Refrigerant Blends

May 2011, - Feature

SHARING TOOLS        | Print Subscribe
When the temperatures warm up, it's a good time to remind technicians and drivers about the dangers associated with hydrocarbon refrigerants being sold as cheap substitutes for R-134a and R-12.

Marketed under names like HC-12a, OZ-12, DURACOOL 12a, and EC-12a, these hydrocarbon blends may contain high quantities of propane, isobutane, and other highly flammable gases.

"These products are sold online and at flea markets as direct replacements for SNAP-approved refrigerants," says Gary Hansen, vice president of Red Dot Corp. Based in Seattle, Red Dot designs and manufactures heating and air-conditioning systems, components, and replacement parts for heavy trucks and other commercial vehicles.

SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that evaluates a refrigerant's ozone-depleting potential, global warming potential, flammability, and toxicity. The EPA has banned hydrocarbons as a replacement for R-12 in motor vehicles. Many states have made them illegal.

"Many consumers aren't aware of the hazards these cheap hydrocarbon blends pose to themselves and technicians who service their vehicles," Hansen says.

Hydrocarbon blends are highly flammable and in a confined space may burn or explode in the presence of an open flame, spark, or cigarette. No vehicle manufacturer has endorsed or authorized the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants in its current-production A/C systems, according to Red Dot. They can degrade gaskets and hoses designed for R-134a or R-12, making leaks more likely. Use them and you'll void the warranty.

Technicians should check for A/C system leaks before making an inspection or repair that requires an ignition source (or may generate one). "Use well-maintained, properly calibrated tools to identify refrigerants and sniff for leaks," Hansen adds.

"If you service A/C systems, test for these refrigerants and educate your customers about the dangers of flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants so they know to avoid them," Hansen says. "If you operate a motor vehicle and notice decreased A/C performance, stay away from cheap 'substitute' refrigerants and contact a certified and experienced mobile HVAC technician. He'll have the expertise and equipment to diagnose the problem and address it."

For more information, the EPA has a web page devoted to questions about these refrigerants here. For a list of acceptable substitutes, click here.


  1. 1. Allan [ July 06, 2013 @ 12:57PM ]

    As a mechanical refrigeration mechanic, all I can say is BULL, I have made and retrofitted systems with R-290 (propane) and ultra low systems using ethylene pentane and butane, and I my self use a hydrocarbon blend in my truck, to make them burn you have to be one incompetent technician! or the customer or previous person did not label! (But this again falls back to being a competent tech and checking the system! )

  2. 2. Bill Worthington [ April 13, 2015 @ 01:59AM ]

    I concur. Just media hype. I run blends only in my well-serviced classic vehicles. After making adjustments to my block txv and subcooling, My system is only running 8 or 9 ounces of blend. Right now, at my desk I am looking at a 5.5 oz butane lighter refill can. With the lower molecular, higher boiling point and so on... I cannot understand the big concern from all of the talking heads. R134a is combustible as well. When ruptured--Eg engine compartment it will release pressure more violently and for longer than a similarly charged HC system. There are are many inherent risk that are involved in the use of automobiles. Personally, I think that using the equivalent (in weight not blend) of 2 of these little cans on my desk carries about the same explosive potential of a can of the old ladies hair spray. People will think that it is crazy to put such a "brew" into a system. I don't because I have done the math, and I understand the risk that every time I step into my vehicle and turn that key, that there are all kinds of risk involved. All of which supersede the risk 9oz of "hair spray". I am more concerned with non-drivers and other talking head who are more concerned with Googling "The dangers of Hydrocarbons" so that they can write another industry-sponsored ad for a nonsense publication. Publish date 2011. 4 years later and only two responses.

  3. 3. Brian [ June 20, 2016 @ 06:15PM ]

    I'll be if fall the people who complain about using hc12a didn't have ac in their car or office, they wouldn't care what was used to get cool. They just like to bitch when others use it

  4. 4. Mike [ October 13, 2016 @ 10:45AM ]

    Well I can see using some additional precautions and especially making people aware that the refrigerant is flammable, but to act like it's a new danger seems a bit overboard. After all we've used flammable gases for heating for a long time without a lot of major issues and cars use gasoline that as dangerous if not more so than these vaporous gases. Truthfully I think this is just the industry milking the fluorocarbons as long as they can to try and make money getting people to have to buy new equipment.

  5. 5. Jason [ June 13, 2017 @ 02:37AM ]

    Yet *another* example of scare mongering by dupont sponsored A/C "advisors". What absolute BS about degrading gaskets & hoses. It is slightly more efficient, and has nowhere even near the level of environmentally damaging effect that HFC's and HCFC's do.
    The only reason 'they' are against it is because 'they' don't sell it (or have a patent to milk money from people that do).
    Additionally (at least in Australia), you need a licence to buy & install HFC A/C gas, but not so for HC A/C gas. Cheaper to buy & cheaper to install. The only downside is that licenced A/C techs generally know what they are doing, wheras an unlicenced HC gas "installer" may not. Using someone who knows their' stuff is exactly the same for plumbing, electrical work, and many other professions.
    As for being "dangerous', that is just hogwash. What about the 50 to 100 litres of petrol/gasoline (or LP gas) sitting behind your back seat that is being pumped at high pressure (fuel injected vehicles) straight into the engine bay?
    In summary, what a load of industry sponsored bull.

  6. 6. Miker [ June 23, 2017 @ 12:23PM ]

    Investigators in London indicate that the Grenfell Tower fire was caused by a malfunctioning Hotpoint fridge/freezer combo that used a HC refrigerant - Isobutane. 79 people were killed.

  7. 7. Enginerd [ August 12, 2017 @ 10:25PM ]

    While true that the source of the Grenfell Tower fire was a refrigerator/freezer, there is *NO* indication that the refrigerant was the cause as opposed to an electrical short.

    There is actually a focus on the flammability of the plastic and insulation on the back wall of those units and to the best my knowledge based on multiple published reports, none on the refrigerant used. The high fatality rate has been similarly blamed on the flammability of the external cladding of the tower.


Comment On This Story

Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.


We offer e-newsletters that deliver targeted news and information for the entire fleet industry.


ELDs and Telematics

sponsored by
sponsor logo

Scott Sutarik from Geotab will answer your questions and challenges

View All

Sleeper Cab Power

Steve Carlson from Xantrex will answer your questions and challenges

View All