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General E46 Forum
This is the place to get answers, opinions and everything you need related to your E46 (sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon) BMW!

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Old 06-07-2010, 08:25 AM   #1
plinknatord
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Exclamation Think Twice Before Deciding to Recharge AC Yourself!

Fellow Fanatics,

Here is a cautionary tale based upon my own experience. A year ago my AC was blowing warm air out of the center-right vent and barely cool air out the center-left. After reading up on the forum I recharged the system using R134 from Autozone. I followed the instructions to the letter and to my joy I had nice cool air blowing out the vents. However I also noticed that the radiator fan was running faster than before and that the AC compressor was making a bit of a whining sound when engaged. I didn't think much of it at the time (hindsight mistake #1).

Fast forward to two weeks ago. AC was starting to run warm again. I hooked up the hose from the recharge kit I'd used the year before, made a measurement, and sure enough it showed that the low-side pressure was low. Bought a refill can and reused the same hose (hindsight mistake #2). Followed directions, but this time the after dumping most of the can into the system the kit's pressure gauge never made it up to the "properly filled" mark. I got a bit nervous about that and decided to stop filling. The system was blowing cooler air, but not cold. Fan was running fast and whine was louder than ever. I concluded that there was a good chance I overfilled the system. I did not immediately turn off the AC (hindsight mistake #3).

I disconnected the refill hose from the low side fan and as I was replacing the cap the engine stalled. AC compressor had siezed. S%#t.

In hindsight I would guess my AC system was slightly overcharged since the first refill a year ago. This probably started wearing out the compressor. This year's refill drove it to failure.

I decided that DIYing the repairs was not for me. Having fu*&ed it up in the first place I recognized that I didn't really know what the hell I was doing in the first place when it came to AC so this time I'd have a pro fix it. Went to a trusted indie near my work. Got the compressor replaced, and also had them change out the expansion valve and dryer. They also fully evacuated & flushed & refilled the AC system. Interestingly, they did not find any leaks, so I'm baffled as to why the system was having trouble to begin with. Total bill $1200.

Lessons learned:

1) The pressure gauges on R134 refill kits can be very inaccurate. Problem is that you don't know if you're gonna get a good one or a bad one. I got a bad one and it facilitated overcharging the system. With a very expensive result.
2) I will never again attempt to repair or recharge the AC system. I've DIY'ed almost everything else on my car, from shocks to brakes, water pumps to CCV valves. But I will NOT touch the AC. That I'll leave to the pros who have the right equipment and know-how.
3) Even with all of this I STILL LOVE MY E46!

Happy motoring!
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Old 06-07-2010, 08:37 AM   #2
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OUCH. I was thinking of doing this myself.
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Old 06-07-2010, 09:29 AM   #3
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I doubt the gauges are that inaccurate. Instead they're not measuring what you need to measure to properly fill up your AC system.
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Old 06-07-2010, 09:32 AM   #4
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Did you follow this DIY? Because I'm in need of a recharge and thought this was pretty simple.

http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthr...ghlight=ac+diy
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Old 06-07-2010, 09:36 AM   #5
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I doubt the gauges are that inaccurate. Instead they're not measuring what you need to measure to properly fill up your AC system.
If so, then the recharge kits are useless at best, dangerous at worst.
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Old 06-07-2010, 09:38 AM   #6
plinknatord
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Originally Posted by joeski3d View Post
Did you follow this DIY? Because I'm in need of a recharge and thought this was pretty simple.

http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showthr...ghlight=ac+diy
No that DIY was created this year. I did my first recharge last year. But the process I used was essentially the same.
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Old 06-07-2010, 09:38 AM   #7
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OP might have a good point, I know that mechanics can specialize in AC repair...so there must be some more to it than we assume?
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Old 06-07-2010, 09:38 AM   #8
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here is one I wrote a longtime ago. This is using a pro-set of gauges I do not trust those ready made fill cans.

This is what I do when I do not have access or am too far from my A/C machine.
Link to a/c fill
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Old 06-07-2010, 09:51 AM   #9
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My ac unit has seized too , but not from over/underfilling ... i hit a ramp off a ferry and somehow it made the AC go bye bye
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Old 06-07-2010, 10:02 AM   #10
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OP, sorry this happened. AC is one area I won't touch.. not because I don't know how to work on it, but because I do not have the proper tool to service it. You really need a professional AC service machine to work on our cars.
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Old 06-07-2010, 10:17 AM   #11
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I have never had a problem charging a system. Maybe something was actually wrong with your system to begin with. Maybe the compressor was bad, maybe the compressor itself was leaking, valve was clogged, oring bad, had a problem with the drier or too much moisture was in the system which will turn into acid spelling doom. It almost sounds like the system was too low from a leak that progressively got worse and your bearing was not getting the lubrication that it needed and seized.

As soon as your air starts to get warm or you hear a noise you need to have it diagnosed by DIY or by a shop. Not something you can wait on.

http://www.aa1car.com/library/ac_recharging.htm
http://www.aa1car.com/library/ac98.htm

Last edited by 02330XI; 06-07-2010 at 10:32 AM.
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Old 06-07-2010, 10:21 AM   #12
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The only proper way to "recharge" R134a is to reclaim the refrigerant, evacuate the system and install the proper amount of refrigerant by weight. R134a is very senstive to the proper charge, regardless of pressure readings. IMHO, no way can you properly charge the system by going off the pressures. The pressures will let you know that a blockage is present or that you are overcharging the system...but only if you have both a high and low side reading.

I think the OP's compressor had an issue as the compressors have relief valves to protect against (too) high head pressures.
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Old 06-07-2010, 10:33 AM   #13
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I recharged mine a year ago and haven't had an issue
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Old 06-07-2010, 10:54 AM   #14
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And or roll down your windows. AC is for pussies.

Seriously though lesson learned, I will not do this, thank you.
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Old 06-07-2010, 10:57 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by iansanderson View Post
OP, sorry this happened. AC is one area I won't touch.. not because I don't know how to work on it, but because I do not have the proper tool to service it. You really need a professional AC service machine to work on our cars.
+1

Our cars can accommodate 720 grams of R134a.
There is no way you can figure out how much of the gas you have left without evacuating the system first.
http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showpos...1&postcount=18

It is impossible to properly charge the system without A/C machine.
If you try to do it yourself with those cheap ass cans, there is a really good chance you will overfill.
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Old 06-07-2010, 11:27 AM   #16
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another way...

Another way to caution DIY-ers about this would be if an EPA inspector, perhaps living in one's neighborhood, was to see someone messing with their a/c system and venting gas, etc. would be to fine them the $30K amount.

Fortunately, the two or three inspectors for the whole of the US are down at the Gulf up to their asses in oil...

Vent On! Wayne... Vent On, Garth.
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Old 06-07-2010, 11:36 AM   #17
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sound like op did it wrong. just sayin
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Old 06-07-2010, 11:45 AM   #18
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maybe OP should have added some oil to the system and not just refrigerant? Not an expert tho so I will prob take to the indie when the time comes. Glad she still blows ice cubes though
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Old 06-07-2010, 11:53 AM   #19
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whew...glad no one mentioned my DIY.

Sorry to hear that happened. The BMW E46 AC system is very fickle and tricky. I only did my DIY recharge because my friend who works on AC systems and has been recharging his 2004 325i AC system every year since 2006 with no issues. I have been recharging every summer since 2008 with no issues.

Basically in regions where the winter is long like 4-8 months and the AC system is dormant the metal and rubber containment system of the AC expands and contracts and some freon is lossed as a result.

That is NORMAL on all cars and it doesn't affect the AC on a normal car but the E46 systems seem to react dramatically fooling the owner into thinking he has no Freon when indeed there is plenty of Freon locked in the system.

(Think of a cup of water that is full to the brim. This is the AC system at the factory, now make the cup bigger but don't add anymore water. there is now less water in the cup. This is the AC system in the beginning of summer. Now this is when the BMW system picks up that there is not enough freon (when in fact there is enough) and starts blowing warm and cool air out. Now you refill the system to bring in ice cold air again. Like adding water to the cup that got bigger so the cup stays filled. Now say the cup shrinks back down to the original size. This is your AC system in the winter months. What we get is an overflow of water when the cup shrinks back to the original size. Or in our case the AC system becomes overfilled as pressure is tighter.) I suspect this is what is happening to the E46 system, that is why I never recharge pass the blue zone or I only recharge up to say 99.5% and not all the way to 100%)


That is why I called my DIY "AC System Troubleshoot and Recharge [as in recharge if necessary]"

You need to understand why you are recharging your car and you need to know that recharging doesn't ALWAY mean you are recharging an empty system. I even state that in my DIY where I show that the gauge showed my system was filled but on the low end of filled (ie if the fill zone is 99% to 100% on a scale where 50% is empty and %100 is full then my system had %99.0001 and I refilled it to %99.5999).

That is why I say the BMW E46 system reacts dramatically to slight changes in the system
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Last edited by delmarco; 06-07-2010 at 12:00 PM.
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Old 06-07-2010, 12:15 PM   #20
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+1

Our cars can accommodate 720 grams of R134a.
There is no way you can figure out how much of the gas you have left without evacuating the system first.
http://forum.e46fanatics.com/showpos...1&postcount=18

It is impossible to properly charge the system without A/C machine.
If you try to do it yourself with those cheap ass cans, there is a really good chance you will overfill.
I agree with you and ian. Based on my experience, refilling it on your own is like playing russian roulette. Maybe it'll be OK, but if not then kiss $$$$ goodbye.
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