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Old 08-27-2018, 05:33 PM   #1
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Air Conditioning Smoke Bomb!

The ride: 2003 E-350, 5.8 V8, with Starcool AC.

The issue: My AC system seems to have blown off a bunch of neon yellow/green fluid out of an area just inside the engine compartment adjacent to the front shock on the passenger side.

The event: Driving north on US 395 just outside of Bishop CA, before the big grade to Mammoth Lakes. Everything is fine, engine water coolant is below 200* as per my ScanGauge. Running AC both front and back, it's working great. Suddenly a loud 'fffzzzzzzzz' sound come from under the hood, sounding like a pulley seized but the belt keeps spinning over the surface (what it sounded like, not actually what happened). At the same moment I looked in the rear view mirror and see a huge cloud of smoke trailing behind the van for some hundred feet. Instantly pulled over, turned it off. I crawled under the van and see a bunch of neon yellow/green fluid dripping out of an area just inside the engine compartment adjacent to the front shock on the passenger side. Much of the fluid had dumped onto the exhaust manifold, thus the smoke trail behind the van. The fluid looked like radiator coolant but smelled similar to ATF. I turned the van on and let it idle to see where the ffzzzz sound was coming from and see where the fluid was escaping. After 5 minute of idling, nothing, no symptoms! I drove back to Bishop, to a radiator / mechanic shop. Dude at the shop said that the cooling system was fine and my AC probably blew seal or activated a pressure release(?).

I drove out of Bishop north, up the grade, over many 8000+ ft mountain passes, through desert, west to the Sonoma coast, 400+ miles. No problems, as if nothing ever happened, no coolant temps above 210*, running the AC the whole time and it was working as good as it ever has!!!! Had to turn it to low or off often cause it was chilling so good!

WTF! What the hell happened to my van? Seems like a bad dream, as if nothing ever happened! Is this an AC event or an other system I'm missing?

Any ideas? Should I be worried or is this a transient thing?

Help
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Old 08-28-2018, 03:49 AM   #2
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Sounds exactly like refrigerant (aka "freon) was escaped but the neon green fluid is refrigeration oil---NOT a good idea running the A/C if any significant amount has escaped. Because I only run factory installed A/C systems I've never heard of a leak or over-pressure release that allows the system to continue cooling.

The condition where the system is working "too well" is further evidence refrigerant gas has escaped. This happens when any A/C system is losing refrigerant---just before it fails completely.

Take your van to a qualified A/C mechanic for a thorough test---I'd search for a local shop that specializes in servicing motor home A/C systems.

Hope this isn't anything too serious; please let us know how this turns out.
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Old 08-28-2018, 11:10 AM   #3
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I've had a similar issue like that except my AC quit working. It was the compressor and thankfully the pulley didn't freeze up. Took it to my HVAC guy Rick who replaced the compressor. Not long after that I had another big release so he pulled the compressor again. After talking with the manufacture Rick had to replace some kind of spring loaded pressure valve on the next new compressor with a plug. The manufacture said they had a issue with some of these valves. These valves help protect the system from too much refrigerant being put in causing high pressure. The Starcool holds more refrigerant than stock. Most of the time when I've had work done that requires the shop having to evacuate the system, they look in a Ford manual and replace it with the stock amount which is enough to work OK for a while but is way too little per the Starcool manual. I finally put a tag on one of the AC valves and always ask how much did they put back in. They usually quote the Ford manual which is wrong. Rick said if your system is working OK to just have them check to see if you have the correct amount in the system. He also suggested not to worry if the valve made a small release but said once you do bring it back up to what is required and watch to see if it has a release again. If that's the case you'll have to replace that valve. I agree with JWA to have the system looked at and see if it's up to the correct level. Hopefully it just made a small release and reset itself.
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Old 08-28-2018, 11:19 AM   #4
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Uggg. I'm on the road up in NorCal and no matter which way I go back home to SoCal I'm gonna want AC. Need to keep my toddler as happy as possible in his seat for hours of driving. But time is short for being up here and repairs will have to wait till I'm home.

To be clear, my AC isn't over performing, it's acting like it always has, not a bit different that before the smoke bomb event.

So, if I use the system in it's questionable state, even though it's "working" still, I can trash AC system components by running it with lowered refrigeration oil?
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Old 08-28-2018, 11:28 AM   #5
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Daveb, just caught up with your post. Interesting.

Seems like I'm in a gray zone of being able to use it.

I'll definitely post back as to how my trip finishes up concerning this scenario. And after I take it to the RV shop for a looksee.

I will say it was a very exciting day in Bishop when this all went down!
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Old 08-28-2018, 01:09 PM   #6
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Since it was neon green, it presumably had dye in it. Grab a UV/blacklight and you should see exactly where it leaked from.

Having someone check the pressure and evacuate / refill isn't a big deal, and would be something I'd consider doing while on the road.
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Old 08-28-2018, 02:20 PM   #7
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You could get a little battery powered mister to keep the toddler cool if you can't get the AC fixed on the road. They make handheld spray bottles with fans that work pretty well. Look for them in the beach supply section if your favorite big box store.
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Old 08-28-2018, 07:00 PM   #8
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If it's low it just won't feel as cold as if it were at the correct level. If it had been over filled and the valve did its job you'll be OK. But I don't know if it's low whether it would put more stress on the compressor... you don't want to lose that, they're expensive. Most automotive shops can check the level and charge it. BTW a fully charged system holds about (edit: 4.5 pounds or 72 oz) of refrigerant IIRC.
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Old 08-30-2018, 03:45 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daveb View Post
BTW a fully charged system holds about 4.8 pounds of refrigerant IIRC.
I believe for a front-only A/C system the spec says to start with 44 ounces, add factory rear air and that increases to 64 ounces. On my 2005 E350 the tag on the radiator core support has this info on a sticker---should be something similar on most every A/C-equipped vehicle.
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Old 09-01-2018, 02:07 PM   #10
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A couple observations. Freon is a gas, so when it escapes, you won't see any residual. If the system has been serviced in the past and someone has added a leak detecting dye, you would be able to see it under a UV light, and it will help point out the area of the leak.

There is also a specified amount of compressor oil in the system, which can often be seen in the area of a leak. Should it be a large leak, the lack of oil can damage the compressor.

The only real way to determine if you have the exact amount of Freon specified is to completely evacuate the system and then recharge with the specified amount of oil and refrigerant. Measuring high and low side pressures can certainly give you an idea if your low on refrigerant though.
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