Is Kwik advice Fit advice?
During a typical working week, press releases flow in-and-out of my inbox, most of which are fairly dreary but Kwik Fit’s latest PR campaign caught my eye, when the company saw fit to issue money saving advice, during last month’s questionable fuel shortages. Interestingly, Kwik Fit had initiated its own research, which found that over two-thirds of cars in the UK are driven with tyres that are at least 3psi under-inflated. The company’s claims that motorists were “wasting almost £1 billion a year” in fuel was an eyebrow-raising conclusion, even though the potential safety pitfalls were not mentioned.
Yet, Kwik Fit highlighted an interesting point, in that “9.2 million drivers” are wasting more fuel by lowering their windows at speed, compared with turning on their air conditioning. The company’s research had shown that the increased wind drag of a solitary open window, at speeds in excess of 40mph, was more punitive to fuel consumption than turning on the air conditioning. I have to laud Kwik Fit for attempting to smash the notion that using air conditioning is always a bad idea from an economy point-of-view. Technically, most modern cars are equipped with variable displacement air conditioning compressors, which can vary their loads, according to the cabin temperature and even engine speed. The result is less power drain on the motor and lower fuel consumption.
However, the variable displacement compressor has to work its hardest, when both the cabin and ambient temperatures are high and the climate controls are set to their coolest settings. Rightly, Kwik Fit advises that, for economy benefits, it is preferable to lower the windows in stop-start traffic. However, the company omits to advise that a lowered window in traffic is more likely to allow airborne pollutants and pollens in, most of which could have been trapped otherwise by an air conditioning system’s cabin filter.
THE RIGHT AIR CON ADVICE?
Naturally, most press releases are created with the intention of increasing attention and potential revenue and Kwik Fit has not issued the information to the media out of the goodness of its heart. Yet, I feel that it has made a positive step, by offering free tyre pressure checks, using correctly-calibrated equipment, although the company’s advice about air conditioning maintenance seemed, at best, over-simplified to me, when its Communications Director advised:
“Car owners should make sure their air con system is working effectively and, like other parts of the car, this means giving it a regular service to get the best from it. Gas naturally leaks from the system and it needs to be re-charged every two years.”
While it is true that air conditioning systems might suffer from a degree of natural discharge of the refrigerant gas, this is only one side of the story. In the majority of cases, a system that loses sufficient refrigerant to impair its performance seriously over two years is likely to be leaking.
While it is illegal for a technician to refill a known leaky air conditioning system with refrigerant, the exact location of escaping refrigerant can be tricky to identify. Yet, if even a small leak is not repaired, you might be making multiple garage visits to have your system recharged, which will damage not only the environment but also your wallet.
Additionally, Kwik Fit’s subsequent promotion of a £49.00 recharge service, after the aforementioned Communications Director’s proposition, might lead some people (and journalists) to believe that recharging is all that is required to either repair or maintain an air conditioning system. This is emphatically not the case.
A ‘proper’ air conditioning service is considerably more involved and should entail existing refrigerant being emptied and the air conditioning dryer replaced, the function of which is to prevent moisture from causing internal corrosion within the system. The whole circuit should then be pressure-checked with nitrogen gas, the inert nature of which means that it does not damage the Ozone Layer, prior to the system being ‘evacuated’ again and the appropriate grade of refrigerant added with, possibly, a prescribed amount of bespoke lubricating oil that will protect the compressor.
As this type of work is more involved than a simple Kwik Fit re-charge service, my advice would be that air conditioning maintenance tasks should be entrusted to dedicated automotive air conditioning specialists, which are located throughout the country. The outlay will be more than Kwik Fit’s £49.00 recharge service but correct, long-term and thorough maintenance is far more cost-effective in the long-term than the thousands of pounds it can cost to replace corroded condensers, broken compressors and failed evaporators.