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Fakes can kill

Counterfeiting goods costs the UK economy around £17 billion a year and destroys tens of thousands of British jobs. More importantly, when it comes to safety critical components and chemicals, counterfeit products can kill. President of MACPartners Michael Harris, takes a look at how counterfeiting is not always the victimless crime it appears to be, especially when it comes to the potentially dangerous refrigerants sold for use in vehicle cooling systems.

It can feel like a bit of fun, laying on a sun lounger and hearing the patter of the “lookey-lookey” beach seller offering Gucci handbags, RAY Ban sunglasses and designer label polo shirts, all for a few Euros each. We buy them knowing they are fake; it’s a bit of holiday fun, isn’t it? Ok, it can be damaging to the reputation of the high class designer brand but, in general, there is little harm done. It’s not dangerous to anyone’s health or property… or is it?

What about counterfeit or contaminated refrigerant, would you buy a cheap container of refrigerant, knowing that it’s not genuine? Would you understand the dangers it could present? With sealed circuit cooling systems now fitted to nearly 100% of vehicles being produced and sold into the UK market and with the increase in hybrid and electrically powered vehicles, cooling is no longer a luxury. It is now considered an essential part of the vehicle. Air conditioning system servicing is no longer a ‘specialist’ offering.

We are no longer in the utopia days of only having one or two specialist chemical refrigerants from one source to work with. We are now dealing with chemical, natural and hydrocarbon refrigerants and many differing blends are being tried and introduced. Who knows what we are recovering and charging into the vehicles we service?

We have to consider toxicity and flammability, as well as thermal dynamics. Care and due diligence is becoming more important to all of us. Using contaminated or counterfeit (unknown blend) refrigerant will not only affect the thermal performance of the vehicle, but increased wear and tear of components can result.

Once, there was a fine line between supplying contaminated refrigerant and deliberate counterfeiting. It is now becoming a serious concern for the industry. There have been widely publicised incidences of several deaths as a result of counterfeit refrigerant being used incorrectly, resulting in fires and explosions. Legislation is imposing reduced quotas of refrigerant over the coming years under the phase-down programme, resulting in escalating cost and reduced availability of legitimate products.

The trade in counterfeit refrigerant is becoming a major crime, even linked in potential size to that of the illegal drugs trade. One typical known example is the increased mix of R40 (Methyl Chloride) into R134a. This chemical reacts with aluminium components in the presence of air and can become both toxic and corrosive.

The awareness at all levels of the need for good cleanliness, traceability of compliance and purity, the use of approved standard equipment and technician competency, has never been more important than it is today. Whilst trade associations such as MACPartners, manufacturers and wholesalers continue to increase awareness of this issue, the last line of defence is the user. Would you buy a ‘dodgy’ container of cheap refrigerant from an unreliable source?

MACPartners is a non-profit trade association that defends the interests of all sectors of the mobile air conditioning industry and provides members with information and support. Says President, Michael Harris, “MACPartners, together with our affiliate associations (MACS and VASA) are committed to working together with refrigerant manufacturers, standards organisations such as SAE, manufacturers of identification and recovery/charging equipment, as well as with training organisations to ensure workshops and technicians are able to work at the highest technical competence, while prioritising their own safety and that of their customers.”

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About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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