Dealerships rush for refrigerant certification
Dan Baumhardt works at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which has been flooded with applicants for its online training and certification course for refrigerants.
Dealerships are scrambling to ensure that at least one of their technicians is certified to handle automotive refrigerants after updates to a federal rule took effect Jan. 1.
Under the EPA’s new restrictions, selling those refrigerants to an uncertified technician — or handling them as an uncertified technician — could constitute a violation of the Clean Air Act.
Since the restrictions took effect, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence has been flooded with applicants for its online training and certification course — not to mention frenzied messages from technicians, refrigerant distributors, wholesalers, parts managers and managers from carmakers.
“We are seeing about five times the normal traffic, and it’s not just the certifications,” Dave Cappert, program manager for Section 609 at ASE, an independent, nonprofit certification group in Leesburg, Va., told Automotive News. Rules governing refrigerants used in light vehicles are laid out in Section 609 of the Clean Air Act.
“What really got our phones ringing was the fact that the refrigerant distributors started to notify the shops that they’re selling refrigerants to that this was coming into place at the end of the year,” he said. Distributors told dealerships and independent repair shops that “they’re going to have to show proof of this in order to buy refrigerant moving forward.”
ASE sent a warning of its own about the approaching deadline for certification in late November, advertising its EPA-approved program as one way to get registered in time. Even so, it was taken aback by the influx of confused messages and queries into the program.
“It’s a really small technicality that could really cause you major problems if you’re not aware of this,” Cappert said. “Obviously, you could get away with this. People break the law all the time. But you’re taking a large risk for something that doesn’t take a lot of money to comply.”
While penalties for violating the Clean Air Act vary from case to case, Cappert said the fines would be more trouble than they’re worth.
ASE’s refrigerant-certification program costs $19 and typically takes a couple of hours to complete, he said. ASE will mail a temporary certification to technicians who pass the course to use until their official documents arrive in the mail.
Certification can be obtained through other schools, companies and organizations as well, including ESCO Institute, of Mount Prospect, Ill.; Ferris State University, of Big Rapids, Mich.; the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association; the Mobile Air Conditioning Society Worldwide, of Lansdale, Pa.; and Universal Technical Institute, with 12 U.S. campuses.
The sales restriction is an expansion of a requirement imposed in 1992 on R-12 automotive refrigerant. While the law hasn’t changed, the use of R-12 refrigerant — a known ozone-depleting chemical compound — faded away in the marketplace as the comparatively safer R-134a and R-1234yf refrigerants came into industrywide use by automakers in 1994. Cappert said no sales restrictions were put into place on those refrigerants until this year.
Now, anyone who purchases any of the three major refrigerants must have a certificate or a wallet card proving they underwent the training. Some technicians may be able to lean on past certification, Cappert said, though the online process has added what he estimates as 30 percent more content since the original training and certification program began.
High turnover in service departments also could account for the certification clamor. Only one certified tech is required per business, but if that individual retires or otherwise leaves, the deficit needs to be filled.
It’s not just technicians that need to keep track of their certification.
Under Section 609, refrigerant distributors and wholesalers are required to keep on-site records of refrigerant transactions for at least three years.