Fleet operators face increasing costs as a result of changes in vehicle air conditioning gas regulations from January 1, 2017, according to fleet supply chain management company Fleet Assist.

The European Union regulatory changes have been planned for more than a decade and lead to the introduction of a new air gas refrigerant known as R1234yf.

It is claimed to be more environmentally-friendly with a lower global warming potential than the gas it replaces, which is known as R134a.

However, research by Fleet Assist reveals that:
• Many garages, including some franchised dealers, are not yet equipped to work with the new gas as new servicing equipment is required
• The new gas is significantly more expensive than the outgoing gas with potential re-gas costs of £150 - £300, compared with £40 - £75 previously.

Although use of the new gas has been phased in as manufacturers have introduced new models to the market, from January 1, 2017 there is a complete ban on the use of R134a. That means all cars and light vans registered from that date must use the new air conditioning refrigerant in their systems. Cars built to run on the old refrigerant can legally be recharged with R134a and do not need conversion.

However, manufacturers can apply for a derogation giving them a 12-month grace period to January 1, 2018 before using the new gas, R1234yf. The derogation, which applies to specifically defined models, is primarily designed to allow manufacturers to register stock vehicles

Therefore, the reality is that the new regulations will not be fully inforce until January 1, 2018 when all newly registered cars and light commercial vehicles must use the new gas in their air conditioning systems.

Fleet Assist joint managing director Mike Smith said: 'Not only is the new gas causing problems for fleet operators in terms of which service outlets are equipped to work with it and the additional cost, but also in respect of knowing which vehicles have air conditioning systems that use the new gas and which require the old gas'

Fleet Assist contacted all vehicle manufacturers asking how much a re-gas would cost by make and model and the volume of gas held by each car and van. Additionally, manufacturers were requested to supply information of models in their ranges currently using the new gas, R1234yf, and when it was introduced.

The analysis revealed that R1234yf has been used in some model's air conditioning systems since 2012, while it has been gradually introduced over subsequent years by different manufacturers. However, other manufacturers are not planning to use the new gas until January 2017 production.

Mr Smith said: 'Manufacturers have introduced R1234yf at different stages in their vehicle production schedules, as a result there is no clarity. Additionally, the information on which models have been granted derogation for 2017 was not freely available.

'It is a hugely complex issue that will inevitably change as the industry progresses through the implementation of the new regulations. Some manufacturers were able to provide Fleet Assist with quite detailed information, while others were a little less clear on what was happening within their model ranges'

Fleet Assist delivers a wide range of services to the UK's major contract hire and leasing companies collectively operating more than 790,000 vehicles. These include managing service, maintenance and repair (SMR) work through a nationwide network of more than 5,000 franchise and independent garage locations. This enabled Fleet Assist to both identify garages capable of carrying out a re-gas with R1234yf and, critically, identifying the cost prior to the job being undertaken.

Mr Smith said: 'Fleet Assist is fully focused on effectively and efficiently managing air conditioning re-gassing on behalf of our leasing company clients and their own end-user fleet customers'