Refrigerant leaks

All vehicles leak some refrigerant past seals and through microscopic pores in hoses. The older the vehicle, the higher the rate of seepage. Newer vehicles have better seals and barrier style hoses so typically leak less than a few tenths of an ounce of refrigerant a year. But system capacities also tend to be smaller on newer vehicles, so any loss of refrigerant will have more of an adverse effect on cooling performance.

Various methods can be used to check for leaks. The telltale oil stains and wet spots that indicate leaks on older R-12 systems are less apparent on the newer R-134a systems because PAG lubricants are not as "oily" as mineral oil. This makes it harder to see leaks.

Leaks can be found by adding special dye to the system (available in pressurized cans premixed with refrigerant), an electronic leak detector, or plain old soapy water (spray on hose connections and watch for bubbles -- requires adding some refrigerant to system first and turning the A/C on). Once you've found a leak, repairs should be made prior to fully recharging the system. Most leak repairs involve replacing O-rings, seals or hoses. But if the evaporator or condenser are leaking, repairs can be expensive.