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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
During the winter time I noticed that the discharge hose from the air conditioning compressor to the condenser had an oily area at the crimped fitting (hose to pipe). Since it was winter and I was not using the air conditioning system I postponed any attention to the matter. Now spring time is here and I revisited the leaky hose. I replaced the hose and then proceeded to evacuate the system and get ready to charge refrigerant. Unfortunately I found that the system would not hold a vacuum. So a leak somewhere else. After more investigation and using a leak detector I find that the front evaporator has a small leak. Being 22 years old I guess one should expect that.

Removing the instrument panel to gain access to the HVAC plenum box and evaporator is a tedious chore. I have done this repair before but not sure I am up to this task again. Does anyone know what the book repair time would be to replace this front evaporator on the 2000 minivan? This will be expensive because of labor time and then the cost of a replacement evaporator. And probably should replace the heater core while access is open.
 

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I think that we got around 5 or 6 hrs labor tor this job. Call around for estimates/quotes.
The A/C season will be very busy come July/August, so now would be a good time to repair this.
 
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5-6 hours sounds about right. A few years back I had the entire interior HVAC system replaced in my Ram (blend door issue). Total bill was $2200 with $1300 in parts and the rest labor ($900). I know it was not exactly the same job, but they did have to pull the entire dash apart. As part of the new assembly a new evaporator was required, and I also had them replace the heater core while everything was apart.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
. . . I think that we got around 5 or 6 hrs labor tor this job. Call around for estimates/quotes. The A/C season will be very busy come July/August, so now would be a good time to repair this. . . .
I have made an appointment with an independent shop to get a second opinion about the leak area. This is just to make sure I have not made an incorrect diagnosis. If book time is 5 - 6 hours that would not be too extreme. But then you have to add parts and then the cost for evacuation and recharge and several pounds of refrigerant. Another concern is how much stuff will get broken in the entire process of dash removal.

The top, horizontal part of the dash is removable to allow access to the radio speakers on the 3rd generation minivans. I will have to investigate if that could be removed and somehow gain access to the top lid of the HVAC plenum box and allow removal of the evaporator. Still some work but not complete removal of the entire dash to gain access.

Normally in NE Oklahoma mid-April brings about 80 deg F daytime high temperatures so driving a vehicle with air conditioning is very nice. This year there has been unseasonably cool weather so not as much push to get the A C working in the van. But need to get it done before the summertime rush.
 

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I worked at Chrysler during those years, we did a ton of evaporators especially in the minivans but also the jeeps ( heater cores too). The mechanics were doing them in around 4 to 5 hours but I want to say it was closer to 6 or 7 book. I had my 1998 Town and Country from new until 2016, but in 2001, the evaporator went and i ordered everything Mopar. Never had another issue from 48K when the original went bad until the van died at 309K. We had trouble with the aftermarket evaporators back then to the point we wouldn't even do the job unless a OE was spec'd . With that if you can still find an OE, i would recommend.
 

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5-6 hours sounds about right. A few years back I had the entire interior HVAC system replaced in my Ram (blend door issue). Total bill was $2200 with $1300 in parts and the rest labor ($900). I know it was not exactly the same job, but they did have to pull the entire dash apart. As part of the new assembly a new evaporator was required, and I also had them replace the heater core while everything was apart.
We did the 300M back around 2010 and it was $1,200 total. It is indeed a terribly involved job in some cars. We got an OE a/c unit. AFAIK it worked fine until the next owner (Chris Carpenter) sold the car.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
. . . .Removing the instrument panel to gain access to the HVAC plenum box and evaporator is a tedious chore. I have done this repair before but not sure I am up to this task again. Does anyone know what the book repair time would be to replace this front evaporator on the 2000 minivan? This will be expensive because of labor time and then the cost of a replacement evaporator. And probably should replace the heater core while access is open. . . . .
Just some follow up comments about replacing the evaporator.

I checked with 3 independent shops in my small town for cost estimate for this procedure. Shop A: $1800. Shop B: $965. Shop C: $845. Shop A which confirmed my suspicion of the leaky evaporator is owned by a former Chysler tech that went independent and started his own repair business. Individual very knowledgeable and I have no reason to suspect his competence. But that excessively high repair cost is interesting. So maybe he really does NOT want or need the work?

I am going to use shop B as I was able to get some positive references from acquaintances on this facility. Never have used shop B before. Always a lot of unknowns when using repair trade facilities for the first time.
 

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The cost estimate from Shop A does seem excess compared to the other two. Did the shops give an itemized breakdown of the estimated costs? It would be interesting to see where the difference is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
. . . . The cost estimate from Shop A does seem excess compared to the other two. Did the shops give an itemized breakdown of the estimated costs? It would be interesting to see where the difference is. . . . .
I did not ask for a breakdown for itemized cost by parts, labor, etc. from all providers. I learned years ago that when you ask for this detail, most of the time the repair provider becomes antagonistic and defensive. Now you have adversarial relations and this does no party any good. I am more concerned about competent repair, no short cuts, no repair actions that cause a long term, unrelated issue. Some exaggerate the labor hours; others will exaggerate costs of repair parts.

This type of air conditioning repair is definitely "old school". No electronic control module diagnostics involved. Mostly grunt work of wrenching to get a component with no easy access replaced. Then you use an excessively high priced refrigerant recovery and dispensing machine to draw vacuum and then meter a precise quantity of refrigerant into the system.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
. . . .
I did not ask for a breakdown for itemized cost by parts, labor, etc. from all providers. I learned years ago that when you ask for this detail, most of the time the repair provider becomes antagonistic and defensive. Now you have adversarial relations and this does no party any good. I am more concerned about competent repair, no short cuts, no repair actions that cause a long term, unrelated issue. Some exaggerate the labor hours; others will exaggerate costs of repair parts. . . . . . .
So I just completed a telephone conversation with the owner at shop A. I was cordial and polite and said that I had decided to use another repair facility for the evaporator replacement. He wanted to know why I made that decision. I sensed that his tone had NOT become adversarial but just wanted to know why. I was honest and said that his (shop A estimate ) was double several other shops ( I did not give specific shop names.) Then he wanted to know if I was comparing "apples to apples" ; requesting the exact same services and I said yes.

I asked about his hourly shop rate and he said it was under $100 / hour. Then he started to list the items he was going to replace. Flush cooling system and replace antifreeze because you disconnect the heater hoses. I said that one could just plug the heater hose ends after removal and minimize any loss. On that vehicle the inlet and outlet of the heater core is at or above the intake manifold level and coolant level in the engine. The radiator is lower than the engine so plugging the hoses would be doable.

He then told me he would replace the expansion valve because the securing srews become welded to the evaporator and you cannot separate it from the evaporator. That is a possibility since you have steel screws mated to an aluminum plate (dissimilar metals). But again that would add some cost but how much?

From the conversation I gathered that the price estimate given was assuming every possible worst outcome on this service procedure. In the past he very well may have had these adverse circumstances and quoted a lower price to a customer and the additional time and parts caused him to lose money. We ended the conversation on a positive note. I did not want to "burn bridges" with him as I might want to use his services in the future. He said contact him for any future service.
 

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Good honest dialogue.

I will say that I have never had an issue at all separating evaporator from expansion valve, despite dissimilar metals. Screws came right out each time. And I'm talking 20+ year old vehicles that had never been apart.
 
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
. . . .I will say that I have never had an issue at all separating evaporator from expansion valve, despite dissimilar metals. Screws came right out each time. And I'm talking 20+ year old vehicles that had never been apart. . . . .
That is certainly encouraging to know. Thanks Bob L for that info.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
. . . .I checked with 3 independent shops in my small town for cost estimate for this procedure. Shop A: $1800. Shop B: $965. Shop C: $845. Shop A which confirmed my suspicion of the leaky evaporator is owned by a former Chysler tech that went independent and started his own repair business. Individual very knowledgeable and I have no reason to suspect his competence. But that excessively high repair cost is interesting. So maybe he really does NOT want or need the work? . . . .
More follow up on replacement of the air conditioning evaporator. This might help others as a reference if you need to replace an evaporator and the expected costs.

I used Shop B with an initial total repair cost of $965.81. Minivan went to the shop on morning of May 9 and retrieved it today (May 10). Itemized detail below.

Parts:
Refrigerant 2.5 - 120.00
Evap Core 86.54
Oil 5.00 total 211.54

R & R evaporator 750.00
vacuum / charge AC 60.00 total 810.00
shop charges 5.00
tax 19.27

invoice total $ 1045.81

The $80.00 increase from initial estimate happened because it was based upon single air conditioning unit. My vehicle has front and rear units which require about 0.75 lbs more refrigerant. I did not argue that point though maybe I should have questioned more rigorously.

Interesting that the invoice indicates 2.5 lbs of refrigerant but correct quantity is 2.88 lbs. As in many cases with any repair shop what gets billed on the invoice sometiomes wanders from initial estimate.

I did not get the receiver / dryer replaced which I requested. Shop owner said it is not necessary since you pull a vacuum on the system. Hmmm. I think he really does understand fully the nemesis that moisture can play with a system. Debating whether I should retrieve refrigerant, replace receiver / dryer myself and charge again.

Shop charged $48.00 / lb for R134a refrigerant. Refrigerant costs have tripled since year 2021. In my
area the 12 oz container of R134a was priced around $4.79 - $4.88 in 2021 and now I see prices
around $8.99 for a 12 oz container in year 2022. A 30 lb container of R134a could be bought around
$130.00 last year but is now priced at $395.00 or more depending upon the online retailer.

Today was a good day for testing auto air conditioning. Temperature reaced 94 deg F with full sunlight. After a few minutes and driving a few miles one could feel the vehicle starting to cool. But the issue was never that the system would not cool. It just would not hold its refrigerant charge for any long period of time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
More follow up on replacement of the air conditioning evaporator. This might help others as a reference and pinpoints the need to be your OWN advocate and check repair work done by others.

At this point in time it is the evening of May 10 and 4 hours after retrieving the minivan and after the evaporator replacement. I look under the hood at the firewall area where the suction and discharge lines attach to the TXV (throttling expansion valve). Not easy to view this area as the vehicle cab forward body design and wiper cowl restrict viewing angle. It is obvious there is a refrigerant leak as oil is bubbling and dripping from the TXV. WOW !!! Vehicle returned to customer but no one checked for leaks. Attached image shows the leak area.



Wednesday, May 11. I bring the minivan to the repair shop early in the rnorning and I was able to talk to the proprietor. I explained the situation of the obvious oil and refrigerant leak and showed him the image posted above. Fortunately for me he was cordial, receptive, and did NOT go into a tirade and make lame excuses and indicate it was a pre-existing condition. I left the minivan for him to inspect.

Later in the afternoon I received a telephone call to retrieve the minivan. I talked to the proprietor and quizzed him specifically about the cause of the leak. He had no definite explanation but decided to install slightly larger O rings to seal the refrigerant tubes against the TXV. That stopped the leak.

I then delicately mentioned that if one watched the manifold gauges as a vacuum is pulled on the system, when the desired vacuum level is reached one should stop the vacuum device, close all valves and wait 10 - 15 minutes. If there is no leak the vacuum will hold but in this situation losing vacuum would indicate a leak. I was told that vibration in the system from the vacuum equipment caused the leak to temporarily plug. Now that is a lame excuse but I let it go and did not argue the point.

Interesting note. Afternoon of May 11 was another very warm day here in Oklahoma. 91 deg F and climbing. While driving the minivan if was quite obvious that the A / C system vent temperature was much colder than on the previous day. I am thinking the system was initially overcharged by the repair shop. The leak at the expansion valve drained off some small amount of refrigerant and the system now is closer to a proper charge. I learned in the last 10 years that it is very easy to overcharge a system and significantly affect cooling performance.

Now one might ask why was the system overcharged. Even the manfacturer cannot ensure consistency in its documentation. The underhood label indicates refrigerant capacity of 2.88 lbs for front and rear units. The factory service manual indicates 3.0 lbs of refrigerant. Other independent sources of repair information may have different specifications. So it is easy for repair personnel to be misled.

So at this point the system is sealed and leak free. Used my own electronic leak detection device and found no leaks from replacement evaporator and no leaks from any joints opened and closed. Desired result achieved.
 
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