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Discussion Starter #1
I'm going to invest in a kit and there are so many brands and models on the market with many component differences (metal vs. plastic handles, included adapters, hose length, gauge diameter, temperature (or none) reading, etc etc..). It's mind-boggling, and I get the distinct impression that most of them are imported junk. I welcome advice and recommendations from the seasoned a/c gurus here.

When responding, please bear in mind the following:
  • My use will be strictly casual, perhaps a few times a year on a limited number of vehicles.
  • I've done system rebuilds before and used the shop owner's tools (including leak sniffer and manifold gauges), but that was many years ago, in the R-12 days.
    I'm not a complete noob, but I'm also not experienced with the latest tech.
  • Although automobile use is the priority, I may want to check the central unit of my home, but I realize it's asking a lot to find a decent gauge set at a decent price point that will read R-134a, R-22 (my existing central) and R-410a (the new central I'll eventually purchase).
  • I have a surplus, diaphragm type, Schuco 5711 130 hospital vac pump, which I bought long ago for other purposes. Online specs I found say it's supposed to do 22"Hg @ 28L/min (0.99 CFM); current rating is 2.5A @ 115VAC.
    Is it up to the task? From what I've read, it seems 28"Hg @ 3+ CFM is what most a/c pumps are rated for.
    If I must factor in the possible cost of a new vac pump for complete repair capabilities, that will, of course, affect my manifold budget.
  • I want quality (trouble-free), but I have a finite tool budget -- it isn't a big shop budget and I've been buying up other tool$ lately.
Questions:

1. Based on what I've read, for auto work I'm going to need longer than 36" hoses. Will 60" be long enough or do I necessarily need 72" just to be on the safe side to cover most vehicles (such as relatives' )? Am I correct in assuming that this mostly depends on such things as vehicle height relative to vac pump and supply tank/can? I know one should hang the manifold with its hanger, but would there be a problem laying it flat in the bay during use?

2. Is a sight glass useful for anything other than refrigerant recovery and amusement of the operator?

3. Do I need low-loss fittings? Is this mostly for EPA reasons or would I have lots of problems filling a system if I don't use these? I've read that they have a short lifespan and cause problems when they go.

4. Specifically what connectors and adapters will I need on hand for my '96 Tbird 4.6L? I know about the ACME 1/2" R-134a thread, but will all hoses handle the various refrigerants and all I'll need are adapters? If I decide on a gauge package that doesn't have them, I can at least hopefully save extra shipping cost (not to mention time) if purchased from the same source with the gauges. I know most kits don't come with a can tap, so I'm counting on having to buy one separately.

5. As I won't be doing this for a living, should I even consider a 4 valve head? Is a 2 valve so much more hassle that I'll wish I'd spent a lot more for a "l33t pr0" model? What about the manifolds with tee that supposedly allow vac and charge connections simultaneously?

What do you think of some models I've had my eye on:
Actron CP7806

FJC 6761

FJC 6766P
Manual couplers and case worth $15 extra? :zdunno:

Yellow Jacket 42006

The above are primarily for R-134a and won't also read R-410a -- I'm sure those that do will cost a good bit more, but if you have suggestions let me know.
 

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Don't forget the sales on the ones from Harbor Freight ... http://www.harborfreight.com/a-c-manifold-gauge-set-92649.html

It's what I use for my cars. Uses the shorter cable, but I can put the vacuum pump and the R134a tank up on the radiator support / stand beside the car, so it's not so bad.

The pump you mention may be adequate, I dunno, but it saves you a bit of change right there.

You'll also want a scale that does tare so you can weight the refrigerant you put in (i.e., zero it, and put R134a in until you see it drops 1.3 pounds or whatever).

Also, don't forget to buy you some lubricant, the proper weights of PAG oil for the cars you're working on (and yes, different compressors take different weights!)

RwP
 

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I've heard that R134a will go to $40 a pound to match the more environmentally friendly refrigerants next year.

I'm planning to stockpile; our components are not compatible with the new stuff. It's too corrosive, for one. :)

FYI...
 

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I spent 150 bucks on gauges and vacuum pump at Harbor Freight (horrible fright) and with three vehicles being serviced they have easily already paid for themselves. Add a 5 dollar can adapter, a UV light (which I already have for looking for scorpions) and spring lock tools.

Can I do what a shop does? No, I cannot recover freon, change out o-rings then charge it again, so I am out whatever freon was in the system.
 

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I spent 150 bucks on gauges and vacuum pump at Harbor Freight (horrible fright) and with three vehicles being serviced they have easily already paid for themselves. Add a 5 dollar can adapter, a UV light (which I already have for looking for scorpions) and spring lock tools.

Can I do what a shop does? No, I cannot recover freon, change out o-rings then charge it again, so I am out whatever freon was in the system.
True, but a) some places WILL recover for free if they keep the refrigerant, and b) you save enough doing the work yourself that you can afford, with enough cars, to buy the 30 pound canisters of R134a (I've got one of Genuine DuPont SUVA R134a sitting in the house - why the house? It's air conditioned, didn't want that thing hitting 100F+ outside this summer!)

RwP
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
I should have checked the manual more closely before posting. Looks like my vac pump is too weak:
Evacuate the system with the vacuum pump until low-pressure gauge reads at least 99.4 kPa (29.5 in-Hg) (vacuum) and as close to 101.1 kPa (30 in-Hg) as possible.
Also specified:
Rotunda R-134a Vacuum Pump (1.5 cfm) 176-R0126 or equivalent
Rotunda R-134a Vacuum Pump (3.0 cfm) 176-R0034 or equivalent
Just to satisfy my curiosity, is there a particular reason other than wait time that at least 1.5CFM rate must be used? Does the orifice tube require a faster rate (the old R-12 systems I'm familiar with used expansion valves)?

edit: Disregard previous (deleted) quick-connect remarks. My head wasn't screwed on right when I wrote that. :facepalm:
I realize manual couplers have "quick connect" ends just as quick couplers have "quick connect" ends, and that manual and quick refer to the coupler's valve/seat operation.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I ended up getting this one: FJC 6766P (P = Promo)

FJC is a popular brand and its kits have earned mostly favorable reviews.

This vendor has a great deal on this kit right now: $59.99 shipped.
That's about 38 bucks less than the 6766 w/o a case from this vendor and less than the 6761 (which includes 60% less expensive quick couplers and no case) from most vendors, including this one, when S&H is added (at least for Texas).

Finally, tool porn -- unfortunately, the photoshop guy whacked off [har har] some of the lens edges:

 
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