How to a Recharge Chevrolet Express AC in 10 Easy Steps

Here’s how to safely recharge the AC of your Chevy Express van:

  1. Assemble the AC recharge kit
  2. Open van’s hood & prop open
  3. Locate low-pressure recharge port
  4. Start the engine
  5. Fix charging hose to the low-pressure port
  6. Adjust AC settings to maximum
  7. Read pressure gauge
  8. Carefully recharge the AC
  9. Stop recharging when pressure drops
  10. Turn off engine

I understand how frustrating it gets when you turn on your Chevy Express AC, but it’s not blowing cold air. Fortunately, it’s fast and easy to bring back the cool in your good ol’ Chevy van.

In this guide, I’ll show you the proper way to recharge your van’s AC. It will help you save time and money since you won’t have to pay a mechanic for the recharge.

I’ll also explain why your Chevy Express AC may stop working. Let’s get started.


You Need Safety Equipment & an AC Recharge Kit

First off, it’s very important you put on safety equipment before carrying out the subsequent steps.

You need the following:

  • Safety goggles
  • Insulated safety gloves
  • An AC recharge kit

The AC recharge kit consists of a refrigerant (freon) can and a recharge hose fitted with a pressure gauge.

The refrigerant you’ll need to recharge your AC is R134a. Older Chevy Express models used the R12, but modern vans use the eco-friendly R134a refrigerant.

You don’t need a special license to handle R134a, so feel free to grab one of those cans from your nearest store or auto service center.

I also recommend using a recharge hose that’s long enough to access hard-to-reach service ports. This way, you’ll recharge from a comfortable distance without straining your back under the hood.

Now, I can’t stress the importance of safety goggles and gloves. The gloves come in handy in case the refrigerant leaks, as you don’t want to suffer frostbite.

But neither should leaking refrigerant blind you. So you need safety goggles to protect your eyes from exposure to the R134a.


The 10 Steps to Recharge Your Chevy Express AC

I highly recommend parking your van in the shade before recharging the AC (preferably in your garage). Here’s how to recharge the AC of your Chevy Express van:


1. Assemble Your AC Recharge Kit

Shake your recharge can well, remove the plastic safety cap, then thread it onto the recharge hose, keeping a snug fit.

If you’re using the latest AC Pro kit, remove the clear plastic tab at the bottom of the pressure gauge, so it engages, ready for a recharge.

Other refrigerant cans don’t have a removable safety cap. You simply attach the recharge hose to the refrigerant can and press the recharge lever to puncture the safety seal.

You’ll hear the safety seal pop, and the needle on the pressure gauge deflects momentarily.


2. Open the Hood and Prop it Open

Flip the hood release handle in your van’s cabin until you hear the hood safety catch disengage. Open the hood and prop it open using the securing hook.


3. Locate the Low-Pressure Recharge Port

The low-pressure recharge port is always on the larger diameter aluminum tubing that comes from the AC compressor. It has a cap, which is commonly labeled “L.”

If you’ve never dealt with the compressor itself, it’s the small rounded metallic tank with a belt attached to it. The engine drives it through the belt, circulating the refrigerant in your AC system.


4. Start the Engine & Run it to Normal Temperature

Turn on the engine and let it run to normal operating temperature. You’ll turn it off once you’re done recharging the AC.


5. Attach the Charging Hose to the Recharge Port

Unscrew the cap of the low-pressure recharge port and keep it because you’ll return it once we’re done. Now, attach the charging hose to the port and push the coupler onto it until it locks securely with a snap.

Gently pull on the hose to ensure the coupler is properly locked in place. This is for safety to ensure the refrigerant doesn’t leak.


6. Adjust the AC Settings to Maximum

Set the AC to the maximum cool position and the fan speed to the highest setting.

You need to run your AC for the compressor to engage and circulate the refrigerant.

I also recommend opening all the doors as the AC runs so the compressor doesn’t cycle on and off. The recharge process happens faster and more effectively this way.


7. Check the Pressure Reading on the Gauge

You’ll usually hear a click when the compressor kicks in, and the needle on your pressure gauge should deflect slightly.

If it doesn’t, ensure the safety seal on your refrigerant can is disengaged (check Step 1).

It’s also critical to ensure your compressor is running. You can tell by looking at the center of the belt attached to the compressor clutch – it should be rotating.

When the compressor is off, the pressure reading will be very high. But when it engages, the reading drops.


8. Carefully Recharge the AC to Its Capacity

Gently squeeze the recharge lever to start releasing the refrigerant. Watch the pressure gauge because it should indicate a low reading within the green zone.

While some people hold the refrigerant can upside down and squeeze the lever continuously, it’s unnecessary.

I recommend you shake the can gently and move it along the 12 and 3 o’clock positions. This makes it faster to recharge your AC.

It’s also a good idea to release the recharge lever periodically then check the pressure gauge.


9. Stop Recharging When the Pressure Drops

Here’s how to know when to stop recharging your Chevy Express AC:

When your AC is fully refilled, the pressure reading on the gauge should drop significantly and fall within the green zone.  You’ll record the lowest pressure reading when the compressor is running. At this point, you can also confirm that the vents are blowing cold air.

Notably, the pressure goes hand in hand with temperature. The higher the temperature, the higher the pressure.

When you touch the top of your compressor and feel it’s cold, the pressure reading on the gauge will be low.

Digital gauges are better at telling you when to stop recharging because they’ll clearly indicate this on an LCD screen. But irrespective of the gauge you’re using, don’t go to the highest part of the green range because you’ll overcharge your AC.


10. Turn Off the Engine & Remove the Charging Hose

Switch off the engine, then remove the charging hose coupler. Replace the service cap on the low-pressure port, and you’re all done.

Now run the AC to check if it’s blowing nice and cold. If it’s not, don’t worry. You can always troubleshoot common problems with your AC.

Pro Tip: Keep your partially-used refrigerant can in a cool, dry place for future use.


Fill the Compressor to Its Recommended Capacity

I’ve had people asking me how to know the number of small refrigerant cans to use. That’s pretty simple, so don’t worry.

I have checked the specs on the sticker under my van’s hood, just behind the compressor on the firewall. It says the minimum amount of refrigerant to fill the compressor is 2.75 lbs (1.24 kg), and the maximum is 3.00 lbs (1.36 kg).

You can determine how many small refrigerant cans you’ll need with these numbers. I’ve used AutoZone R134a refrigerant at least once, and I’ll use it here as an example. The net weight of the refrigerant is 340 grams (12 oz. or 0.75 lbs).

Let’s work with the minimum recharge capacity. In that case, you’ll need four small AutoZone refrigerant cans.

Here’s the simple math:

2.75 ÷ 0.75 = 3.666

We round 3.666 up to 4 because the number of cans will only ever be a whole number.


How to Troubleshoot Common AC Recharge Issues

Your pressure gauge needle may lie in the red zone when you attach the coupler to the recharging port. This indicates that your AC is off, so be sure to turn it on.

It may also indicate that your van’s air conditioning system is still low on refrigerant. In that case, the compressor won’t cycle on.

In my experience, this usually occurs when you refill your Chevy Express AC with smaller cans of refrigerant. If you’ve depleted one can already, just hook in a new one and recharge by following the steps I’ve explained in 1-10 above.

But if your compressor won’t cycle on after recharging, seek professional service from a qualified mechanic.


Your Chevy Express AC May Stop Working Properly

You usually refill your Chevy Express AC if you notice it:

  • Blows warm air continuously
  • Blows cold air, then stops
  • Blows cold air followed by warm air

However, your van’s air conditioning system may not always be low on refrigerant. It may have stopped working altogether. That may be due to any of the following reasons:

  • Damaged AC clutch
  • Faulty AC compressor
  • Leaking refrigerant tubes
  • Faulty temperature sensor

If you’ve recharged your AC properly, but it still gives you problems, please take your van to a qualified mechanic for an inspection and AC repair.


Closing Thoughts

Recharging your Chevy Express AC is pretty simple, and you’ll enjoy the immediate payoff. Since I learned how to do it properly, I’ve never taken my van to a mechanic for AC recharge. Thanks to my old man.

I bet you can do it too, as the process calls for no special DIY skills. By the way, once you’ve mastered the skill, you can recharge any vehicle’s AC.

Just ensure you don’t mix refrigerants. If the sticker under the hood says R134a, go with that. Good luck with your next AC recharge!