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Is Your Refrigerator’s Compressor Broken?

Posted By: Erin White

Refrigerator compressor

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There are many different causes of a refrigerator not being able to function as it should, and a variety of problems that can lead to hundreds of dollars of spoiled, ruined food. Unfortunately, if you don’t pay close attention to your refrigerator, you may find that it’s easy to miss the “warning signs” of a malfunctioning appliance – until your milk smells sour and your lettuce wilts in there.

A refrigerator normally cycles on and off in order to maintain an appropriate temperature, so many people mistakenly think that a quiet appliance has just shut off in its cycle when in fact, its compressor has stopped working. Although a broken compressor is just one common problem with refrigerators, it can also be one of the most often overlooked, too.

The Telltale Compressor Noise

Your compressor kicking on and off is what you hear (or don’t hear) at various points during the day – you hear a faint humming noise coming from the fridge, and you know that it’s running. That’s the compressor you hear. However, if you haven’t heard that sound in a while, your compressor may be broken. Pull your appliance away from the wall, and stand to listen for a few minutes and see if you hear the sound of a motor running, or a soft humming. If you don’t hear any noise, your compressor isn’t functioning. If you do hear a humming noise, but the food in your fridge is warm, your compressor may be functioning improperly (or it may be a different issue causing the problem altogether).

Shake n’ Tell for a Bad Compressor

If you’re up for doing a little bit of sleuthing on your own before you make a service call for a broken compressor, try this simple test to tell if your compressor is bad or not:

  1. Grab a flathead screwdriver, pull your fridge away from the wall, and unplug it.
  2. Find the panel on the side of the compressor; it’s held by one or two screws. Go ahead and loosen the screws, and remove the panel.
  3. You’ll see a device called a starter relay switch, which you should unplug from the compressor. The relay resembles the size and shape of a smaller printer ink cartridge.
  4. Hold the relay in your hand, and give it a bit of a shake. If it rattles, this relay is bad and can be replaced for about $20.
  5. If you shake the relay but there is no rattle, chances are fairly good that the relay is good, but your compressor is bad.

When a compressor is bad, the repairs can cost more than what a new appliance would. Check to see if your appliance is still under warranty, and if it isn’t, contact for a high-quality replacement at an affordable price.


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