How to Tell if a Refrigerator Compressor is Bad

Appliance Express
September 6, 2022
Refrigerator Repair

The refrigerator compressor is one of the most integral parts of the refrigerator, and if something goes wrong with it you will soon find your fridge is not working optimally. 

The compressor works by compressing and controlling the flow of refrigerant. Unfortunately, there are many things that can go wrong with them. Below, we identify the most common issues that indicate a bad refrigerator compressor and how to solve them. 

Refrigerator too warm

The fridge not being cool enough or specific portions of the fridge not being as cool as they should be are two of the signs that there is a problem with the compressor. Testing the compressor motor will provide you with some insight into what is going on.

How to test the compressor motor:

  • First, take the back off of the refrigerator in order to access the compressor. 
  • Using a multimeter, check to see if the compressor motor is functioning. 
  • If the readings indicate it is not working, the whole compressor will need to be replaced. Based on the age of your refrigerator, you will need to decide whether it is worth buying a replacement part from the manufacturer or if it is time for a new fridge. 
  • If the multimeter tests show that your compressor is working fine, it suggests that another related component is the issue. 

The compressor is making a lot of noise

This is a fairly typical sign of a bad compressor. Most new refrigerators have silent compressors, so when one produces noise, it’s definitely not a good thing. You must first determine the source of the noise. If the compressor is the problem, it might be too late as a noisy compressor is typically a bad compressor and will need to be replaced.

As above, you can determine whether or not the noise is due to the compressor by testing it with a multimeter. If the testing indicates that the compressor itself is not the source of the noise, keep reading the article to find the next step to try. 

Fan not working

The condenser fan for the refrigerator is a crucial component of the compressor system. As you are probably aware, if you have an electric or electronic device that uses a processor, the fan is required to cool the device down and avoid issues like overheating. You will be able to feel it if the fan stops, and the refrigerator will start making odd noises.

To check if this is the issue:

  • To access the compressor and condenser fan, pull the refrigerator away from the wall, disconnect it, and remove the small panel on the rear at the bottom. 
  • Plug in the refrigerator and wait for the compressor to start. You should also see the fan turn on. 
  • You need a new fan if the compressor runs but the fan doesn’t, or if the fan is noisy. 
  • Retry after the compressor has cooled. The fan is broken if the compressor runs but the fan does not.
  • Replace the fan after unplugging the refrigerator. You will be able to order a new fan from your refrigerator manufacturer

Compressor turning on and off

Another sign of a bad refrigerator compressor is if you can hear the compressor turning on and off. If your compressor appears to be running intermittently or not at all, you should look into a start relay issue. Compressor start relays can be damaged by a power surge.

To determine whether the compressor start relay is the issue:

  • The compressor start relay is the component that supplies power to the compressor. If there’s a problem with the relay, the compressor will not receive any power and can’t work correctly.
  • The quickest and easiest way to determine whether a relay is failing is to remove it and shake it next to your ear. A rattling sound indicates that the compressor relay has to be changed.

To fix the issue:

  • Make sure the refrigerator is disconnected from its power source.
  • To reach the parts inside the refrigerator, take off the access panel at the back.
  • For more precise instructions, see the user manual or any technical sheets that came with the refrigerator.
  • In a lot of refrigerator models, you can remove the compressor start relay by hand. 
  • Once it is removed, shake it and listen for a rattling sound to confirm that it needs to be replaced. 
  • You will be able to order a replacement part from the manufacturer of your refrigerator. 
  • Once it has been replaced, your compressor should run correctly once more. 

Condenser coils appear dirty

Condenser coils are a part of the refrigerator compressor which can cause a problem if they are allowed to get dirty. That’s because unclean coils make it much harder for the refrigerator to effectively chill down.

The compressor is compelled to work faster and harder as a result, which leads to overheating and early wear and tear.

In the worst situation, the condenser can become “mechanically locked” or totally immobile. As a result, none of the compressor’s parts will be able to move and the refrigerator won’t be able to produce cold air.

To clean condenser coils:

  • Unplug the refrigerator from the power.
  • Remove the back of the refrigerator.
  • Brush the coils with a stiff brush and suck up the resulting dust with a vacuum cleaner. 
  • Now that the coils are clean, the refrigerator should work properly again. 

After reading this list, you should hopefully have been able to identify if you have a bad compressor and figured out which steps to take to solve your problem.


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