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DIY Refrigerator Repair Tips Before You Call a Repair Professional

Updated on October 27, 2014

If you think upon how hard a refrigerator works, almost continuously day and night, it is indeed amazing that it stops working so infrequently. But in the rare cases when it breaks down, it makes you face a high repair cost in addition to the cost of replacing your lost food. But in fact, repairing small problems in your fridge is not that difficult, and some information about the appliance and a bit of patience will make you achieve that.

Evaporator Coil
Evaporator Coil

Basically, freezers and refrigerators contain two parts – an evaporator coil and a condenser coil. A liquid coolant keeps circulating through these two coils by a motor and a compressor. It is cooled in the condenser to move next to the evaporator. At the evaporator, the liquid-filled coil cools down the air in the unit. The condenser is actually the coil on the exterior of the unit, while the evaporator is to the inside. A compressor keeps the coolant moving through the system.

Condenser Coil
Condenser Coil

Most freezers and refrigerators are frost-free, which means a heater is turned on automatically so as to melt the frost in the unit. There are many different spots in the unit where the frost is melted, starting from the most frosted and coldest areas. When all the frost is melted completely, the thermostat switches automatically to a cooling cycle so as to maintain the regular freezing temperature. As this is an automatic process, there is no frost buildup inside the box.

The compressor system of the unit which moves the coolant through the coil system, is forced by a capacitor type of motor. Other parts of the system include condensers, heaters, thermostats, switches and fans. If you want to be a DIYer, you can replace many of them; but some exceptions are there which should be left to be done by a professional repair expert.

NOTE: Before you start any DIY repair of your refrigerator, take care first to unplug it. After you unplug, ensure if the compressor/motor has a capacitor which stores electricity even if the power to the appliance is turned off. This is situated in a casing on top of the motor. If you don’t take care to discharge the capacitor, you could get a severe electric shock.


How to Discharge a Capacitor?

Unplug the freezer or refrigerator.

For accessing the capacitor, detach the service panel on the front side of the unit below the door or that on the back part of the unit. The capacitor looks like a big dry cell battery and is housed on top of the compressor/motor unit.

For discharging the capacitor, make use of a 20,000-ohm, 2-watt resistor, which is a cheap wire unit you can get at most electrical supply shops. Tie up the probes of the resistor with the terminals of the capacitor which discharges the capacitor. If there are three terminal posts to the capacitor, attach the resistor first to one outer and center terminals, and then to the other outer and center terminals. After this discharging of capacitor has been done, you can start with any repairs.

Common Problems You Can Repair Yourself

Refrigerator Running Without Stopping
Refrigerator Running Without Stopping

Refrigerator Working Too Much: If you cannot frequently hear your refrigerator’s sound stopped, your fridge is working too much. In that case, first ensure that nothing has blocked the passage between the refrigerator compartments and the freezer.

A loaf of bread, for example, can also restrict the airflow and in that case, the fridge won’t become cold and will keep running to reach the set temperature. Remember that a fridge also tends to work longer when it is full, when the temperature of the room is more or when the door is opened again and again.

If your fridge is not stopping, it may be too low for it to attain the low temperature of the dial setting of the cold control. Most probably this is a defrost issue wherein there is a problem in a part of the automatic defrost system. It can be a defrost timer, a defrost terminator or a defrost heater.

Before calling in a repair professional, you can try the following:

  • See if the refrigerator segment is being cooled. If there is frost at the top of a frost-free fridge even after setting the cold control to low, that means probably that the fridge has a full control of refrigerant, but there is fault in the thermostat.
  • Try switching the cold control on and off. If the compressor doesn’t shut off, there are chances that the cold control is broken. In that case, you should call a repair professional. It is also advisable to check the heaters and defrost timer checked, so as to check if they are working properly.
  • Check condenser coils. They are placed at the bottom of the unit behind the rear plate in, or in some units, even just on the back. They spread the inside heat of the refrigerator out in the room with the help of a fan. If they have become dirty, the efficiency of the fridge will be lessened. Regular cleaning of the coils is recommended by most manufacturers.

Cleaning Condenser Coils

Refrigerator Cooling Too Much
Refrigerator Cooling Too Much

Refrigerator is Cooling Too Little or Too Much: As a norm, refrigerators are intended to keep 0° to 5° F in the freezer compartment and 36° to 40° F in the refrigerator compartment. If your refrigerator box freezes its contents even if the cold control has been set to its least setting, there is a fault in the control. Setting a higher temperature for the cold control won’t resolve the problem. You better call in the appliance repair person.

If the refrigerator is not cooling at all, the issue is normally the basic electric controls and mostly never with a requirement of a refrigerator boost. Even you should not assume that the problem is connected to the sealed, hermetic system or the compressor: these kinds of malfunctions take place rarely. Maybe the unit has dirty condenser coils, a faulty temperature control or a door that is sealing tightly. Try this before you call a professional:

  • Ensure that the cold control is set to COLD. Usually the temperature in the refrigerator must be around 37° F.
  • Listen to the freezer fan. When it is running, it means that the cold control and defrost timer in the fridge are set to COOL.
  • Hear the compressor fan (which also lets you know the location of the compressor – mostly beneath or behind the refrigerator). Many times while the freezer fan is running the compressor fan should be running too. If one of them is not operating or the compressor is off, there will be very little or no cooling.

When Refrigerator is Not Cooling Properly

Check if Cold Control is Set Properly
Check if Cold Control is Set Properly

Refrigerator Stops Working: If the light of the refrigerator is not working and its motor is not operating, try these:

  • Check if the electrical power is properly supplied to the unit. Check if the receptacle in which the fridge is plugged is getting power (check with a circuit teaser or a working lamp). If the receptacle is not working, check if there is a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker.
  • Ensure if the cold control is rightly set.
  • If you find that the fridge is plugged into a functioning outlet and the cold control is correctly set but the appliance is still showing no signs of working, keep the door closed to maintain the cold air inside and call the repair professional.

If you know the working of your refrigerator properly, you can handle its common problems yourself, thus saving some amount of cash and headache. But if the problem is out of your control, you have to call in a repair person who will do the job professionally. Just ensure that you call in a person from a reputable repair company.


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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i didn't know there are parts that i can buy and replace myself. thanks

    • micko27 profile image

      Mirjan Stojanovic 3 years ago from Belgrade

      Thanks for sharing :)

      Actually a lot of things are easy to repair, at least basic things. But people are afraid to try. But as modern times are coming and we become consumers society there will be almost no repairs in future, just buy new one when it stops working.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      That was very useful Mirjan for those who are willing to work with electricity. I do not even like T-storms. I think that I will just clean it carefully and do the other tasks mentioned that only require unplugging it. Otherwise it was very clear and interesting to anyone willing to do it all. I voted it up, shared it and pinned it on Pinterest.


    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This is presented is an easy-to-understand manner and should be helpful to those who have a problem with faulty refrigerators. You seem to have a knack for explaining complex information in an easy-to-digest manner.