If the compressor is running but not cooling, you may be able to resolve the issue by checking the temperature in the refrigerator. If the temperature is set correctly, the most likely cause of the issue is that the evaporator coils have frosted over. If the issue is not caused by the evaporator coils, the evaporator fan and condenser fan should be checked. However, the first thing to check is whether the compressor needs to be replaced.
Is the Compressor Still Working?
If the fridge compressor is running but the refrigerator is not cooling, you first need to determine if the refrigerator is cooling at all. To do this, you need to check the temperature of the refrigerator compartment.
If the refrigerator compartment temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it is likely that the compressor is working but not cooling enough.
If the temperature in the refrigerator compartment is closer to 50 degrees Fahrenheit than the recommended 37 degrees Fahrenheit, the refrigerator is likely not cooling at all, even with the compressor running.
If the refrigerator is not cooling at all, the compressor is likely broken and may need to be replaced. Serious issues with the compressor usually require a trained refrigerator technician to repair the compressor or install a new one.
Replacing the Compressor
If the compressor is broken, you will need to decide if you should buy a new compressor and have it installed or if it would be more cost-efficient to buy a new refrigerator.
Whether to buy a new refrigerator depends on the age of the refrigerator. Most refrigerators have a 13-year lifespan, with some lasting 20 years and others lasting 10.
If you have had your refrigerator for close to 13 years, buying a new refrigerator is usually the best option. Whereas, if the refrigerator is less than 5 years old, replacing the compressor is likely the better choice.
When deciding, you should also take into account the warranty you would get with a new refrigerator. Also remember that as a refrigerator gets older, it is more likely to develop other issues that may require expensive repairs or part replacement.
Compressor Working but Not Cooling
Follow these tips to troubleshoot the problem.
Check the Temperature Settings
Before checking any other components, make sure the temperature is set correctly. If you have a dial to control the refrigerator temperature, the highest number usually represents the coldest the refrigerator can get (10 = colder, 1=warmer).
As mentioned above, most manufacturers recommend a refrigerator temperature of 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezers should be set to zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Frozen Evaporator Coils
The most common reason why a refrigerator is not cooling is a problem with the evaporator coils. Over time, evaporator coils can become covered with ice, which prevents the coils from working properly. If the coils are covered in ice, the ice will need to be defrosted to fix the problem.
To check the evaporator coils:
- Locate the evaporator coils, usually behind a panel at the back of the freezer compartment.
- Clear the freezer so that you can access the back panel.
- Remove the evaporator coil panel at the back of the freezer compartment. Depending on the type of refrigerator, you may need to unscrew the panel or unclip it to remove it.
- Check the coils for frost or ice buildup. If the coils are completely covered in frost, they will need to be defrosted.
To defrost the evaporator coils:
- Disconnect the refrigerator from the power source.
- Transfer food that may spoil to another refrigerator or cooler.
- Put towels down to collect water from the defrost.
- Leave the refrigerator for 24-48 hours to defrost.
- After 24 hours, check the evaporator coils. While they may appear to have been defrosted, if you can leave them longer, it will ensure that all of the frost has completely melted.
A hair dryer can be used to speed up the defrost. However, the hair dryer must be set to a low heat, as too much heat can crack an evaporator coil or melt plastic components in the freezer compartment.
If you reconnect the refrigerator to the power and the issue is solved, the evaporator coils likely froze over because of a defective defrost timer, defrost thermostat, or defrost heater. Each part should be tested with a multimeter to determine if it has continuity (a continuous electrical path) or if it needs to be replaced.
Defective Evaporator Fan
If the refrigerator is not cooling and is making squealing noises with increased vibration, the evaporator fan is likely defective.
To check the evaporator fan:
- Locate the evaporator fan at the back of the freezer compartment close to the evaporator coils.
- Use your hand to feel if the fan is working, blowing air.
- Check that the fan blades are not restricted and can turn freely.
- If the fan blades are not restricted but the evaporator fan is not working, test the fan with a multimeter to determine if it needs to be replaced.
Bad Condenser Fan
The condenser fan draws in outside air to cool the condenser coils and the compressor. The air is then sent out through the base grille. If the condenser fan is not working, it will cause the compressor fan to overheat and stop working properly. A defective condenser fan can also cause the compressor to not turn on.
If the condenser fan is defective, you will likely notice an unusual rattling noise coming from the back of the refrigerator.
With most refrigerators, the condenser fan can be accessed by removing an access panel behind the refrigerator.
To check the condenser fan:
- Unplug the refrigerator from the power source.
- Move the refrigerator out from the wall so that you can access the back panel.
- Use a nut driver or screwdriver to remove the back panel.
- Check if the fan blade can turn freely. If the blade cannot spin freely, the motor is likely defective and will need to be replaced.
- Check if the compressor and condenser fan are working by reconnecting the power. With the power reconnected, both the compressor and condenser fan should turn on.
- Another test is to use a fan or hair dryer to blow cold air over the compressor. If the compressor cools and starts to work, then a defective condenser fan is likely responsible for the compressor issue.
- The fan motor can also be tested with a multimeter to determine if it needs to be replaced.
Other Possible Causes
If the evaporator coils, evaporator fan, or condenser fan are not responsible for the compressor not cooling, the start relay, condenser coils, or thermistor should be checked to further diagnose the problem.