The compressor is one of the most critical parts of the refrigerator. Even though that part lasts longer than most, there will come a day when the compressor will go bad. But how will you know when that happens?
You’ll know that your compressor is bad when it starts making abnormal noises, the compressor overheats or not providing proper cooling, or when the fridge compressor clicks on and off too frequently.
In this article, we’re going to explore the factors that cause compressors to fail. Then, we’ll look at a few clear signs that your refrigerator compressor has gone bad.
What Causes A Refrigerator Compressor To Fail
There are several factors that lead to your refrigerator compressor failing. They include a high voltage surge, dirty condenser coils, refrigerant problems, and general wear and tear.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
High Voltage Surge
There’s nothing more damaging to home appliances than a high voltage surge.
When that happens, a sudden spike in electrical current flows through the fridge and its components, causing an excessive amount of heat. Lightning strikes are a common cause of such surges.
In simple terms, the surge ‘fries’ the fridge’s components which include the compressor and its relay.
Dirty Condenser Coils
Yes, believe it or not, dirty condenser coils can eventually lead to the refrigerator compressor going bad.
That’s because dirty coils make it much more difficult for the fridge to cool down properly.
As a result, the compressor is forced to work harder and harder, causing overheating and premature wear and tear.
In a worst-case scenario, the condenser could become ‘mechanically locked’ or completely stuck. That means the compressor’s components won’t be able to move at all, and the fridge won’t produce cold air.
As the name suggests, a compressor is meant to compress refrigerant, which circulates and cools down the fridge.
So, problems with the refrigerant will also lead to problems with the compressor.
Examples of this include having too much or too little refrigerant and the refrigerant being contaminated in some way.
General Wear And Tear
All mechanical components suffer from general wear and tear. Still, a high-quality fridge compressor can usually go on working for many years before showing any problems.
But suppose you have an old fridge showing symptoms of a faulty compressor. If that’s the case, then there’s a good chance that the compressor has simply worn out.
Replacing the compressor will involve a high cost. So, you may be better off replacing the fridge entirely.
However, if you’re using an expensive, high-end refrigerator, it might make better financial sense to replace the compressor alone.
Signs That Your Refrigerator Compressor Has Gone Bad
You should never inspect or repair a refrigerator compressor by yourself.
That’s because it involves circulating refrigerant, which, if released, can be dangerous to you and bad for the environment. So, leave it up to a qualified technician.
Still, there are some clear signs that you can look out for to figure out if your compressor has gone bad.
They include bad noises, relay problems, overheating, or if the compressor keeps clicking on and off.
Bad Refrigerator Compressor Noises
One of the most apparent signs that a refrigerator compressor is going bad is when it starts to make unusual noises.
What a refrigerator compressor should sound like: With a standard, functioning compressor, you should be able to hear just a gentle humming noise or buzzing coming from the unit.
You’ll listen to these noises come and go; the compressor turns on to cool the fridge down but will shut off when the refrigerator reaches its set temperature.
What a compressor shouldn’t sound like: Normally, your compressor shouldn’t make any loud noises of any kind.
However, if you hear a loud humming noise or buzzing, that could signal that there’s a problem with the compressor.
Additionally, you may hear a knocking or clunking noise whenever the compressor shuts off.
That is also another bad sign that the parts inside the compressor have become faulty.
Why the compressor makes bad noises: Within the compressor, there’s an electric motor mounted on springs.
Loud humming or buzzing may indicate a problem with that motor.
On the other hand, clunking or knocking noises might mean that the mounting is faulty, causing the motor to hit the inner walls of the compressor.
How to fix it: With a faulty compressor, there’s not much you can do but replace it. However, if the cost of a new compressor is too high, most people would rather replace the entire refrigerator with a newer model.
Remember: Fixing or replacing a refrigerator compressor is not a DIY job.
Only a qualified technician will be able to handle the job, as it involves circulating refrigerant which can be dangerous to you and bad for the environment if leaked.
Bad Refrigerator Compressor Relay Symptoms
Another factor that might affect the health of your fridge compressor is the compressor relay.
What it is: The compressor start relay is the component that supplies power to the compressor.
Simply put, if there’s a problem with the relay, the compressor will not receive any power and can’t work correctly.
The good news here is that if there’s a problem with the relay, it’s fairly straightforward to replace.
How to diagnose a relay: The simplest way to diagnose a relay for failure is to remove and shake it close to your ear. If you hear a rattling noise, that means the compressor relay must be replaced.
How to fix: If you decide to replace the compressor relay by yourself, be sure to unplug the fridge from its power supply.
Only once that’s done can you remove the access panel at the back of the refrigerator to access the components within.
You can refer to the user manual or any technical sheets that come with the fridge for better guidance.
That will help you identify each part you see along the way as you seek out the compressor relay.
In many cases, you can remove the relay by hand. Shake it near your ear once more to listen for a rattling noise, so you can confirm that it’s faulty. Then, replace it with the new compressor relay.
When a refrigerator compressor is working normally, it should only feel slightly hot to the touch, about 45-60 degrees Celcius
Therefore, an overheating compressor is a sign that something isn’t right within.
What causes an overheating compressor: There are two common reasons why a fridge compressor overheats.
Firstly, it could be that the fridge lacks refrigerant. Suppose there’s a leak somewhere along the line, or if the technician did not charge the system with enough refrigerant.
That would cause the compressor to overwork and generate excessive heat.
If this lack of refrigerant continues indefinitely, it could eventually lead to the compressor wearing out prematurely.
Besides that, an old compressor that’s suffered from wear and tear could also overheat by itself.
How to fix: Typically, a technician will inspect refrigerant levels to ensure that there is enough of it running through the system.
If the compressor continues to overheat despite having enough refrigerant, then it may be time to replace the compressor entirely.
Again, replacing a compressor can be costly. That cost might be worth it if the refrigerator is an expensive, high-end or industrial type of unit.
In the case of regular household fridges, however, owners may find it more feasible to upgrade to a newer fridge model instead.
Compressor Start Relay Clicks On and Off Too Frequently
Some fridge owners will notice that their compressor clicks on and off frequently.
Yes, a compressor does periodically shut off once the fridge has reached its set temperature.
However, what we’re talking about here is when the compressor works only intermittently and clicks off even before the fridge has a chance to cool down.
Why this happens: If the compressor is clicking on and off too frequently, one common cause is the compressor relay which was discussed earlier. So, be sure to rule that out first by referring to that section of the article.
In short, you need to shut off the fridge and remove the relay. Then, shake the relay to listen for any rattling.
If you hear rattling, that means the problem is with the relay. If not, it’s the compressor.
Suppose you’re ruled that out by confirming that the relay is working correctly.
If that’s the case, then the unit may be suffering from some kind of compressor overload, which may explain why it’s cutting itself off.
Remember: the compressor’s purpose is to compress the refrigerant, which circulates throughout the fridge.
So, an overload in this component could spell disaster if it’s not sorted out quickly.
How to fix this: To be safe, shut the refrigerator off, and call for a technician to help troubleshoot the problem.
While some parts of the fridge can be fixed as a DIY task, the compressor is not one of them.
Circulating refrigerant and a possible compressor overload is very risky, which is why you should step back and let a professional handle it for you.
A refrigerator compressor in this condition can’t be fixed, so you may end up having to replace it entirely.