How Do You Know If Refrigerator Compressor Is Bad?

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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.

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Refrigerant Problems

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.

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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.

Compressor Overheats

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.

Reader Comments (27)

  1. Hi Eugene,

    Fault: fridge running warm (14 degrees C)
    Model: 923801715 (AEG Santo K-9 1800- 4i)
    the compressor starts, but runs slow, there is no visible fan on the outside or in, it is sealed on the the outside with pentane. I think its the fault is the refrigerator running capacitor, however, your expert opinion will be valued. thanks

  2. Yes I have a question I have a KitchenAid side-by-side refrigerator and the repairman told me that the compressor was gone but I put a bottle of water in the bottom of the freezer last night and it froze it solid the refrigerator side the bottom half is cold and then the freezer side the bottom half is cold what could be wrong?

  3. Sry to bother you man. But my fridge makes a metal pipes being “clanked” together noise when it shuts itself off. When I say shuts itself off, I mean, I’m assuming when the inside temp is reached and the compressor shuts off. I do not hear the unit kick on. I ap
    preciate your time.
    Jacob C.

  4. Is it time to replace a fridge it’s nearly 50 years iit keeps tripping the circuit breaker? It’s an Amana fridge/freezer upright.

  5. Hi. Thanks for this article. I’m wondering if an appliance repair person would be able to diagnose the issue of a refrigerator running too warm if the fridge is actually a floral fridge, or “cooler” as it’s known to florists. I have a three-door cooler that I bought brand new about 2.5 years ago. I love it and I haven’t had any issues until now. It’s now running too warm inside: 59-63 degrees F, rather than its usual (and necessary) 38-43 degrees F. I cleaned the coils, yet it hasn’t helped. I have an appliance repairman coming tomorrow to look at it and I’m feeling uncertain as to whether a floral fridge (designed to run with more humidity than standard fridges, to keep the fresh cut flowers in beautiful condition as they wait to become part of an arrangement) will be just as easily diagnosable as any other fridge, and if it’s the compressor, will replacing it be just as easy? Valentine’s Day is around the corner and I’ll be in big trouble without my cooler working properly. Any thoughts? Thanks so much.

  6. Hi Eugine, the other night my fridge made a loud noise that sounded like something was falling or breaking. Then for a few hours it sounded like something was creeking every now and then. Since then my freezer is not cold nor is the fridge, the light is still on when I open it but for the past 24hrs it’s been making a clicking sound every 10 minutes or so and there is no humming when I switch it on or off. Read through your article and I’m struggling to understand if it’s the compressor? My fridge is nearly 5 years old.

    • You need to check if the compressor is still running. Pull the fridge out and listen to the compressor. In your case, it can be: 1. Compressor start relay failed 2. Compressor is failed

  7. My compressor is hot and relay is okay no rattling sound so to cool down this compressor should i turn off my fridge for sometimes then switch it on? And set thermostat in 4 ? Since temp range is 1-7..

  8. Hi my fridge is 10hrs,my fridge is cutting whn its wats 2 start wht a little noise ,bt in de nite it’s working well , during daytime it’s jst cutting whn it wats 2 start,plz help wat cud be de problem

  9. I have a General Electric Americana refrigerator like what was in the kitchen of the Brady Bunch kitchen and I love this fridge. Yesterday there was a terrible wind storm that knocked down trees in the neighborhood taking the power lines with them. After several hours I had an idea that I could run an extension cord from an electrical outlet in my RV that has a generator in it that can run two air conditioners at the same time but when I plugged the refrigerator into the extension cord the compressor would try to start and then stop. All the rest of the accessories of the refrigerator were working correctly but the compressor couldn’t seem to start. The next morning the power was restored and when I plugged the refrigerator back into the house current it took right off and ran. To help my next door neighbor keep their fridge working I let them also run an extension cord to the RV and the generator was able to run their fridge perfectly. Any ideas of why my fridge was unable to get the compressor going after being plugged into the generator.

  10. I can hear the compressor trying to come on (a humming that lasts a few seconds) but it apparently fails. This happened once before and I was able to jiggle the fridge to get it to start, but not this time. It’s an older Samsung side-by-side. Could the problem be the relay, or is the compressor likely seizing up?

  11. Hi Mr.Smith.i have a question pls.atechnician troubleshooted my display fridge and found aleakage on condensor.upon brazing and changing filter,evacuating and started charging gas;we realized that compressor could not pump gas up properly.there were only ice forming on the inlet to evaporator after about 20 mins and it disappeared.question,’ what makes acompressor develop awek pump?? Pls reply.

    • “what makes acompressor develop awek pump??” Probably the age of the compressor/refrigerator.. Or your fridge sealed system has a restriction somewhere, beside a hole in the condenser

  12. what causes a fridge compressor to blow and release a cup & 1/2 of black oil on to the floor & make a loud noise like a semi trackter truck releasing its air brakes ?

  13. Hi There, I have a 15 yrs old Kenmore Refrigerator Model 253.54662403. Recently, the freezer side started thawing and after I increased the thermostat to the max which is a 9, it worked ok. I reduced it after a few days to 7 and it started thawing again. I increased it to 9 but noticed that the refrigerator side is not as cool as it normally would be. I increased the thermostat for both the freezer and refrigerator to the max 9 but both now not cooling. I checked and the both fans ( the one by the coils and the one inside the freezer were running. The compressor is hot to the touch and the relay clicks once when you plug the cable. What should I do? Thank you in advance for your help!

  14. My freezer part was working well before it stopped working, right now both the freezer and refrigerator part are not responding,a technician said it was a compressor issue, how do I handle it Sir?

  15. My refrigerator has been making loud noises and now the freezer keeps getting ice all over the food. Now I think the inside of freezer isn’t cooling like before. What could it be? Could it be the fan?

  16. My refrigrator is 6 yrs old. It is a french door 27 cubit Samsung model, Door in Door. Bought from Sears Kenmore. It stopped getting cold and I was told by a technician, who only looked at it, that the compressor was bad ( defective). Was he just lazy not to check the refrigerant or Start relay? I don’t want to buy a new refrigerator in only 6 yrs. I was told, if the warrantee company provided me with another compressor, that the install would cost $500 – $600. I don’t want to throw good money after bad if the compressor is not reliable.

    • Greetings;
      My Kenmore Elite French door refrigerator I bought at Sears in July 2018 has quit on me after 3 years and one week. Called Sears service department and complained. I was charged a total of$617 for a control board and the labor .Parts were shipped, but the appointment was changed twice after one month waiting ,and now I have to wait for another month..
      Meanwhile, I went and bought another fridge.
      By the way, because I didn’t have extended warranty, Sears would not pay for lost meat and food!?

    • Hello,
      I have an 8 years old ge top freezer apartment size refrigerator. It is getting loud when running (humming) at times. Getting more frequent. I can hear it loudest when I open the freezer door. Compressor going or fan. of course it wasn’t making the loud hum when he checked it out. Running normal. He checked under the fridge I assume the coils..plenty of ventilation. He said the loud hum was normal..Just getting older and refrigerators make loud noises at times.?? Anyway now it is loud again. Can you help me?

      • If it is coming from the freezer, check for ice build-up on the back or behind panel of the freezer

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