If you hear your refrigerator compressor click as if it’s going to turn on only to have it turn back off, there may be a problem. Since the compressor is the main component responsible for pumping refrigerant throughout the refrigerator, a faulty compressor can lead to unregulated temperatures and unsafe conditions for your food.
A refrigerator’s compressor clicking but not turning on can be caused by problems with the overload relay, a bad compressor, contaminated refrigerant, or a faulty thermostat. Before calling a repairman, try resetting the compressor and testing the thermostat.
This guide will teach you why your compressor is malfunctioning and how to fix it.
1. The Compressor Overload Relay Needs To Be Replaced
Your refrigerator’s compressor overload relay, sometimes just called a relay, is responsible for regulating the compressor and preventing overheating. A problem with the start relay can cause your compressor to break down and become nonfunctioning.
Replacing the relay when you first start noticing the compressor clicking but not turning on will extend the life of your compressor and, ultimately, the refrigerator as a whole.
How To Fix?
Luckily, you can purchase replacement relays for much cheaper than other parts. Amazon sells this replacement compressor start relay for less than $20. Even better, replacing this part is simple and doesn’t require you to call an expensive repair service.
Before attempting to repair anything, always start by unplugging the refrigerator to ensure you don’t electrocute yourself.
- The overload relay is located right next to the fridge’s compressor. You can access the compressor and its accessory parts by opening the back of your fridge.
- Once you’ve opened the rear compartment cover, you’ll see the small plastic relay adjacent to the compressor.
- After removing the old compressor relay, installing the replacement only takes a few minutes.
This YouTube video offers a simple step-by-step tutorial on removing and replacing your refrigerator’s compressor relay:
2. Your Refrigerator’s Compressor Is Malfunctioning
The compressor’s job is to heat up the refrigerant as it prepares to be evaporated and turned into a gas, which then cools the refrigerator and its contents. Even if you don’t realize it, you hear this occurring every day. The compressor turns on with a click, and the process begins.
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If you hear the compressor clicking and then immediately turning off, there is likely an issue. You should also check for dysregulated internal temperatures of your fridge, an increase in your electric bill, and unusual noises. If you hear sounds coming from your fridge that are out of the ordinary, check out my article about the common causes of refrigerator noises.
How To Fix?
Your compressor likely needs to be reset. Normal wear and tear are to be expected, so giving the refrigerator’s components time to rest can solve the problem of a malfunctioning compressor.
To reset your refrigerator’s compressor, follow these five easy steps:
- Unplug your refrigerator. This will allow you to work with the inner mechanisms of the unit without the risk of an electric shock.
- Set the temperature control to zero. The location of your temperature controls depends on the model of your refrigerator but is often located inside the unit in the form of a button or dial.
- Plug your refrigerator back in. I know you always hear experts advising you to “turn it off and then back on,” but in this case, it is often the most effective method.
- Change the temperature control back to normal. The typical setting for a refrigerator’s temperature control is “5.”
- Leave it alone. Letting the refrigerator sit for at least 24 hours after resetting the compressor will give it time to regulate itself.
If you’re still having problems after resetting the compressor, it’s possible that the whole compressor needs replacing. Doing this requires more skill than replacing the compressor overload relay, so you should proceed cautiously and consider calling a professional at this point.
If you decide to do it yourself, here’s a YouTube video to take you through the steps:
3. There’s a Problem With Your Refrigerant
Refrigerant, also known as Freon, is the liquid chemical that cycles through the refrigerator. The compressor heats it before traveling to the evaporator, where it, you guessed it, evaporates. This process is what cools your refrigerator.
Debris, leaking, too much moisture, or other contamination of the refrigerant running through your refrigerator may be the reason why it’s not cooling correctly.
How To Fix?
The refrigerant is cycled through your fridge and reused; therefore, it should not require replacing. If your fridge has developed a leak that causes the compressor to malfunction, adding more Freon to the unit might only postpone the inevitable. Simply put, leaking refrigerant is often a side effect of another problem with the fridge or a sign that there is a hole somewhere that will need to be patched.
That said, if the other components of your fridge seem to be functioning properly, you can try adding more refrigerant. To do this, follow the instructions in this YouTube video:
This process requires a few tools and supplies, all of which are linked in the video description.
4. Your Refrigerator’s Thermostat Is Faulty
A thermostat on a refrigerator communicates with the compressor. It detects changes to the temperature within the fridge and tells the compressor to switch on if the temperature is too high and off if it drops too low. If you follow the steps below to reset your thermostat and still notice the compressor clicking but not turning on, you may need to replace the thermostat entirely.
How To Fix?
You can reset your refrigerator’s thermostat in the same way you reset the compressor. To review, here are the steps to perform a full reset on your refrigerator:
- Unplug your refrigerator.
- Set the temperature control to zero.
- Plug your refrigerator back in.
- Turn the thermostat back to the typical setting of 5.
- Leave it alone for 24 hours.
If you’ve already done this and the problem persists, you may need to replace your thermostat. A malfunctioning thermostat cannot tell the compressor to switch on and off properly and may be the cause of the initial problem with your compressor clicking on and then back off.
To replace your refrigerator’s thermostat, you should purchase a replacement suitable for your specific refrigerator. Simply search “Thermostat Replacement Compatible with” and the manufacturer and model of your fridge. These parts should cost you less than $30, which is far cheaper than hiring a repair company to do it for you.
Next, follow the steps in this YouTube video by Repair Force to safely and effectively remove the old thermostat and install a new one:
If your refrigerator’s compressor is clicking on and then immediately turning off, there is a risk of irreparable damage to your fridge’s significant components, expensive future repairs, and even the chance that your food will spoil and cause you to become ill.
Diagnosing the problem is often as easy as resetting the fridge, replacing smaller components yourself, and checking to see that the issue has been resolved. To help diagnose your refrigerator’s problems and learn why its components may malfunction, check out the other refrigerator repair guides I have available.