How to Repair a Refrigerator That Won’t Get Cold

Fred's Appliance
August 2, 2018
Refrigerator Repair

If the following maintenance tips were consistently adhered to, most refrigerator repair costs could be avoided.

After two weeks of traveling the California Coastline, you come home, open the refrigerator door, and encounter a most hideous smell. Yikes! The freezer seems to be working but the fresh food compartment is warm and muggy as a New York City summer day.
Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll need to do is dispose of all the spoiled food. The next thing to consider is to call a qualified appliance repair company. But before you do that let us see if we can get you back on your feet with the following six troubleshooting tips.

Dirty Condenser Coils

In order to cool the inside of your refrigerator and freezer, the unit utilizes a compressor that pumps refrigerant through a condenser coil and an evaporator coil.
  • The basic purpose of the condenser coil is to condense the refrigerant into a hot liquid. The condenser coil dissipates the heat as the liquid travels through the coils.
  • The coils tend to attract dust, dirt, and hair and it is this debris which prevents the coils from properly dissipating the heat, thus reducing the refrigerator’s power to cool.
  • On most models, the condenser coil is located near the bottom of the refrigerator and the evaporator coils are usually found behind the unit’s back panel.
  • Periodically, use a condenser coil brush or a soft bristle paint brush to remove any debris buildup and ensuring your refrigerator has the best chance possible to cool down.

Condenser Fan Motor Not Working

The purpose of the condenser fan is to help draw air past the condenser coils.
  • A condenser that is not working will fail to draw air past the condenser coils.
  • Inspect the fan blade for damage. Any type of damage will cause the fan to operate at a sub-optimal level and should be replaced.
  • If the fan motor is receiving power but the fan fails to turn, it is highly likely that the motor is bad and should be replaced.

Faulty Evaporator Fan Motor

The purpose of the evaporator fan motor is to draw air over the evaporator coils to circulate and cool the air in the freezer and fresh food compartment.
  • Cold air will not circulate if the evaporator fan is defective.
  • Is the fan motor noisy while operating?
  • Does the fan blade turn freely?
  • If the answer is no to the two following questions, replace the evaporator fan motor.
  • Use a multimeter to confirm that there is a continuous electrical path present in the motor.
  • If the continuity test is negative the component has failed and will need to be replaced.

Faulty Start Relay or Capacitor

The main purpose of a start relay is to assist and provide additional torque to start the compressor.
  • If the start relay is faulty in any way the compressor may fail to properly cycle cool air throughout your unit. Or it may not work at all.
  • Remove the lower back cover to gain access to the relay which is attached to the compressor.
  • Once you have the rear cover removed, don’t forget to clean the debris that has collected on the evaporator coils.
  • Do not plug the refrigerator back in until you have replaced the rear cover. The rear cover must be sealed up for good air flow.

Frosted Evaporator Coils

Unless you own an older model refrigerator, the days of manual defrost are for the most part behind us.
  • Evaporator coils collect frost as air and moisture pass over them. Since frost buildup causes airflow problems the coils need periodic defrosting.
  • Modern refrigerators are now equipped with auto defrost systems, which include a defrost heater, a defrost thermostat, and a defrost control. If anyone of these three components fails, evaporator coils frost over and cause the refrigerator to work harder to keep it cold. At the end of the day, consumers will see higher balances on their power bill. It is best to resolve frosty coils as soon as possible.
  • Before performing any continuity tests, there are a few other things to check first. Ice build up on the inside of your freezer or refrigerator could indicate a faulty door seal. Bad seals allow air to leak inside, mixing with moisture and causing the frost issues that are occurring. If the seal is in good shape, then take a look at the door hinges and ensure they are buttoned down.
  • Is the back of your refrigerator staged a bit too close to the wall? This would cause poor air circulation and result in excessive frost.
  • Check the vents at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator and check any vents to the rear. Are they clean? Or do they appear as if they have never been cleaned since you bought the appliance? No shame there, as these are easy spots to miss.
  • If the ice build-up is focused in the freezer, the freezer drain plug may need to be cleaned out. Remove the inner freezer covers to access the freezer drain and pour hot water into the drain until the ice has melted.
  • You will need a multimeter for the following tests. Make sure you unplug your refrigerator from its power source. Locate, remove, and test the defrost heater for continuity. If the heater tests positive move on to the defrost thermostat.
  • The defrost thermostat opens during the automatic defrost cycle and terminates the cycle to prevent the refrigerator or freezer from getting too warm. This part is attached to the evaporator coil. Use a multimeter to test continuity. Before running this test, however, you will need to get it cold enough to close the circuit. The optimal temperature is around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. If this part tests positive, then consider the defrost control board to be the problem and replace it.
  • Access the defrost control by removing the screws that hold the control panel to the roof of your refrigerator. Disconnect the ground wire and remove the screw that holds the damper in place. Remove the two screws that hold the defrost control board in place. Disconnect wire harnesses that hold the board to the control panel. In reverse order, replace with a new control board.

Defective Temperature Control Board

The control board allows the correct level of voltage to be sent to the compressor and fan motors.
  • If the control board is defective, the cooling system will not cycle on. Please note, that this is not a common problem and the previous 5-steps need to be inspected before replacing the control board.
  • If you have determined that all of the other components that control how your refrigerator keeps your food cold are working, you might finally consider replacing the temperature control board.
Feel free to make any comments or questions in the comment section provided. If you have decided this repair may take more time than what you have available, contact us today.
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