Categories: KitchenTools

Symptoms of a Bad Refrigerator Compressor


A fridge compressor acts as both a motor and a pump that pushes the refrigerant through the system. The temperature sensors inside the fridge alarm the compressor to start its process when the temperature rises above the set point. This may happen because no refrigerator is completely airtight, cold air leaks out and causes the temperature to increase in the fridge.

There are many reasons for a fridge not working as it should. When a fridge stops working, it causes a feeling of alarm. Because this means the food that you have been storing might just go bad. It also means that you might be looking at a heft repair bill or even a new purchase if things are beyond repair. 

Working principle of refrigerator compressors

Compressors are a very important part of the refrigerators. Fridges use a refrigerant gas that turns into liquid at very cold temperatures like -26 degrees. The compressor puts pressure on the gas and compresses it. At being compressed its temperature increases. The compressor then pushes this hot, pressed gas through the metal pipes in the back of the fridge. When moving through the metal pipes, the gas releases the heat into the air. Because it is compressed it turns to liquid state as its temperature goes down.

Until it reaches the expansion valve, it keeps flowing through the system. The expansion valve forces the liquid gas through a very tiny hole which turns it into a very cold mist. This mist evaporates as it moves through the freezer coils. Evaporation usually occurs at a temperature of -33 C. The cold liquid gas draws heat in as it moves through the metal coils. It draws all the heat in and cools the surroundings which are the fridge compartments in this case. This is simple thermodynamics. The coils lead back to the compressor. This process of compression and evaporation continues until the temperature return to its normal set point inside the fridge. 

Symptoms of a Bad Compressor

Refrigerator compressors can cause problems when they start malfunctioning. If you could just learn early enough that your compressor is acting up then you might have time to work things out before the refrigerator completely stops working. If you know the exact symptom you might be able to solve the problem before things go totally out of hand. A new fridge might not have such problems but if your fridge is older than 5 years then you should exercise caution. The following is the list of common problems that might occur.

1.  The compressor fan not working
The fan is an important part of the refrigerator. You might know that when you have electronic systems that use a processor, they require fans to cool the system down. This prevents overheating. When the fan stops working, you’ll know because then your refrigerator makes some weird noises. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that you can fix on your own, you may have to call a fridge technician or electrician who knows how to replace fans.

2.  Compressor runs continuously
One of the signs that your compressor is about to totally stop working is when it runs continuously but the fridge doesn’t reach its set point of temperature. This may happen when the fridge needs more refrigerant fluid or when the compressor valves fail. Again, this is not something you can fix on your own, you’ll need to call an expert in both cases.

3.  Creating noise
It is a very common sign. Modern fridges don’t make much noise. So, noisy operation of the fridge often means a failing compressor. When the valves or bearings are starting to fail it often results in noisy operation. When the bearings are failing, the creation of noise is often accompanied with increase in the current drawn. This might cause the circuit to break intermittently. When the valves are failing the fridge creates noise and doesn’t cool properly. In case of bad bearings the fridge will feel hot and smell oily as a result of overheated wiring. You might need to replace your compressor right away. Since compressors manage the gas and pressure inside the fridge so noise often means that there is high pressure or bad gas maintenance.

4.  Compressor clicks on and off
When the compressor clicks on and off you should then check to see if there is a start relay problem. This might also be an indication of compressor overload. You need to get your refrigerator checked because it might burst if not taken proper care of. This doesn’t cost much money. Most probably the reason is a dirty relay which only needs proper cleaning and maintenance.

5.  Not enough cooling
One of the most common symptoms of a bad compressor is bad cooling. If your refrigerator is not cooling properly or if one place is cooler than the other then you should test the compressor motor. You can do this yourself, it is not hard to do. Unplug your fridge and access the back. But since most compressors have capacitors, it’d best if you call an expert. If the fridge doesn’t do cooling properly then there could be 4 to 5 reasons it is not always related to compressors.

6.  Circuit breaker Tripping
A compressor that often trips a circuit breaker is an indication that it is about to fail. Each electric motor draws in current that is five to six times of its operating current when it is starting up. As the compressor gets old it takes more time to reach the operating speed. This in turn increases the period of inrush current and causes the circuit breakers to trip more than often when you turn the fridge on.


Compressors are the hearts of refrigerators. If you notice one of the above symptoms in your refrigerator then it is an indication that your compressor might be going bad or has already gone bad. In most cases you need to call an expert to fix the problem and in worst cases you might need to change the compressor or the fridge itself.


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