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Is my fridge broken or is it just me?
December 25, 2012 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Is my fridge broken or is it just me?

Two nights ago we discovered that our fridge was not cycling on, even if we turned the thermostat all the way to 6. The light and fan are fine, and I can sometimes hear what I think is coolant moving through the pipes in the back. But no sound of the compressor (?) cycling on to actually do its job. And the fridge compartment was indeed getting warmer and warmer. (We have been rectifying that with a basic 'icebox'-style solution -- good thing it's winter.)

This is a ten-year-old basic model Frigidaire.

The odd thing -- what's making me question my senses, if not my sanity -- is that the freezer compartment has shown no noticeable effect. Everything is still frozen solid (including a couple things I put in there only a few hours before noticing the problem). Ice cream is a tad softer than expected but nothing else seems out of line. We haven't opened the freezer much, and things are very tightly packed in there, so I was initially thinking that much of the existing cold was being retained. But this much after two days???

Due to the holiday and impending travel, we did basically the only thing we could: bought a replacement (essentially the same model) yesterday for delivery tomorrow. But the freezer behavior is making me wonder --

Is the fridge really fully broken? Or might we be buying a replacement for no reason? And is there anything I can do to determine one way or the other before 8am tomorrow (so I can cancel the order if need be?)

I am not, as they say, "handy", so I won't be able to get into the innards of the fridge if that's needed to determine the offending component.

(FYI, we did discover yesterday that the area underneath, behind the kickplate, did have lots of dust; we vacuumed it out yesterday morning and unplugged / replugged the fridge, apparently to no effect.)

Thanks!
posted by sesquipedalia to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
 
Mine did that recently. The fridge was 50 degrees and the freezer was around 20 or 30, so everything stayed frozen except for the ice cream. If you take off the plastic bit in the freezer all the way in the back, you can check the coils and see if they're all frozen or if the frozen part only goes part way. The refrigerator repair man checked that bit right away and that was the problem. If it's only partly frozen, it's a clog in the coolant line. I don't know if that bit is actually called the "coils" but it's in the back of the inside of the freezer. He had to take out the ice maker and shelves and then unscrew the back walls and maybe the freezer floor. He said we could try unplugging it and letting it all warm up and then warming the part where the clog is with a hair dryer. He said that works sometimes. It didn't work on ours and the repair for that part was $489, so we have a new fridge. That's one thing to check, anyway.
posted by artychoke at 8:07 PM on December 25, 2012


Are the vents from the freezer to the fridge blocked, either with stuff in your freezer or ice?
posted by notsnot at 9:31 PM on December 25, 2012


At my work, the fridges will often freeze up (there's a drain tube that gets iced up.) this happens generally because the fridges are kept fairly empty. the solution is to inplig the fridge for 24 hours and plug it back in. (and to store water jugs in there to prevent future freeze ups.)

I'd try that to see if the fridge compartment gets cold again.
posted by vespabelle at 9:41 PM on December 25, 2012


99% of the time this is a defrost problem (the other 1% it's a weak compressor or leak).

You can test this really cheaply. Manually defrost the fridge by leaving it unplugged with the doors ajar for a couple days. Be warned this is probably result in copious amounts of water on the floor. After 48 hours plug the fridge back in and then let it run for a couple days and then check the temperatures. If everything is as it should be then you have a defrost problem and it can probably be fixed for a couple hundred bucks at most.

If that doesn't temporarily fix it then the problem is more serious and depending on the replacement value won't be worth fixing.
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 PM on December 25, 2012


This has happened to me a couple of times. Both times it was because the vent between freezer and fridge froze up due to the door being left slightly open all night. Put all your food outside and unplug your fridge until it's defrosted then turn it back on and see if that helps. Make sure to put your thermostat back to the mid-range. I was told by a repairman that turning it up should be avoided and only overworks the condenser until it overheats and shuts down.
posted by any major dude at 9:59 PM on December 25, 2012


Thanks for the ideas! Not sure we as a family can live without a fridge for the two or more days needed for a full defrost, so we may wind up taking delivery of the new one -- but I'll try to get the old one moved down to the basement to test out the full defrost and restart thing. Worst case we have a second fridge, I guess.

AMD -- the door has had intermittent problems with closing ever since the kids learned how much fun it was to fling it open as hard as they could, and one night -- but maybe a month back -- it was indeed ajar all night. After it was closed up the following morning it had seemingly no problems thereafter, though. Could that have partially / mostly frozen over the vent, with regular kids-leaving-the-door-open-for-minutes-at-a-time situations contributing the rest over the past month?

Mitheral -- you're saying that after the reset, if everything is as it should be, everything might work fine only until the next defrost cycle and then this will recur? So at the very least there'd still be some work needing to be done?
posted by sesquipedalia at 12:07 AM on December 26, 2012


> The odd thing -- what's making me question my senses, if not my sanity -- is that the
> freezer compartment has shown no noticeable effect. Everything is still frozen solid

Learned a lot about exactly this the hard way just recently. The trick answer is that in a frostless-freezer model only the freezer gets any compressor cooling at all. A certain amount of the very cold freezer air is blown down into the refrigerator portion to cool it. If the passage for this air gets blocked the refrigerator part doesn't get cooled because no cold air can get down to it, while the freezer still seems perfectly normal.

The air passage goes across and through the internal heat transfer fins, a radiator-like thingie, which is very cold. If this part gets clogged with ice, no way for any cold air to get down to the refrigerator chamber. One way it gets clogged with ice is that the defroster apparatus has failed--that's a repair. Another way it can get clogged is if the amount of moist air that comes in the freezer door and freezes on the radiator-like thingie is more than the defroster can deal with, as might happen if the freezer door got left open. That's just a thorough manual defrosting (couple of days turned off) and if you're at all handy removing the plastic inside back and bottom linings of the freezer chamber to get to the radiator-like thingie, and cleaning everything you find. Luckily for me it was the second situation and the fix just involved living out of ice chests for a couple of days. Because I really didn't (and don't) need to buy a new fridge right now!

PS, biggest lesson of being handy-ish for several decades is that a thorough internal cleaning and lubricating of a broken [whatever] is to devices what rebooting is to computers; it fixes half the problems.
=If the [device] is something you don't know anything about, do a thorough web search for [device] plus 'safety' plus 'hazard' first.
=If the [device] is something you don't know anything about, make certain you can get it back together exactly the way it was before you attacked it with your screwdriver. This part used to involve making many many carefully labelled sketches with circles, arrows, and notes during disassembly but now with digital cameras it's a snap.
posted by jfuller at 7:56 AM on December 26, 2012


sesquipedalia writes "you're saying that after the reset, if everything is as it should be, everything might work fine only until the next defrost cycle and then this will recur? So at the very least there'd still be some work needing to be done?"

It can go two ways. Usually there is actually something wrong with your fridge and the symptom will reoccur in 2-6 weeks depending on your particular fridge and how often the door is opened. This will require someone to come out and fix it. Very occasionally (maybe 1 in a 1000) the problem is a piece of food blocking a defrost drain and this will clear itself with the manual defrost cycle.

Assuming there is some sort of visible frost or ice build up inside the freezing compartment what does it look like? Is is a pool of ice or a nice even coating of frost across the bottom or back of the fridge?
posted by Mitheral at 9:31 AM on December 26, 2012


due to the door being left slightly open all night

if the amount of moist air that comes in the freezer door and freezes on the radiator-like thingie is more than the defroster can deal with, as might happen if the freezer door got left open

....or, possibly, your gasket is failing and needs replacing. Use a $1 bill and do a "dollar test" to see if the gasket has a good grip on all sides. If not, this is a DIY project -- it's tricky but very doable, and much less expensive than replacing any cooling equipment (if they aren't in fact broken).
posted by dhartung at 10:26 AM on December 26, 2012


This just happened to me a few weeks ago!

Option A: The vents connecting the (cold) freezer to the (room temp) fridge are frozen. We did a speed defrost by filling a glass baking dish with near-boiling water and putting it on a cooling rack in the freezer, and putting a big pot of near-boiling water on the rack in the freezer.

This defrosted the freezer really fast, approx. 45 minutes. In the meantime we made a big cardbord box of the frozen food, wrapped it in towels and shoved it in the fridge, essentially using it as a big cooler. Nothing got defrosted in the hour and a half we were messing with thing.

For me, it wasn't that. Nothing was mechanically blocking the cold air from the freezer.

Option B:

In my fridge, there was a fan behind the freezer compartment (not the compressor fan!) which moves cold air from the freezer to the fridge compartment. The motor on this was busted (checked by wiring it into a random plug - I advise some electrical know-how for this - my electrical engineer boyfriend did this). It was a $90 part.
posted by foodmapper at 5:03 PM on December 26, 2012


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